The software industry has had a long-standing reputation as a white man’s industry. Minorities and women have had trouble breaking into the higher ranks of computer companies for decades. Now a new study shows that women software developers’ gender gap isn’t going anywhere. At its current rate, the gap won’t close for more than 100 years.
In this blog, I will discuss a study from Cornell University on gender trends in computer science. I will discuss how women software developers’ gender gap persists across the industry, and what software engineers can do to combat gender discrimination in their own workplaces.
Computer companies from Amazon to Google have long had difficulty recruiting and retaining women and minority software developers. Women in the software industry have fought gender discrimination in everything from hiring, to team assignments. While work has been done to try to attract minorities and women into the industry, companies’ development teams are still heavily white and male.
Experts thought the situation was getting better. There have been efforts across the industry to hire and promote women to combat the gender gap. But when the researchers at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence partnered with Cornell University to study the issue, they found things were not as rosy as they seemed.
The study analyzed more than 2.87 million scientific papers published within the computer science industry between 1970 and 2018. It categorized publications based on the first names of the authors -- a method that serves as an imperfect proxy for gender. While women software developers’ gender gap had narrowed, they were not nearly on par with men when it came to publications. In 2018, male authors were published around 475,000 times, while women only received 175,000 bylines. In all, women only accounted for 27% of published research done in computer science.
Then the researchers used the change year to year in those publications to look forward, estimating when women would finally receive equal publication to men. The answer surprised everyone. The most optimistic projection said women’s publications would not equal men until the year 2100. The more likely answer: 2137.
This can’t be blamed on a lack of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine) generally, either. Other scientific fields are far closer to representing men and women equally. In biomedicine, for example, the forecast calls for equality by 2048. The New York Times reports:
“‘We were hoping for a positive result, because we all had the sense that the number of women authors was growing,’” said Oren Etzioni, the former University of Washington professor who oversees the Allen Institute. “‘But the results were, frankly, shocking.’”
Because the study focused on publications in scientific journals, it could seem like this is an academic problem, rather than a workplace issue. However, as private companies push the boundaries of technology, they are publishing much of their best work in those same journals.
And that can cause problems in the software these companies are creating, as well. Software development companies have taken the initiative in creating programs for facial recognition, speech-to-text, and automated resume review. When the teams working on these projects are predominantly white men, the programs they create can end up duplicating their biases. This makes gender discrimination part of the code and further frustrates women’s efforts to break into the industry.
There is also a feeling that women who start in software development don’t end up there. Last year, thousands of employees walked out of Google offices across the globe because of how the company had responded to sexual harassment claims against a top male software developer. Female students and workers in computer science find they are still facing an uphill battle for a harassment-free place to study and work.
“‘There is a problem with retention,’” said Jamie Lundine, a researcher at the Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies at the University of Ottawa. “‘Even when women are choosing computer science, they can end up in school and work environments that are inhospitable.’”
Women software developers will continue to face gender gap issues for decades into the future. They will face hurdles in hiring, promotion, publication, and in the fight against sexual harassment at work. At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our employment discrimination attorneys are here to help. If you believe that you have been discriminated against as a woman in the software development industry, we will review your situation and help you plan a strategy to help you close the gender gap for yourself and your fellow developers. Contact Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, today to talk to an employment discrimination attorney.