What gender comes to mind when you think about professionals in the tech industry? Let’s be honest – the tech field primarily consists of men. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by The New York City Tech Ecosystem, men outnumber women 7 to 3 in tech jobs in New York city, as well as nationwide. So what’s the reason for the great gender divide between men and women in tech?

The proof is in the number pudding

As a young woman who has worked at tech startups for the past few years, I have always wondered why there is a lack of women present in such an advancing and innovative field. Don’t more women want to be a part of shaping the future of technology? I would think so, yet statistics illustrate the opposite. The numbers of women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) are dismal – and rather embarrassing.

Here are 3 figures that show why people might fail to recognize women in science and technology:

  • Roughly 18% of computer science degrees go to women – According to a recent Current Population Study, only 26.1% of women make up the “computer and mathematical occupations” category. Another study shows that only 18% of women hold computer science degrees. The lack of women in STEM fields highlights the belief that women are not as interested as men are in technology.
  • “Google’s workforce, according to its own internal audit, is 70 percent male. Facebook isn’t much different.” – I pulled this quote from an article recently featured on the Washington Post website. While these numbers might seem surprising to some, I’m not shocked. After moving to Silicon Valley 6 months ago, I have had the pleasure of visiting the offices of some big tech corporations, and guess what – there seemed to be an awful lot of men present, yet very few women. The same goes for tech tradeshows that I’ve attended. The lack of women in these companies reinstates the idea that not enough women are pursuing careers with large organizations responsible for shaping the future of technology.
  • Less than 17% of the tech industry is made up women – This figure comes from a recent study conducted by e-skills UK. Not only is this percentage alarming, the study also noted that this gender gap is worsening. Women make up about 55% of the workforce, yet fewer than 25% of women work in the technical field. These numbers blatantly reveal a gender divide in tech, and could be resulting in an overlook of the great women who are involved within technology.

The good news is…

There is a light at the end of this controversial tunnel. According to a recent “Women in Data” report published by O’Reilly Media, the gender gap in tech is actually shrinking. The report notes that, “The underrepresentation of women in tech has garnered tremendous attention and support of late to the point where the continued existence of the numbers disparity has fostered a nation-wide movement to bring more women into technical fields.” With this in mind, maybe the statistics mentioned above are actually helping attract more women into the tech field. Rather than having people overlook the gender divide in tech, these numbers may actually be encouraging more women to become involved in STEM fields.

Big Data and statistics are drawing more women

Big Data and statistic fields are actually seeing an increase of women in the workplace. It’s been noted that women are achieving more than 40% of statistic degrees, and new career paths in data science now hold multiple opportunities for women. In fact, the number of professionals working in statistics grew from 28,000 to 72,000 from 2010-2013, and about 38% of them are women.

I asked Shannon Cult, the Development Editor at O’Reilly Media, to offer her thoughts on this topic. Shannon said, “Undeniably, women are making a big impact on the field of big data. Just recently, we released a new report profiling 15 women in a wide range of positions throughout the data space. The author, Cornelia Lévy-Bencheton explores not only the paths that have led to each woman’s success, but also their views on gender dynamics in the workplace, what women need from each other, and the changes they recommend in early-to-higher education that can help bring more women into the field of tech.”

It’s a bird, it’s a plane… no it’s women tech superheros!

The rise of women in the world of data could also be due to the fact that women excel in communication and problem solving, two main areas that are required for data roles. Carla Gentry, a successful data scientist and founder of Analytical-Solution, mentioned to me that, “More women are becoming interested in the big data field because it’s an interesting subject, filled with lots of potential. I think “we” see the whole picture of these possibilities because as wives, mothers, etc. we have to see the “macro view” all the time. Therefore “seeing the big picture” comes naturally, in my opinion. But, we do have an up hill battle to gain a foothold in this field, as I am constantly reminded even after 17 years in data analytics. Until “our own field” (tech/data science/analytics) recognizes us for our talent, how do we think others will? There are too few truly talented, experienced people in “big data” to silence the share women have attained. It’s time to start highlighting talent and not gender. We need all hands on deck if we plan to take big data analytics to the next level.”

Wendi Pannell, IT Team Leader for GE, is another example of a successful woman in tech. I asked Wendi about how she became involved in this male dominated industry and she said that, “IT was my fallback career. I actually started in hotel restaurant management and realized after my first internship that my success was dependent on people that didn’t even want to be there working. I went back and changed my major to Management Science because my dad had let me tinker with his work computers, including playing Doom from a DOS prompt with his staff during their lunch break one summer. My success became for the most part dependent on how well I executed alone, and if I could deal with that. So began my journey in being the only one or one of few woman in the room, at the table, or on the data center floor. Upon further reflection, I think I have done some great things, and in my self-evaluation I have succeeded. I’m terribly happy to go to work every day. I’m a team leader for a fortune 10 company. I’m continuing to learn new technologies, while educating myself on how to raise 3 boys under the age of 8. I congratulate myself everyday for getting out of the house with lipstick. I did it and I will continue to succeed by the following rules. I work hard, I’m honest, I’m real, I treat others the way I would want to be treated, I’m passionate and typically cheerful. One of my secrets I’ve never shared before is to always wear a great pair of shoes. They always fit and give me a boost in confidence and height.”

More encouragement is needed

Carla and Wendi serve as prime examples of successful females in tech, so what’s stoping more women from becoming involved? The bottom line is that further encouragement is still required in order to attract more women into STEM fields. More educational programs, conferences, campaigns, etc. are greatly needed to inspire women to hop on the high-tech bandwagon and join the technology revolution that we are currently undergoing.

Want to learn more? I encourage you to download O’Reilly’s free report to read about the differences women are making in the field of big data.