A little-known fact is that when computer programming was emerging as a field in the 1940s, women were in the forefront of this new technology. In fact, the first programmers to work on the US Army’s enormous ENIAC computer to compute ballistic trajectories were all women.
Software was seen as less important than the male-dominated hardware field and was considered easy work, similar to typing, and so suitable for women. Today, however, things are very different: women make up less than a fifth of technical roles in the tech industry.
The difficulties facing women in tech have been well documented, and the percentage of women with computer science degrees has actually decreased from a peak of 37% in 1984 to a current rate of 19%. Of women who have degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), only 26% work in technical careers, compared to 40% for men.
But attracting women to tech is only part of the battle; retention is an issue as well. And once women enter the tech field, they leave at a 45% higher rate than men.
Of course, attaining diversity is not only the right thing to do — there is an increasing awareness that it’s also crucial to business success. According to one study, returns on investment are 53% higher for companies with diverse executive boards.
To learn more, we reached out to 1,000 women in the field of tech to learn about their experiences and how tech companies might retain them. Here’s what we found.
Lack of career growth is the most common reason women leave tech jobs
So what is the biggest issue negatively impacting talent retention among women in tech? Lack of career growth or trajectory is a major factor driving women to leave their jobs — this was the most common response (28%) when we asked why they left their last job.
The second most-common reason for leaving was poor management, with a quarter of respondents choosing this reason. Slow salary growth came in as the third most-common reason (24%) respondents left their last job.
By contrast, issues related to lifestyle, such as work-life balance (14%), culture fit (12%) and inadequate parental leave policies (2%) were less common reasons for leaving a job.
Meanwhile, many women in tech believe that men have more career growth opportunities — only half (53%) think they have the same opportunities to enter senior leadership roles as their male counterparts.
And among women who have children or other family responsibilities, almost a third (28%) believe they’ve been passed up for a promotion because they are a parent or have another family responsibility.
Almost half of women in tech say wage growth is their biggest challenge
When considering a job, salary topped the list as the most important factor, with 1 in 3 respondents choosing it. But transparency is an issue — 40% of women said they wish employers would have been “more transparent” about salary in the interview process.
Once in a job, salary remains a primary concern. When asked what challenges they face, wage growth was the top response, cited by almost half of respondents (45%).
This is more than those who said bias or discrimination (23%) or sexual harassment (12%) had been challenges.
Women are worried about their future salaries as well — wage growth was also the most commonly cited challenge women expect to have in their career (33%).
Nearly half of women in tech believe they are paid less than men
Women in tech feel they are being paid less than men — almost half (46%) of respondents thought they were paid less than their male counterparts. Despite feeling that salary growth is a major challenge, only slightly more than half (53%) of women in tech feel that they can ask for a promotion or a raise.
What could improve the situation? Here, there is a clear answer: Having transparent salary information, like posting salaries in job descriptions, could help. Over three quarters (76%) of women in tech said that this would help them to identify and negotiate more fair compensation for their role.
Aside from improving salary transparency, working toward gender pay equity and empowering women to ask for promotions and raises could also help with retention. A creative example of this can be found at The Motley Fool, a financial newsletter, which recently paid employees $200 to ask for a raise in order to minimize the gender pay gap. Even if the employees got turned down, they still received the $200.
Internal mobility as a retention strategy
There is high demand for internal mobility among women in tech — 61% said that at some point they have wanted to switch to a different role within their company.
Of the women who said they wanted to switch roles internally, a whopping 80% said they would be more likely to stay if there was a clear way to do it.
Because there is such a high demand for internal mobility among women in tech, publicizing the process could help retain the 6 in 10 women who are interested in moving around within the company. Employers should make sure to communicate these opportunities clearly, while managers should provide support.
Focus on the most important benefits to employees
Health insurance was the most important benefit to women in tech, with 37% selecting it. Second most popular was flexible work schedule (24%), and number three was bonuses or regular raises (19%).
Benefits specifically related to child care were at the bottom of the list of important benefits — 1 percent or less of respondents said that child care, parental leave, family planning resources or child care assistance were what was most important to them.
Promoting benefits aimed at parents could be a good strategy to show that you’re willing to go the extra mile to accommodate families but only if more popular benefits like health care and flexibility are already in place.
What lies ahead?
It will be interesting to see how the attitudes of women in tech change as younger generations become more active in the workforce. According to our survey, the youngest women in tech are feeling the most discrimination, but they are also the most willing to take action in response.
More than any other age group, women age 25-34 cite the inability to break into management or leadership roles (27%) and bias or discrimination (25%) to be the biggest challenges they have faced in their careers. However, this age group is also more likely than women as a whole to leave a job because the team wasn’t diverse enough (27% compared to 23% for all women) or there wasn’t enough female leadership representation (24% compared to 20% for all women).
Career growth and salary are important to women in tech, but they suspect they have less access to leadership roles and are being paid less than men.
Empowering women to find the answers they need
Of course, change will not come to the tech industry overnight. It will take real effort from leaders to create truly inclusive workplaces where everyone feels able to bring their authentic selves to work. However, if we are to deal with the problem of retention and benefit from truly inclusive workplaces, this work must be done.
To address some of these issues, Indeed recently partnered with three review websites focused on inclusiveness in the workplace — Fairygodboss, InHerSight and Comparably — to offer additional information on our own reviews site, Company Pages, to those interested in learning more about diversity and inclusiveness of employers today.
There will be more reviews and ratings from women via Fairygodboss and InHerSight, and we can provide an employer diversity score through Comparably. Although job seekers can use these reviews to research their own career paths, they also provide a valuable resource to employers as they can compare their scores to the competition and read reviews that will help them improve their own efforts at retaining diverse workforces.
And of course, aside from closing inequities, a great step in the right direction for all employers is to increase transparency. As the results of this survey show, if we listen to what women are saying, we may discover that retaining them may be more straightforward than we imagined.
Kim Williams is Senior Director of Design at Indeed