The Women in Tech Pipeline “Problem”

by Dr. Dnika J. Travis

The idea that there aren’t enough women in the pipeline for tech jobs is a myth that hides structural barriers to advancement.

“We have robust pipelines and opportunities to create more,” said Allyson
Kapin, founder of Women Who Tech, in a 2019 Quartz article on debunking tech’s pipeline problem. “But there’s a cultural issue here that belies not the pipeline, but the entire system that the pipeline operates in.”

Kapin is not alone in trying to debunk the tech pipeline myth by challenging organizations to focus on workplace culture and root out gender inequities. Understand this: Women are in the pipeline—it’s the corporate culture that’s pushing them out.

A study by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2019, revealed that women have achieved parity with men in earning science and engineering bachelor’s degrees.

Women from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups also have earned over half of science and engineering degrees compared to men within each racial or ethnic group. So there’s limited evidence for a pipeline problem.

But the NSF does show that women are underrepresented in science and engineering jobs. Specifically, women scientists and engineers were less likely than men to be employed full-time and more likely to be in part-time roles. They were also more likely to work outside these fields.

There’s lots of evidence describing the challenges women face in entering and staying in tech. But when organizations default to a “fix the pipeline” approach, they miss the opportunity to address broader issues.

Workplace culture is everything. We need to shift workplace norms and practices that stifle women’s participation and advancement in tech jobs. We also need open dialogue about systematic inequities and how barriers affect people at the intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, age, cultural background, sexual orientation, and other aspects of identity.

In these environments, it’s hard to find fault with women for looking for better opportunities. In an article in The Atlantic, “The Deficiencies of Tech’s ‘Pipeline’ Metaphor,” Melissa Gregg, a researcher at Intel, notes that a “leaky pipeline might actually be a sign of workers’ agency—of their empowerment and willingness to leave intransigent cultures that don’t align with their values.”

The good news is that organizations can create more welcoming environments for women in tech.

First, it’s critical to move beyond a “this is how we’ve always done it” mentality when it comes to recruitment. There are many different pathways to tech jobs, and when recruiters continue to tap the same schools, they miss the diversity that comes from different schools and nontraditional candidates. Second, once people arrive in tech roles, organizations must nurture and develop them by showing them that they’re valued.

Bottom line: Let’s start asking the tough questions about workplace culture at the root of the myth that there aren’t enough women in the tech pipeline. DW

Catalyst is a global nonprofit working with some of the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to help build workplaces that work for women. Founded in 1962, Catalyst drives change with pioneering research, practical tools, and proven solutions to accelerate and advance women into leadership—because progress for women is progress for everyone.

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