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The tech industry is a 'boys club,' new report says

While women in tech have some optimism about the future of the industry, they're feeling the effects of being an underrepresented group.

Women in tech say they feel the industry is a boys club.

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Half of women in tech feel the industry is a boys club, but more than 60% are seeing signs of progress in spite of that. 

According to a new study from AnitaB.org, a nonprofit that works to advance women in computing and holds the Grace Hopper Celebration, women in tech are still feeling the effects of being a minority in their field. Although tech companies have made some moves in the past several years to create a more diversified and inclusive industry, women still facing plenty of challenges, particularly during the pandemic.

"There are women who were worried that their bosses would start to think, 'Oh, I saw a little girl on your lap. I heard you say that your school's closed. I know you've got three kids.' In their minds they're thinking, 'I've got to prove that this is not going to harm my output,'" said Brenda Darden Wilkerson, president and CEO of AnitaB.org. 

Fifty-three percent felt they needed to prove their worth to their employers, particularly during the upheaval of COVID-19, including advocating more for themselves. 

The survey data, which was collected online from nearly 1,000 women in the industry, falls in line with other findings. In September, McKinsey & Company and Lean In's annual Women in the Workplace study found that the pandemic has put a strain on women's careers, with one in three considering either leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers, partly because of increased family responsibilities.

Meanwhile, in the last year and a half, numerous articles have chronicled job loss, burnout and and the added strain of family care among working women. 

In the tech industry, a lack of workforce diversity has been a longstanding issue as companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and others struggle to create technical workforces made up of even 30% women. 

The AnitaB.org survey data found a blend of skepticism and optimism about the industry's efforts. About 26% said they felt the industry's attempts toward inclusiveness were "very" or "extremely" sincere. 

"What we also see is that women are very aware of the issues, of what they want and what they believe is important for them to participate meaningfully [in the industry]," Wilkerson said.

Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents said they felt their companies were doing a good job of including more than just gender and race in their definitions of diversity, and three-fourths said their companies had a solid grasp on intersectionality -- the idea that a person can fall under several umbrellas and have specific experiences attached to being, for example both a woman and a person of color. 

On the topic of women of color, there was no clear consensus on whether companies are doing enough to meet their needs. Respondents were divided in thirds along the lines of yes, no and unsure. 

Looking toward the future, 25% of women said diversity and inclusion will improve significantly in the next five years. Fifty-four percent said it will improve somewhat, and 15% said it will stay the same. 

"[Women] still feel like it's a boys club," Wilkerson said. "Unfortunately, until we hit gender parity, it's going to be a boys club." 

Culture