Women are leaving tech faster than they can be replaced

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There is a big push in gaming and tech to get more women into the industry. Thanks to a variety of programs aimed at giving girls the skills needed to excel at coding and engineering, the goal is for greater diversity. However, there’s no point filling the pipeline of talent if qualified women keep quitting. So why are women getting pushed out of the industry?

An LA Time article takes a look at what’s happening in tech. Instead of getting stories at the bottom or the top (yes, there are a small number of wonderful success stories of female CEOs, too), they looked in the middle. Women who were qualified and worked at interesting companies, but were leaving tech due to a hostile work environment. But what is hostile?

According to a Harvard study quoted in the article, the hostile environment includes a sense of isolation and lack of clear career path, but I think this example explains it best:

She had built a prototype for a travel website, she said, a feature to auto-suggest cities and airports based on the first three letters typed into the search field, fixing a long-standing problem.

Her male bosses told her she’d built it without permission. Then they said only architects within the company could pitch features — and all the architects were male. In the end, the project was handed to someone else, and she was assigned to less interesting tasks.

As she goes on to explain, as an isolated incident, she wouldn’t have thought much of it. But it developed into a pattern where she was continually asked to prove herself while getting passed up for no apparent reason. Another anecdote is similarly vague, and yet telling.

Tracy Chou, 27, a well-known engineer at Pinterest, said she was once bypassed at a previous start-up because her boss thought a new male hire was more qualified. When Chou pressed for an explanation, she recalled him saying: “It’s just this feeling I have that this person will be able to get stuff done faster than you.”

Various companies are evaluating their own policies and procedures to ensure that things improve for women in business. For example, Google’s data showed women were promoted less often than men because workers need to nominate themselves; women who nominated themselves got pushback because women are typically rewarded for modesty and penalized for what might be seen as “aggressive” behavior. Google included female leaders at workshops to coach everyone (male and female) on how to promote themselves effectively and found that the gender difference among nominees disappeared.

Of course it will take a lot more work from companies to help get rid of this sexist undercurrent. While everyone faces struggles in their quest for career success, those hurdles shouldn’t be based on factors out of their control, be it gender, sexual orientation, race, etc.

It’s interesting to think that our push towards getting girls into tech might be fruitless if the culture doesn’t change. Of course this article is primarily anecdotal and it would be interesting to see new research into the topic, but it still offers some telling insight into an important trend in tech that I’m sure carries over to gaming as well. Personally, I am one of the lucky few who hasn’t experienced gender-based hostility in the workplace. But then, despite working in the tech and gaming sector, my actual job description doesn’t include any coding or engineering – it might be a very different case in that scenario.

Last Updated: February 24, 2015

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. You can read more of my words over at www.borngeek.co.za, or just follow me on all the social networks to get the true range of my sarcasm and wit.

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