Redmond launched into a technology career for an
exciting challenge and a chance to change the world. She
was well-equipped to succeed too: An ambitious math and
science wiz, she could code faster, with fewer errors,
than anyone she knew.
2011, after 15 years, she left before achieving a
Means became a programmer for similar reasons. After 13
years, she quit too, citing a hostile and unwelcoming
environment for women.
expects to ever go back.
are a lot of things that piled up over the years,"
Means said. "I didnít know how to move forward.
There was a lot I had to put up with in the culture of
tech. It just didnít seem worth it."
a huge problem for the tech economy. According to the
industry group Code.org, computing jobs will more than
double by 2020, to 1.4 million. If women continue to
leave the field, an already dire shortage of qualified
tech workers will grow worse. Last summer, Google,
Facebook, Apple and other big tech companies released
figures showing that men outnumbered women 4 to 1 or
more in their technical sectors.
why the industry is so eager to hire women and
minorities. For decades tech companies have relied on a
workforce of whites and Asians, most of them men.
of programs now encourage girls and minorities to
embrace technology at a young age. But amid all the
publicity for those efforts, one truth is little
discussed: Qualified women are leaving the tech industry
in tech say filling the pipeline of talent wonít do
much good if women keep quitting ó itís like trying
to fill a leaking bucket.
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a really frustrating thing," said Laura Sherbin,
director of research at the Center for Talent
Innovation. "The pipeline may not improve much
unless women can look ahead and see itís a valuable
Harvard Business Review study from 2008 found that as
many as 50 percent of women working in science,
engineering and technology will, over time, leave
because of hostile work environments.
reasons are varied. According to the Harvard study, they
include a "hostile" male culture, a sense of
isolation and lack of a clear career path. An updated
study in 2014 found the reasons hadnít significantly
women in the Harvard study said the attitudes holding
them back are subtle, and hence more difficult to
now 40, didnít want to leave her tech career. But she
felt stuck, with no way to advance. She said male
co-workers seemed to oppose her. "It was like they
were trying to push me out at every stage," 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.
male bosses told her sheíd built it without
permission. Then they said only architects within the
company could pitch features ó and all the architects
were male. In the end, the project was handed to someone
else, and she was assigned to less interesting tasks.
just kept asking me to prove myself over and over
again," she said.
an isolated incident, Redmond wouldnít have thought
much of it. But she noticed a pattern. She said she was
often passed up for no apparent reason, and her projects
were frequently taken away or dismissed.
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Chou, 27, a well-known engineer at Pinterest, said she
was once bypassed at a previous startup because her boss
thought a new male hire was more qualified. When Chou
pressed for an explanation, she recalled him saying:
"Itís just this feeling I have that this person
will be able to get stuff done faster than you."
continuous pattern of all these people treating me like
I didnít know what was going on, or excluding me from
conversations and not trusting my assertions, all these
things added up and it felt like there was an
undercurrent of sexism," she said.
one difficulty in tackling the problem, said Alaina
Percival of Women Who Code, a group that aims to attract
more women to the tech industry.
(things that are) so small youíd never even complain
about them," Percival said. "But they happen
day after day. Theyíre the kind of things that
separate and exclude you from the team and make you say,
ĎHey, is this the right career path for me?í"
not just employees. Female tech entrepreneurs face
Sutton, a partner at BuildUp, a startup that seeks out
companies founded by women and minorities, says he often
sees women treated unfairly. He recently watched a woman
introduce herself to a venture capitalist only to be
told that she should get a job instead of starting her
own business "because youíre not going to make it
like that can really hurt the confidence of any
entrepreneur," Sutton said. "Some people will
argue if youíre going to be an A-plus entrepreneur,
youíre not going to let it bother you. But itís
really unnecessary behavior."
far, no company has found a solution for retaining
whose engineering workforce is only 17 percent female,
introduced a training program in 2013 that aims to fight
cultural biases. Employees play word association games,
and are often surprised by how quickly they link
engineering and coding professions with men, and less
technical jobs with women.
technical team is 21 percent female. It created an
engineering promotion committee to ensure no one is
overlooked. Gender, race, ethnicity and the like arenít
given special priority, but the committee is charged
with making sure those issues donít get in the way of
advancement. The company also has a recruiter whose
focus is diversity.
with a technical workforce that is 15 percent female,
gathers its female employees from around the world for a
leadership day filled with talks, workshops and support.
Women also organize themselves into Facebook groups to
share knowledge and experiences. The company also offers
special benefits like four months of paid maternity and
paternity leave, and free classes for women on returning
to the workplace.
global engineering workforce is 20 percent female. The
company did not respond to requests for comment.
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training, mentoring, instruction in negotiating tactics
and other "incremental" measures wonít boost
the numbers, said Joan C. Williams, law professor at the
University of California, Hastings College of the Law
and coauthor of "What Works for Women: Four
Patterns Working Women Need to Know."
need to research the biases that prevent women from
getting ahead, she said, and then devise
"interrupters." Instead of single training
sessions, companies need to make systemic changes, she
example: Googleís own data showed women were promoted
less often than men because workers need to nominate
themselves. Women who did so got pushback. Based on her
studies, Williams found that women are rewarded for
modesty and penalized for what men might see as
"aggressive" behavior. Google began including
female leaders at workshops to coach everyone ó men
and women ó on how to promote themselves effectively.
The gender difference among nominees disappeared,
high-profile women such as Yahooís Marissa Mayer,
Hewlett-Packardís Meg Whitman and IBMís Ginni
Rometty mark glass-ceiling victories for women, most
tech companies are headed by men.
simply having a female CEO does not in itself solve the
problem. Men are crucial for creating an environment
where women thrive, said Scarlett Sieber, 27, vice
president of operations at tech company Infomous.
need to be the ones that are advocating and pushing for
women to rise up, and not just rely on the 1 percent of
women who are already at the top to do it," Sieber
says the entire industry needs to do what itís so good
at: cause disruption.
then, women like Redmond and Means will keep leaving.
Redmond now runs her own business making educational
apps for children, while Means, 36, has moved to Rome to
work on a novel and figure out what sheíll do next.
asked what it would take to bring her back to the tech
industry, Means laughs and says, "Everything."
Then, "The main thing would be professionalism.
Just being able to treat each other with respect would