Why Are There So Few Female Software Developers?

Published: 26 January 2021

A lack of diversity can limit an organisation’s innovation. Therefore, senior managers must do more to support diversity and realise the competitive advantage diversity can bring software development team dynamics and productivity rates of development.

It is commonly known within the technology industry that men dominate software development roles. A 2020 global software developer survey demonstrated that female software developers are greatly underrepresented, accounting for just 8 per cent of positions in this field.

This article will discuss why there are fewer women in software development roles and how organisations are seeking to improve awareness regarding diversity and inclusion.

Reasons Behind The Gender Gap In The Software Development Field

Women are underrepresented across the technology industry, so this is not solely an issue of female software developers. A major factor for this underrepresentation is that men dominate roles within the industry. They are far more likely to pursue academic fields of study that will lead to professional careers within the technology industry. There is a degree gap between women and men seeking STEM degrees (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). According to the recent UCAS data provided by HESA, just 35 per cent of STEM students in higher education in the U.K. are women

PWC research on Women in Tech  also noted that women are less likely to consider a career in technology; only 3 per cent of women state it as their first choice. In academic institutes, women are less likely to be suggested or encouraged to pursue a career in technology; only 16 per cent of women have had a career in technology suggested to them.

Moreover, women still account for a small percentage of software developers, while a smaller percentage hold senior roles in the technology industry. Technical recruiting platform BuiltIn noted that women software engineer hires have only increased by 2 per cent over the last 20 years.  In fact, there is a lack of representation of women within the industry. According to the PWC research, 78 per cent of students cannot name famous women working in technology. 

The Gender Gap In The Tech Industry

It has been a consistent challenge for organisations to improve the lack of diversity in software development roles. Data from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) shows that the employment gap was significant: as of 2015, women only accounted for 25 per cent of computing occupations. 

Despite this lack of diversity and underrepresentation of women, foundations are working to close the gap. Foundations such as Girls Who CodeWomen who codeWe are Tech WomenGirls in TechBlack Girls Code and Ladies Learning Code. They are offering women and young girls opportunities to understand the field, which is encouraging more women to pursue technical subjects academically and pursue roles as software developers. 

More female software developers such as Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, are leading the awareness for providing female role models within the industry. In recent years more women are pursuing roles in STEM subjects. Data from the National Science Foundation found that more women are earning STEM degrees and closing the gap with men achieving bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering subjects. 

Despite this growing awareness, organisations must do more to revise diversity policies to improve the diversity and underrepresentation of women in technical roles.

How Are Organisations Making Engineering Teams More Inclusive?

Currently, female software developers are less likely than their male counterparts to remain in their existing roles or stay in the field long enough to progress to a senior position. Organisations must find new ways to increase the engineering teams’ diversity to close the gap further. 

Industry leaders who are taking measures to improve support and awareness of diversity are showing other organisations the roadmap to improve its diversity and inclusion. Here are the three initiatives being focused on to improve the retention rates of women in technical positions.

1) Reduce potential hiring bias and encourage more women into the hiring pipeline

To support organisational gender diversity and inclusion, senior managers have to ensure the hiring process appeals to underrepresented groups. A Hewlett Packard Internal benchmark reported by ABC News recognised that women are much less likely to apply for a job if they do not meet 100 per cent of the criteria, compared to males who apply even only meeting 60 per cent of the criteria.  

To help organisations address this bias, STEMwomen stated that a gender neutral recruitment process can reduce bias and encourage more women into the hiring pipeline. The same study also explained that implementing blind hiring techniques can reduce bias. They state that a process consisting of blind candidate screening, pre-employment testing and insisting that shortlists include an equal share of women to create better awareness.  

To reduce potential hiring bias, job descriptions must demonstrate a commitment towards opportunities for career advancement within a technical role and demonstrate the company’s awareness of creating an inclusive environment. 

2) Better partnership with academic institutions to create graduate programmes and internal awareness schemes 

As more academic awareness is placed on getting young women interested in studying STEM subjects, it is beneficial for organisations to be involved in graduate and intern initiatives. 

These initiatives can widen the talent pool and address the software developer shortage currently experienced in the industry. Organisations such as PwC’s Women in Tech programme  are aimed at giving students experience and insight into technology opportunities. Students can shadow professionals in rules such as Cyber Security, Technology, Data and Analytics and eForensics. 

Furthermore, Forbes reported on Google’s 2019 diversity report which demonstrated some improvement, particularly in its internship program, “[g]lobally, 40 per cent of interns in technical roles were women in 2019, and 24 per cent of U.S. interns were black and Latinx.” 

It is little progress in the right direction to improving women’s representation in technical roles. In Google’s 2018 diversity report, analysed by Wire demonstrated improvements of women in technical roles. Google reports that 30.9 per cent of its global staff are women – up from 30.6 per cent in 2014. However these improvements are small and more must be done by organisations, such as Google to improve gender diversity. 

3) Foster an inclusive culture by frequently evaluating diversity and inclusion policies 

Organisations that foster a more inclusive culture have better employee engagement and retention. A McKinsey survey on understanding organisational barriers to a more inclusive workplace found that a sense of inclusion is strongly linked with employee engagement. The survey respondents who feel included are much more likely than others to say they feel fully engaged in terms of excitement and commitment to their organisations. 

Industry leaders are more regularly evaluating diversity and inclusion initiatives more regularly to ensure alignment with workplace values. This evaluation can help to determine what further actions are needed to improve employee engagement and a more diverse workforce.  

Final Thoughts 

There is far more progress that needs to be made by organisations to significantly improve diversity in technical roles that will benefit an organisation’s bottom line. Industry leaders are discovering the benefits that gender diversity can bring to their software development performance. 

More organisations are noticing that supporting a diverse and inclusive workforce can bring unique perspectives. This difference in team dynamics can improve enterprise innovation and reduce cost. A McKinsey 2015 analysis on why diversity matters found data that supports a correlation with gender diversity and organisation performance improvement. 

McKinsey’s expanded 2018 analysis found that “[…] companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 15 per cent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. In our expanded 2017 dataset, this number rose to 21 per cent and continued to be statistically significant.”

A diverse engineering team is more dynamic and better positioned in organisational value creation. A more gender diverse team is more creative and innovative. Further research by NCWIT on What Impact Does Gender Diversity have on Bottom-line Performance showed that gender-balanced companies demonstrate better team dynamics and productivity rate. They also perform better financially, particularly when women occupy a significant proportion of top management positions.

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