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Young women dominate in software, but still face setbacks

The gender gap for programmers is shrinking, but women are still disproportionately stuck in junior positions, according to a HackerRank study.

Silicon Valley's diversity problem is showing signs of improvement, particularly when it comes to the number of female software developers. But there's still a long road ahead.

Women now make up more than half of new computer science graduates and junior developers entering the workforce, according to a study out Thursday from tech recruiting company HackerRank. Women under 25 are also 33 percent more likely to study computer science than those who were born before 1983.

Side view of female computer programmer looking away while using laptop at desk in office

HackerRank's online survey involved more than 14,000 professional software developers, including nearly 2,000 women.

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Sofus Macskássy, vice president of data science at HackerRank, says the results are a reflection of efforts by universities to enroll more women in computer science programs.

"Clearly, there's a lot of work to be done, but you can see that the trends are there [and] that more women are getting into CS programs," Macskássy said. "There's a more welcoming environment for women than there was 30 years ago."

HackerRank's online survey, which was conducted in the fall, involved more than 14,000 professional software developers, nearly 2,000 of which were women. Despite the fact that the number of female software developers is growing, women still face major setbacks. Those who are over 35 are three-and-half times more likely to hold junior positions, despite being equally capable as their male peers, the survey states. In fact, the top five programming languages women say they're proficient in are Java, JavaScript, C, C++ and Python. Those also happen to be the languages companies value most in front-end, back-end and full-stack developers.

The HackerRank survey's results are reflective of an industry-wide struggle to boost female representation and gender equality in the workplace. Women like ex-Uber engineer Susan Fowler and former junior partner at Kleiner Perkins Ellen Pao have shed light on toxic problems in Silicon Valley like bro culture and sexism. As movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp continue to highlight sexual misconduct in industries such as media, entertainment and tech, companies are feeling pressure to fix their male-dominated cultures.

The percentage-point gap between men and women over 35 who began coding before age 16 has dropped from 20 to just 7. 

HackerRank

"Any awareness around the issue is helpful," says Ritika Trikha, head of communications at HackerRank. "We're hoping that these movements, these campaigns, these eye-opening statistics help with this problem of growing more women in senior roles. The onus is really on managers, directors, VPs, people in the power seat. They have the clear opportunity to accelerate the change."

Nevertheless, there is hope. By the time men and women enroll in CS 101, they are "more likely to start on equal footing" than previous generations, the study says. The gap between men and women over 35 who began coding before age 16 has also dropped from 20 percentage points to just 7 percentage points. As software becomes increasingly pervasive across sectors beyond tech, women in programming are building software in areas like finance, education and retail.

"The tide is turning," Trikha said. "Hiring managers and anybody that mentors women has the opportunity to change everything. It's just a matter of time."

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