Why are Women Underrepresented in High Tech?
Insurance Experts' Forum, November 14, 2011
A recent report on Fox Business caught my eye, as it attempted to tackle the issue of women in technology—specifically that they seem to be underrepresented in the high tech sector at the executive level, and even among IT workers in general.
According to one report, women account for only 25 percent of the total computing workforce. In the high-level executive arena, companies typically have very few females. Microsoft, for example, has 125 executive positions, but only 13 are held by women, according to Fox Business. IBM has 20 such positions, but only three filled by women. Apple identifies 10 executives, none of whom are female.
Why is this so? For one thing, as the report points out, in 2010 women earned just 18 percent of the undergraduate computing degrees. “When we were all growing up, computers were relatively new and there weren’t as many women who were interested in going into that field,” states Kimberly Skelton, co-founder of Havetohave, on the video report. “Now there is so much more. At the executive level, those people would have to grow up with an interest in [computers, engineering].”
This certainly matches up with my experience of over 30 years or so in the tech industry. When I was active in the Data Processing Management Association, for example, the membership was almost exclusively male. We did have some female members on our board, but clearly this was not an area of great interest for women in the 1980s and '90s.
Whether or not the legendary corporate “glass ceiling” is also a factor, however, some female executives see a brighter future for women in technology, especially for those who want to start their own businesses. In another Fox Business video, Theresia Gouw Ranzetta, Accel Venture Capital partner, agrees that traditionally few women have gone into math and computer science, but she has seen “a massive shift” in that trend, with higher numbers of women entering the field.
A primary reason for this, says Ranzetta, is the “rise of the entrepreneurial generation”—people who start their own businesses rather than attempting to climb the corporate ladder. She notes that women are well-represented among those who decide to build their own technology empires.
Looking at our own industry, it seems to me that opportunities are ripe for new technology entrants. We are certainly faced with numerous technological challenges, especially in these tough markets amidst a down economy. The entrepreneurial women interviewed in the videos seemed to have one thing in common: They had developed a solution to one or more identified problems and built their businesses around that. These women noted that being able to demonstrate such capability made it easier for them to get the funding needed to start their businesses.
In the end, computer science will probably never be as popular with female college and university students as advertising and broadcast journalism, but there is certainly a niche in insurance technology for those with the drive and smarts to seize the day. Anything we can do as an industry to encourage such students-turned-entrepreneurs will be to our benefit.
Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.
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