It’s no secret that the IT community has a diversity problem.
A report from the World Economic Forum found that just 23% of computer and mathematical jobs are held by women, and only 5% of information and communication technology CEOs are women. Large technology companies pat themselves on the back for modest 1-2% gains in the number of women they employ, even though less than a third of their workers are female. At Apple 32% of the staff is female. At Google 31%. At Microsoft 27% — and only 20% of the technical roles are held by women.
Some might question whether or not these figures really matter. After all, a corporation’s primary responsibility isn’t to be fair — it’s primary responsibility is to make money for shareholders.
But the truth is that companies that employ more women make more money.
A 2018 study published in the Harvard Business Review revealed that companies with above-average diversity had 19% higher revenues and 9% greater margins. Simply by adding more women to the management team, companies could increase their revenues by 2.5%. And enterprises that had instituted diversity-friendly practices like equal pay, participative leadership, top management support for diversity, and open communication generated up to 12.9% greater revenue.
Most tech leaders seem to understand that bringing more women into the industry would be very good for them. Many have supported training initiatives and are actively recruiting more women. And some companies, like Apple, have been particularly successful at hiring more young women.
But the problem isn’t just with recruitment. Women also leave tech jobs at much higher rates than men do.
A report from The Center for Talent Innovation found that 52% of highly qualified women quit their jobs in science, engineering and technology. A separate study from AnitaB.org revealed that women leave tech companies two times faster than men do. In addition, 56% of the few women who work in tech leave by the time they have reached mid-level jobs, resulting in the fact that women are three times less likely to have senior technical roles than men.
Why do they leave?
To find out, Indeed.com conducted a survey that asked 1,000 women in technology why they had left previous jobs. It also asked them other questions about challenges they had experienced in the workplace and issues that were important to them. The results revealed nine key elements that play a role in women’s decisions to leave IT jobs.
Interestingly, those reasons for leaving may not be the ones you expect.
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9. Sexual Harassment and Discrimination
The survey did not specifically ask women if they had ever left a tech job because of sexual harassment and discrimination. However, it did ask them about their biggest challenges in the workplace. It found that 12% had experienced sexual harassment, and 23% said they had experienced bias and discrimination.
While women didn’t cite harassment and discrimination as their biggest challenges, the number of women who say they have experienced them is still too high. In the era of the #MeToo movement when even the employees at Google are protesting the treatment of female employees, companies may find that it is in their financial best interest to prevent and address these problems at their firms.
8. Work-Life Balance
In any discussion about women in the workforce, motherhood and family inevitably become part of the conversation. Many people assume that women earn less money than men because they choose to have children and work less (or less hard) because they want to spend more time with their offspring.
However, in the survey, a miniscule number of the women surveyed — just 2.3% — said that they had left a job because of inadequate parental leave. A somewhat higher number cited “work-life balance,” which is often code for wanting to spend more time at home to raise kids. But this response was cited by only 14.4% of respondents. While families and work-life balance sometimes play a role in female tech workers’ decisions to leave their employers, it isn’t the most common reason.
Another common refrain about women working in tech is that they just don’t like IT as much as men do. However, the survey data doesn’t really support that conclusion either.
Among those surveyed, 15.7% said they had left a tech job because they were bored or not challenged in their role. That part about not being challenged seems particularly important in light of some other findings. More than six in 10 (61%) of those surveyed said that they had wanted to switch to a new role within their company, and of those, 80% said they would have been more likely to stay in their job if there had been a clear way for them to move up into a new position.
As with work-life balance, boredom does play a role in some women’s decisions to leave tech jobs. However, that boredom may not come from a dislike of working in IT but from a feeling that their careers have stalled and that there is no place for them to go next.
6. Their Own Reasons
When Indeed.com asked women why they had chosen to leave their tech jobs, the fourth most popular reason was “Other.” In fact, more than one in five (22.5%) said they had quit a job for a reason that didn’t fit into one of the commonly expected categories. Maybe these women didn’t like a co-worker. Maybe the commute was too long. Maybe they got a better offer. The data isn’t clear.
However, this information does indicate that managers who are serious about wanting to retain the women on staff need to speak with those women directly about any challenges they are experiencing. It would be a mistake to assume that you know what women want and why they might be considering quitting.
5. Slow Salary Growth
Nearly a quarter of the women surveyed (24.4%) said they had quit a tech job because their salaries weren’t increasing fast enough. In addition, when asked which challenges they expected to have in their career, wage growth was the number one vote-getter, cited by 33% of respondents.
In this case, women themselves may be able to contribute to solving the problem. Other surveys have shown that women are far less likely than men to ask for a raise. “Leaning in” and asking for that raise may be part of the solution, but managers also need to be open to hearing these requests from their female employees. In this survey, 53% of respondents said that they felt they could ask for a promotion or a raise, meaning that nearly half didn’t think it would be a good idea.
4. Lack of Salary Transparency
The women surveyed said that they would be more likely to ask for a raise if they had a better idea what their co-workers were making. More than three in four (76%) of those surveyed said that salary transparency, such as including salaries in job descriptions, would help them do a better job of negotiating fair compensation.
Despite stereotypes to the contrary, pay is a big issue for women, as it is for IT workers in general. Women who feel they are being compensated fairly — because they know what people in their role typically make — will have more incentive to continue working in IT.
3. Lack of Pay Equity
The survey also revealed that 46% of women working in tech believe that they are paid less than men. Whether or not that feeling is tied to reality for an individual woman will depend on the policies of the company where she works.
However, the Interop and InformationWeek 2018 Salary Survey revealed that overall median salaries for men in IT are about $20,000 higher than for women. Drilling down into the details, the discrepancies don’t look quite as bad. Female staffers earn median salaries of $80,000 compared to $90,000 for men, while female managers see median salaries of $115,000, compared to $125,000 for male managers. Also, women’s salaries are rising faster than men’s are, but it will clearly be quite some time before the tech industry achieves pay equity.
2. Poor Management
The second most common reason why women leave tech jobs is — you.
Nearly a quarter of the women surveyed by Indeed.com said that they had left a job because of poor management. The survey data doesn’t explain whether respondents were specifically concerned about how managers had treated them as women or whether they just felt that the managers were doing a poor job in general.
Interestingly, the survey did reveal that younger women are particularly concerned about diversity in management; 24% said they might leave a job if there wasn’t enough female leadership representation.
1. Lack of Career Growth/Trajectory
The number one reason why women leave tech jobs? Lack of career growth or trajectory. More than a quarter of women (28.1%) cited this as the reason they left their last job. This finding seems to support those other findings that 60% of women wanted to move to another role within their firms, and that 80% of them would stay in their jobs if they saw a clear path to advancement.
Based on those results, managers who want women to stick with their technology jobs would do well to highlight promotion opportunities. Women who believe that their careers have stalled are very likely to head to another company or even to leave the IT field altogether.Cynthia Harvey is a freelance writer and editor based in the Detroit area. She has been covering the technology industry for more than fifteen years. View Full Bio