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Women in tech: Where are we?

Wed, 09/08/2017 - 07:30

Today, 61 years ago, thousands of women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest the laws which would require all black South Africans to carry a pass. This would maintain population segregation, control urbanisation and manage migrant labour. Effectively, it was a law which controlled where people were able to live and work. It was a law which prevented people from the freedom and opportunities which should have been theirs.

Today, it has come to signify the many issues women still face like domestic violence, sexual harassment in the workplace and unequal pay. It is the latter which Facebook boss Sheryl Sandberg, in particular, has championed. 

Earlier this year, on Equal Pay Day, Sandberg pointed to the all too real disparity between the salaries earned by men and women in tech. Disappointingly, especially for a country with South Africa’s devastating past, women of colour are paid even less. Despite this ongoing problem, the reasons for the disparities in pay between women and men cannot be fully explained.

“The consequences are real and painful. If the pay gap were closed, the average working woman would earn over half a million dollars more in her lifetime. The number of working women living in poverty would be cut in half,” said Sandberg on her Facebook account.
“Every woman deserves to get paid what she’s worth. When women are paid less than men, it doesn’t just hurt women. It hurts our families, our businesses, and our communities. Equal pay affects all of us—and it will take all of us to fix it.”

There are many reasons women in tech are paid less than men. The reasons are complex and varied. Research has found that women in tech are underpaid, passed by for promotion and face daily sexual harassment. It’s little wonder that the women who do enter the industry leave soon afterwards.

All of this has come to light recently with the leaking of a controversial Google memo. A senior engineer, who has now been fired, wrote in the internal memo that biological causes were behind gender inequality in the tech industry.

"The distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and... these differences may explain why we don't see equal representation of women in tech and leadership," James Damore wrote in the memo.

In a memo of his own, Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai wrote that portions of the anti-diversity memo "violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace".

Aren’t convinced that gender diversity in tech is an important issue which needs to be addressed? Here are some scary stats:

  • Women own just 5% of startups.
  • Just 7% of partners at the top 100 venture capital firms are women.
  • Women hold just 25% of computing jobs.
  • The quit rate is more than twice as high for women than men in the high tech industry.
  • Women earn less (29%) and receive lower salary offers (63% of the time) than their male counterparts.

Luckily, times do appear to be changing. Moves are being made within the industry, locally and internationally, to be more inclusive, hire more women and pay women fairly. At Rogerwilco, for instance, three of the six departments are headed up by women. The staff is pretty evenly split between men and women. And, importantly, the women of Rogerwilco are valued for their skills and their expertise.