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A little-known fact is that when computer programming was emerging as a field in the 1940s, women were in the forefront of this new technology. In fact, the first programmers to work on the US Army’s enormous ENIAC computer to compute ballistic trajectories were all women.
Software was seen as less important than the male-dominated hardware field and was considered easy work, similar to typing, and so suitable for women. Today, however, things are very different: women make up less than a fifth of technical roles in the tech industry.
The difficulties facing women in tech have been well documented, and the percentage of women with computer science degrees has actually decreased from a peak of 37% in 1984 to a current rate of 19%. Of women who have degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), only 26% work in technical careers, compared to 40% for men.
But attracting women to tech is only part of the battle; retention is an issue as well. And once women enter the tech field, they leave at a 45% higher rate than men.
Of course, attaining diversity is not only the right thing to do — there is an increasing awareness that it’s also crucial to business success. According to one study, returns on investment are 53% higher for companies with diverse executive boards.
To learn more, we reached out to 1,000 women in the field of tech to learn about their experiences and how tech companies might retain them. Here’s what we found.
Lack of career growth is the most common reason women leave tech jobs
So what is the biggest issue negatively impacting talent retention among women in tech? Lack of career growth or trajectory is a major factor driving women to leave their jobs — this was the most common response (28%) when we asked why they left their last job.
The second most-common reason for leaving was poor management, with a quarter of respondents choosing this reason. Slow salary growth came in as the third most-common reason (24%) respondents left their last job.
By contrast, issues related to lifestyle, such as work-life balance (14%), culture fit (12%) and inadequate parental leave policies (2%) were less common reasons for leaving a job.
Meanwhile, many women in tech believe that men have more career growth opportunities — only half (53%) think they have the same opportunities to enter senior leadership roles as their male counterparts.
And among women who have children or other family responsibilities, almost a third (28%) believe they’ve been passed up for a promotion because they are a parent or have another family responsibility.
Almost half of women in tech say wage growth is their biggest challenge
When considering a job, salary topped the list as the most important factor, with 1 in 3 respondents choosing it. But transparency is an issue — 40% of women said they wish employers would have been “more transparent” about salary in the interview process.
Once in a job, salary remains a primary concern. When asked what challenges they face, wage growth was the top response, cited by almost half of respondents (45%).