Why are so many women leaving tech careers?

By Danny Aspinall

Why are so many women leaving tech careers?

Unfortunately, encouraging more women to pursue a career in tech is only half the battle when addressing gender inequality within the space.

That’s because, of the women that do become tech professionals, many are leaving the industry — in fact, women are turning away from tech at unprecedented rates.

For example, a report from Accenture and Girls Who Code found that women are 50% more likely to drop tech roles before the age of 35 — that’s 2.5 times more likely than in other industries. Elsewhere, a survey by New View Strategies reports that 38% of women in tech are considering leaving their job.

In an industry already suffering from a significant imbalance in gender representation, this simply isn’t good enough. It’s clear that, beyond attracting female professionals  to tech, the industry is also failing to provide women with a supportive working environment where they can reach their full potential.

But to begin tackling this problem, we must first understand its roots – what’s causing women to move away from tech, and why?

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Reason 1: Fewer opportunities for advancement

Women face a greater struggle to reach senior roles across the entire professional landscape.

McKinsey’s Women In The Workplace 2022 report found that for every 100 men promoted to first-level manager roles by the end of 2021, just 87 women were promoted – and even fewer women of color.

Even within the small pool of senior female professionals, retention issues exist. McKinsey report for every female director at the director level who gets promoted to the next level, two directors who are women leave their organization.

But when honing in on the tech industry, this data becomes significantly more discouraging.

Despite numbers increasing in recent years, a BCG survey found that women still hold less than one-third (28%) of leadership roles in tech, and when specifically focusing on the proportion of women in large tech companies, this percentage falls further still.

Within the AWS community, our Jefferson Frank Careers and Hiring Guide: AWS Edition found that little over half (56%) of respondents believe that there is an equal balance of male and female representation at the senior executive level.

But what does this all mean?

Well, with a lack of female representation in senior roles across the tech industry, women are statistically less likely to receive career advancement opportunities, and lack inspiration from role models within their organization and wider industry.

In New View Strategies’ survey , female tech professionals reported a lack of opportunities for advancement (52%) and a lack of female role models (48%) as the biggest challenges they faced in the industry.

This becomes further problematic when considering the gender diversity of their peers. Despite women making up almost half of the US workforce, Deloitte Global forecasts that major global tech firms will reach just 33% female representation in 2022, while Accenture reports  that gender equality in the tech industry is actually worse now than it was in 1984.

As a result, women often lack mentors amongst both their colleagues and leaders to guide them down a successful path of career development – 40% told New View Strategies that this was a challenge they faced in the tech industry.

It’s important to understand that there is no ambition gap between genders. BCG found that roughly the same percentage of men and women (67% and 62% respectively) are trying for promotion, demonstrating the additional barriers female tech professionals face in their career progression.

It’s therefore clear that women’s voices aren’t being sufficiently heard and their achievements not sufficiently recognized, impacting their opportunities for advancement. In male-dominated work environments, women often feel that their opinions and expertise are perceived to carry less authority – 78% of women in tech feel they have to work harder than their male co-workers to prove their worth. This is likely one of the primary reasons that 39% of women view gender bias as the main factor in not being offered a promotion.

When considering that our Careers and Hiring Guide found that little over half (53%) of AWS professionals across all genders are satisfied with their career progression, it’s easy to see how the further lack of opportunity granted to female professionals can quickly become demoralizing and unrewarding, pushing many out of the industry.

Reason 2: Excluded from the culture

Working towards better gender equality requires an industry culture that understands, creates, and promotes inclusive environments — this starts with organizations introducing diversity, equality, and inclusivity (DEI) training.

Our Careers and Hiring Guide found that less than half (47%) of AWS professionals have undergone DEI training in the past six months, with a concerning 38% undergoing no training at all.

But DEI training isn’t a box-ticking exercise; far from it.

With DEI training, employers and employees are taught how to create a workplace where everyone feels safe and respected. Offering this training regularly also ensures that this culture evolves with modern work practices — New View Strategies found that one in ten women in tech now experience gender-based harassment over messenger, email, or video call, for example. These findings demonstrate how common these issues are across the industry, making it imperative that you’re aware of the day-to-day experiences of women professionals in your team — especially if you’re one of the 34% of organizations in our Careers and Hiring Guide without a dedicated DEI statement or policy.

However, the value of DEI training lies not just in teaching employers and professionals how to create an inclusive environment, but also in highlighting the barriers some professionals face day-to-day. While one might think that they’re not contributing to an unequal company culture, without sufficient DEI training, it’s likely their subconscious biases and privileges  are.

Perspective is integral to demonstrating authentic understanding, and without it, women are likely to feel on the outside. For example, Accentuate reports that women are two times less likely to agree with the statement “it’s easy for women to thrive in tech”, while our Careers and Hiring Guide found that just 53% of men— compared to 76% of women— believe gender inequality exists within the tech industry.

It’s this lack of perspective that drives the creation of toxic and exclusive work cultures — most commonly in tech, this is known as the ‘tech bro culture’. Described as a male-dominated work culture that promotes toxic behaviors, private in-jokes, and exclusive lingo, 72% of women reported working at a tech company where “bro culture” was pervasive in 2021. Further highlighting how a lack of perspective worsens this issue, just 41% of male tech professionals said the same.

DEI training is essential to creating a supportive working environment that accommodates and encourages women to thrive within tech. Without it, its likely they’ll look to thrive elsewhere.

Reason 3: The overtime culture

As tech professionals are no doubt all too familiar with, the industry is plagued with a culture of overtime.

Creeping scopes, changing briefs, unmanageable workloads, and unrealistic deadlines can be part of common part of a tech professional’s day to day, leading to high levels of burnout —this can be enough motivation alone to consider dropping out of the industry.

But the expectation of working overtime can be particularly challenging for mothers who typically take on more childcare responsibilities. While the introduction of remote and flexible working showed initial promise in offering working mothers greater work-life balance, the overtime culture counteracts these perks. Remote working may actually be extenuating the problem, with remote employees expected to be constantly contactable, and the lines between work and home becoming blurrier.

Indeed, our Careers and Hiring Guide found that 43% of permanent AWS professionals experienced burnout during the pandemic, compared to 37% prior to Covid-19. Across this same period, 82% of professionals reported working from home, compared with just 24% before Covid-19.

Analysis from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as referenced in a report from PWC, found that mothers of children under 12 are over 3% more likely to have left employment than fathers with children of the same age.

The impacts of this, often labeled the ‘motherhood penalty’, can play a significant role in a woman’s desire to continue down the same career path. For example, the pace of change in the tech industry means that anyone taking a career break for even a few months may return to work to find their expertise outdated, plummeting their demand on the job market.

As a result, mothers taking maternity leave, and perhaps even extended career breaks before that, will suffer from a decrease in earning potential at best — we found that 93% of tech professionals believe years of experience in IT is an important factor in determining earning potential.

Mothers returning to work in the tech industry typically have fewer financial and professional opportunities available to them, and until this is addressed, many women will consider new career paths as a result.

Working towards gender equality in tech

From a lack of opportunity to being excluded from the company culture, all of the factors discussed amount in a gender pay gap and the underrepresentation of women in the space. Our Careers and Hiring Guide found that just 59% of AWS professionals believe that their employers pay men and women equally (56% of women, 60% of men).

Women have to jump significantly more hurdles on their career path, and as a result, they fall behind male counterparts who have clear roads ahead. The result? A disparity in earnings that can discourage women from furthering their tech careers.

By tackling the roots of gender inequality in tech, the industry can begin to close the pay gap, improve its retention of female talent, and create a more equal community where every woman is empowered to thrive in her career.

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