Tech sector hiring more women, data shows... or is it?

A new study suggests the tech world might not be a boys' club after all. But do the stats give false hope to an industry some say is rife with sexism and double standards? Crave's Bonnie Burton explores.

CNET convened a Women in Tech panel at CES 2012, where Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer (second from left), Flickr founder Catarina Fake (center), and Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior (sitting to the left of former CNET editor Molly Wood) agreed we have a long way to go despite some progress. Pictured at far left is Lindsey Turrentine, editor-in-chief of CNET Reviews. James Martin/CNET

Though women's battle for equal pay rages on (thanks Batgirl; see the video below), a new government study suggests tech companies are seeing past gender bias and hiring more women than men.

According to Dice.com, which reported on data out this week from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 60,000 new jobs in the tech industry, 60 percent of the positions went to women.

"Companies have been focusing on getting more women into technology for a long time," Shravan Goli, president of Dice, said. "This year those efforts appear to be paying off -- with 60 percent of new tech jobs created in 2013 filled by women, according to government statistics. To have the best tech organization, companies want to pull from the entire talent pool and we need to do more to get young girls thinking about technology careers early and often. That's why Dice is supporting efforts like Code.org and Donors Choose to reach the next Marissa Mayer and may there be many of them."

But do these new statistics give false hope?

According to CNBC, the data Dice.com used comes from a category called "Computer Systems Design and Related Services," which is not an actual job category.

"What the data is really saying is that a certain type of business that falls under the category 'Computer Systems Design and Related Services' happened to hire more women than men this year," reports CNBC's Jon Fortt. "That doesn't mean the women hired by these companies were in tech. They could have been in sales, in public relations, in customer service. A Bureau of Labor statistics spokesman confirmed that there is no way to determine whether women are making gains in tech employment by looking at the Computer Systems Design and Related Services industry category."

So while more women may have been hired under "Computer Systems Design and Related Services" that doesn't mean tech companies have been making significant strides in changing the balance of power between genders in their offices and boardrooms. In fact, in March of this year, Catalyst.com released an Overview of Women in the Workplace that revealed that representation of women in Fortune 500 leadership positions has stagnated in recent years.

With Yahoo President and CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg being the very visible exceptions to the rule, according to the Los Angeles Times, even one of the most popular social-media networks -- Twitter -- doesn't have a single woman on its board of directors.

Last year, CNN Money probed 20 U.S. tech companies to uncover workforce diversity data and received government reports for five of them -- Dell, Cisco, eBay, Ingram Micro, and Intel -- to discover how diverse (or not) Silicon Valley is. Ironically, Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Microsoft successfully petitioned for their data to be excluded from the report. The interactive chart shows that women in tech dominated the "Administrative" category (which combined clerical workers, as well as skilled and unskilled laborers), but were significantly less represented as officers or managers.

This lack of diversity in leadership positions within the tech sector also makes one wonder if ongoing sexism in the workplace could factor in. Just last year, CNET's Molly Wood wrote about Dell's employee summit in Denmark, where the emcee told an audience of 80 employees, partners, and journalists: "All the great inventions are from men; we can thank women for the rolling pin." Interesting words to happen at an official Dell summit considering that in 2009 the company was forced to pay $9.1 million to settle gender discrimination suit.

Discord at Defcon
And then, of course, there's the sexism that still runs rampant at tech and gaming conventions, even today. Recently, female hackers and security professionals have publicly complained about sexual harassment at Defcon -- the world's largest hacker conference -- calling for a bigger discussion about why women are continually treated like outsiders in a community they helped build.

At this year's E3 -- arguably the largest gaming convention in the United States with about 50,000 attendees -- there were unsettling reports of female tech journalists, PR representatives, and gaming developers being sexually harassed by other gaming employees, attendees, and even a security guard.

Even though 45 percent of the entire gaming population are women who are frequent game buyers, according to the Entertainment Software Association, trade conventions like E3 market mostly to a male demographic, notes the Associated Press. Gaming companies continue to hire scantily clad models to attract men to their booths. International CES in Las Vegas also employs "booth babes" for the same effect.

Sexual harassment and discrimination in tech and gaming companies are far from over, especially in Silicon Valley. Last year, for example, the well-known venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins was accused of sexual discrimination in a lawsuit by partner Ellen Pao.

Women who led the way
It's remarkable to think we still need to grapple with sexual discrimination and harassment in the tech world considering we might not even be where we are now without such female innovators as Ada Lovelace , thought to be the world's first computer programmer, and Grace Hopper, who developed the first compiler for a computer programming language.

While the latest reports of tech companies hiring more women may be misinterpreted, that doesn't mean there's no reason to strive for equality.

"Overall, it's a surprise to see there's a sudden increase, and obviously, it's too soon to know if a few months is a trend," Goli told CNN Money. "There's been so much awareness building and activity from companies to pursue diversity, plus you've got the Sheryl Sandbergs and Marissa Mayers of the world -- I think all of that is starting to result in increased awareness and an attraction toward technology roles for women more than ever before."

 

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