Why so few women start tech companies

There are not enough women leading tech start-ups. The buzz is on, ignited by the Aug. 27 Wall Street Journal article “Addressing The Lack Of Women Leading Tech Start-Ups.”

As a serial tech entrepreneur, I participated in heated discussion for decades exploring why the dearth and how it hurts society. I propose four practical actions to help the situation. But first — answets to the questions why, where and why again.

Why bother getting more women tech leaders? Besides addressing gender equity issues, everyone stands to benefit – companies gain from female creativity and management styles, those companies’ customers, half of whom may be female, find unique products being brought to market in novel ways, the employees and people involved in the company benefit from women’s leadership, the women themselves self-actualize their potential, and our nation is ultimately more competitive from the outputs of more start-ups. The end result is a stronger tech engine.

Where do leaders of tech start-ups come from? One proven path to tech leadership is to start as an engineer, scientist, mathematician or computer scientist. While women represent around 50 percent of the US graduates of law, medicine and business degrees, the percentage of women graduates in engineering, science and math graduates is well under 25 percent and has gone down over the years.

The National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) reports, “In 2008 women earned only 18 percent of all Computer Science degrees. Back in 1985, women earned 37 percent of CS degrees.” The same under-representation of women is seen in other tech fields. In 1996, only 17 percent of bachelor degrees in Engineering were earned by women. Unfortunately, many females who graduate with a technology degree do not stay in the field. The Society of Women Engineers (www.swe.org) reports statistics that between 7-16 percent of engineers, depending on the discipline, are female. According to a National Science Foundation 2009 report, only 11 percent of the engineering workforce in 2003 were women.

Why don’t girls pursue tech degrees and careers? That is the question the Girl Scouts Research Institute explored. The Girl Difference: Short-Circuiting the Myth of the Technophobic Girl, through a synthesis of relevant research, shows the following:

• Adults are not encouraging girls to pursue math, science, and technology-related courses. (National Science Foundation)

• Girls and women do not encounter enough mentors in their career pursuits.

• Early childhood messages prevail. Boys are expected to learn about machines and how things work. Girls are not. Gender specific social expectations may play a role in limiting the likelihood that girls will be creators, shapers, and producers of technology.

• Girls reject computer games that are violent, and they find action gaming boring and repetitious. Girls prefer games that feature simulation, strategy, and interaction. (American Association of University Women, Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age).

• Women would be more attracted to computer science if it were integrated with other subjects and resulted in their ability to do something useful for society in their work. (Margolis, et al., Carnegie-Mellon University).

What to do?

Stay tuned for my next article on four practical steps to change the situation. The answer is believe and act — Believe it is possible to change the situation and take action.
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Categories: Management & Leadership