Why Women Leave Tech Companies, And What To Do About It

Poor working conditions, work-life balance issues, and problems with office culture are all causing women to not lean in.

The technology industry has a woman problem. Promising programs like Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code have popped up to encourage young girls to get into computer science and engineering careers, but today, women still leave tech companies at double the rate of men. Even the women who make it past all the hurdles of being a female in the field—the lack of role models, sexism, and so on—don't stay very long.

Women Technologists Count, a new report from the Anita Borg Institute (ABI), examines the reasons why women in mid-level roles tend to leave technical career paths to become managers—or decide to leave the industry altogether.

After surveying more than 1,000 women who have left the tech world, a study from researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee discovered four key reasons why many women seem so repelled. Poor working conditions (i.e. low salaries, long hours, and few advancement opportunities) were reported by 30% of the women. 27% of respondents reported that they had trouble with work-life balance, like finding time for family and travel (what, everyone can't leave work at 5:30 PM a la Sheryl Sandberg?). A surprisingly large number of women (22%) got bored with daily tasks and their work in general. And 17% didn't like their coworkers, boss, or office culture.

ABI offers up pages upon pages of recommendations on how to keep women in technology, but they boil it down to this:

ABI cites a handful of major tech companies that are already implementing these recommendations. Intel has its Womens PE and Fellows Forum—a community for women engineers that offers peer mentoring and coaching. IBM's Women Inventors Community is a support network of female inventors and mentors who share information about the patenting process, career opportunities, and models for success. And Google has its famous extended maternity leave program, which gives women 18 weeks of leave (compared to the 12 required by California). The company also offers an "Expectant and New Parent Gurus" program that is a forum for Googlers to coach their coworkers becoming parents.

All of these programs have resulted in work environments where women are more engaged, ABI says (more than 1,000 women have been involved in IBM's inventor community, for example):

A large-scale study of women in engineering careers shows that women who work in companies that support their development, help them manage work-life integration, and value their contributions are most satisfied with their jobs and less likely to leave the company. This perceived support has the power to mitigate the effects of a poor manager, a difficult microclimate, or the disruption associated with organizational change.

The conclusion? When it comes to keeping women in technology, a little support and listening goes a long way.

[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

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  • elesterb

    The author's use of statistics doesn't really support her argument and could easily point the other way. She says:

    "A surprisingly large number of women (22%) got bored with daily tasks and their work in general. And 17% didn't like their coworkers, boss, or office culture."

    What makes these numbers that surprising? Lots of people, men and women, get bored with their daily tasks and don't like their colleagues. This number is only "surprising" if compared with male responses. If 0% of men get bored with their daily tasks and don't like their coworkers, then perhaps that statistic is interesting. But, we don't know because the author didn't include that statistic.

    Having worked in the tech industry for a long time, I can assure you, there is no "hiring less qualified men over more qualified women". If anything, there is the opposite. In any hiring process I've been a part of, virtually all the applicants are men. Most tech meet-ups are 99% men. I could go on.

    I think this topic warrants more and better discussion, unlike what's offered here.

  • your_average_reader

    Did someone threaten you into making your article less provocative? Or how come you end up with " support and listening" while earlier, you quoted low salaries and few advancement opportunities as the main problems? Women need "special care"? Really? You make it sound like a disability.I bet for that one questionable confused woman that leaves a tech company because of  what you call "her special needs were not met"  there were 20 who were more qualified than the male applicant and never go the job to begin with because their applications were trashed simply based on gender, and another 20 who left after nine months because it became obvious they'd never get equal chances and equal pay even to their less qualified male coworkers. And another 20 who gave in to the mobbing for not smiling enough or not wearing feminine clothing or make-up. And another 20 who left because their male co-workers used their work in their own projects and put their own names under it and when the women told her boss they were told to "not be so sensitive'.  And another 20 who became freelancers because they were tired of bumping their head against the glass ceiling. That's 100 to 1. Your article is about the 1. 

    The false conclusions you drew ("a little support and listening") divert the attention away from the actual findings of the studies you yourself quoted (opportunities and pay) into scapegoat subjects that people easily jump on (justified "real world" business needs that clash with "special, unrealistic" female needs) . This successfully avoids any discourse about the real issue (social discrimination). And I guess that was your intention. Congratulations. You've succeeded to prevent most readers from getting that this is about social discrimination, as the comments show. You've helped to darken the world a tiny bit with this article. It would have been better you had never written it. 

    I'm going to correct that little evil last sentence of yours:  The conclusion? When it comes to keeping women in technology, a little support and listening does nothing to conquer the social discrimination the studies have revealed. To keep women in technology, as well as all other industries they shy away from, how about we give them what all people crave, independent of age, nationality or gender: Respect and fairness.  

  • JustineLera

    Great article - thanks for bringing this latest research and strategic information together.  ONe thing - the conclusion that "A little support and listening goes a long way" is extraordinary.  This  demeans and belittles the excellent and rational changes in company culture that you report on. Women in technology do not need a little support; it has been shown that their careers, and therefore the success of their employing companies, benefit massively from real and effective mentorship along at least four axes.  The conclusion? ' Don't be daft.  Build an atmosphere of smart, mature professionalism to support women, and be amazed at the force multiplication to your bottom line.'

  • Nicole

    Wow, I'm surprised at the number of sexist comments on this article. No wonder why they're leaving at a fast rate. Apparently "a little support and listening" is too much to ask for. Try opening your eyes to other people's perspectives and listen to what they have to say; being in your own bubble doesn't treat you any good, especially if you want to be a decent human being and care about other people's experiences.

  • CrosbyTee

     When will women grow up and understand that the business world doesn't exist to make them feel good about themselves? It exists to make money.

  • TrutherNore

    Since women have all these issues, why in the world would anyone want to hire one?

    Just hire men.  Instead of making a fuss, they'll get on with it.  More work, fewer issues.

  • GonzoI

    This is the basics of management - when you manage an environment where your success depends on the people you manage, you invest in your people. You don't invest in anything by just blindly throwing a minimal amount of money at it and hoping for good things. You learn what will make your investment the most successful and you do that. A manager isn't paid to make "the big decisions", and anyone who claims that should be relegated to the bottom of the unskilled labor pool. A manager is paid to do the complex work of creating an environment of success for the employees being managed.

  • Salma F. Al Qubaisi

    Interesting article!  I always believe
    that women put most of their effort and passion to whatever they do in life.  This is the nature of woman.  Now when it comes to a working mother, there
    come the dedication to work and life balance as well.  In IT field, most of the IT managers (in our
    culture) would prefer to recruit a male rather than a female, WHY?  The reason is men will not have trouble to:
    * Stay late and finish the job;
    * Take home extra work;
    * Get married and have a leave;
    * Getting pregnant, which might affect the job performance;
    * Going through maternity and taking leave!!
    * Followed by nursing hours, allowed by our government rules;
    * Or any special sick leaves ladies would have excuses for!
    * Schools parent meetings.
    But if we consider the working mother dedication to her job, always I find
    her very much, giving sincerely without reward. 
    On the contrary, always she is overloaded and the expectations are
    higher than the normal employee.  Since it’s
    always known that she would do her best to stay in that job.
    If the organization would provide the best training courses to support
    the job, and at the end of the day, the employee is not valued or she is not
    going to have a work-social life balance; it not even worth spending her time
    and the company’s money to stay there!

    That’s why, I wouldn't find it surprising if ladies are leaving this
    domain and shifting to different areas and for sure they would definitely excel
    in them.

  • Debbie Ruston

    It isn't rocket science why so many people are disengaged. It isn't just women. As stated in the article, "women who work in companies that support their development are most satisfied with the their jobs and less likely to leave the company"

    People want to feel valued, and when they do, go beyond the call of duty. Companies that do not embrace this thinking, have a continuous revolving door that will cost them far more than developing in the continued growth of their most valuable asset...their people.

  • Ketzirah

    So basically making the working world better for women, will make it better for everyone?  Isn't it possible that we just need to realign our priorities across the board?  There are some industries where your job is your life, and it supplies not only financial rewards, but also emotional, creative, and even spiritual benefits.  

    The problem is that most organizations are not satisfied with employees who not only go above and beyond -- they want your job to BE your life.