Nancy Hafkin: Numbers of U.S. Women in IT Falling

January 18, 2013

Last month, a post by guest blogger and Internet Hall of Fame inductee Nancy Hafkin examined the growing knowledge divide between men and women in seven countries around the world.  This month, in the second of a three-part series, she takes a step back from the country-by-country data and tells us about the overall findings of her recent study, Gender in the Knowledge Society Framework, and what they say about women and the knowledge society. 


by Guest Contributor Nancy Hafkin

The overall findings of the recent study I conducted with Sophia Huyer, Executive Director of Women in Global Science and Technology (WISAT), were striking for what they say about women and the knowledge society in general.  Women are not absent from the sciences; in health and life sciences they are highly represented almost everywhere. But they are dismally few in the important knowledge society and economy fields of engineering, physics and computer science and all the ICT-related fields.  This holds true at the level of studies, in the work force, and in management and decision-making positions. 

A particularly striking finding is that this situation is not improving, but is actually getting worse in many countries. In the US, the number of women studying information technology has been falling consistently over the last 15 years. In all the countries surveyed, the number of women working in the scientific and technical labor force – comprising less than 30% in most countries – has been declining. In all countries studied, women participate at much lower levels in knowledge society decision-making and the knowledge economy than men. This is despite the gains that a few women are making in leading positions in the IT industry in the US, such as Marissa Meyer at Yahoo (whose exit from Google actually reflected how senior women at the company were being sidelined), Virginia Rometty at IBM and Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook. At the EU a few weeks ago, Justice Commissioner Virginia Reding failed in an effort to get support for a law obliging companies to appoint women to 40% of their board seats.

Many women science and technology graduates either drop out or never enter the labor force, due to their multiple roles and responsibilities, lack of flexible work hours as well as gender bias in hiring.  That last factor was highlighted in a recent study by Yale University researchers published in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences.  A hiring situation for an academic laboratory technician was set up, and recruiters reviewed applications from men and women with equal qualifications.  Resumes were identical, except for one bearing a man’s name and the other a woman’s. They found that women’s applications received lower ratings than men’s in every area, including skills and competence and whether the recruiting scientists would be willing to mentor the applicant. Gender bias crossed gender lines, with both male and female scientists rating the female applications lower and, if hired, offered a lower starting salary than that offered to men.

Women’s low representation in employment also carries over to entrepreneurship and research. A recent study found an exceedingly low number of women leading venture-backed companies in the US. Only 1.3 percent of such companies had a female founder, 6.5 percent had a female CEO, and 20 percent had one or more C-level female executives. A Dow Jones study that just came out provides encouragement, though, to women entrepreneurs:  It found that startups with more women executives were more likely to be successful than companies with less female executive representation.

 Look for part 3 of this series in February

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