Parity in the tech sector: where are all the women?

The numbers could not be clearer: parity between men and women is still a long way off in the tech industry. How can we move past the stereotypes and encourage women to take an interest in careers in information technology? Initiatives have already been launched, and OVH, like other major firms in the digital sector, is committed to doing its part, in the form of an appropriate recruitment policy and by supporting associations that promote women in technology sectors.

Women and information technology in France, in figures

In universities, schools and information technology jobs, women are few and far between. Only 13% of secondary school students taking school-leaving examinations in “Engineering Sciences” and 15% of students who go on to study information technology in higher education are young women (1). Although the percentage of female secondary school students taking sciences has remained stable since 2010, at 53.6% of students registered, only 7% of those go on to do a vocational qualification in IT. In the world of work, the digital sector is 33% female (3).

However, some women, or at least some female IT developers, may not be taken into account as part of the statistics on education. This is because 89.8% of developers of both sexes say that they are at least partially self-taught. Almost half of them have followed online training programmes, and 32% say they have “learned on the job” after they were hired (4).

Perspectives on recruitment in IT Purely in terms of figures, the number of women working in IT has remained at a standstill for 20 years, although it is, of course, expected to progress naturally. In the “all-digital era”, every company is committed to becoming a technological organisation, and IT is the main lever of development in this regard. The sector is recruiting massively, and women look set to have an important part to play. In 2020, for example, engineers and senior technical personnel in the industrial sector, case study and research personnel and IT engineers could be in a position to offer a total of 220,000 additional jobs, or an average net creation rate of 2% per annum (4). Moreover, the number one most sought-after candidates in the eyes of recruiters are software developers, closely followed by web developers, IT system engineers, sales engineers and project managers (6). This is also true for OVH, which intends to recruit a lot of new personnel in 2018. “What we’re looking for first and foremost is men or women, without drawing a distinction, because our objective is to attract talents whose main skills are leadership, know-how and an agile, flexible and innovative mind”, in the words of Stéphane Voisin, Talent Acquisition Specialist at OVH. 

Why are there so few women in IT?

Several reasons come to mind. For example, it might be connected to the levels of poverty and industrialisation in different countries. Although 50% of women in Asia, Latin America and Russia have qualifications in IT, the figure is only 18% in Europe, and 11% in France (7). India, China, Malaysia, Brazil and South Africa are also conquering the digital sector at breakneck speed, in part thanks to women, who are gaining an increasingly large foothold in the IT field.

Another reason could be that women rarely embark on long careers, preferring instead to gravitate towards sectors that accommodate their private lives better. 56% of women leave their jobs in the tech sector at some point in their careers.The reasons most frequently mentioned by women who have made this choice are the working conditions and the work/life balance. They are also under-represented amongst company founders: at a worldwide level, only 20% of tech startups are founded by women (8).

In any event, it is not a matter of not having the right skills! As shown in a recent study by IT researchers, code written by women and published on the open-source development platform Github was more likely to be approved by the community than code written by men (9). The opinion of an expert and the findings of a study

Isabelle Collet, teaching research supervisor in educational sciences at the University of Geneva and author of the book “L’informatique a-t-elle un sexe ?” (Ed. L’Harmattan, 2006), offers another explanation. In her view, before computers became a common accessory in homes (i.e. prior to the 1990s), information technology was not widely-known to the general public. A computer scientist was seen as a scientist who worked in an office. So women felt that IT careers were about as appealing to them as careers in any other engineering discipline. Then, the arrival of computers in the home changed this perception. Computers were mostly used by men, for playing video games or for learning how to ‘hack’. Collet’s conclusion is that the image we have of a computer user thus became the image of a geek, and so necessarily male. Not to mention the fact that advertising from that period, inspired by IBM’s “Dad, can I use the IBM computer tonight?”, was clearly targeted at men. Therefore, in the view of the teacher and author, the cliché began to take root in the 1980s-90s, creating a very masculine image for the IT sector. As a result, women gradually lost interest in careers in that sector (10).

Finally, to address the question of why there are so few women in the tech sector, a study by Kaspersky Lab asserts that it is because women see this sector as very technical, although this perception is very far from the truth. Cybersecurity in Europe, Israel and the United States is only 11% women. The Russian security company states that women decide against going into IT as a career because they have a negative view of it. They feel they don’t have the requisite skills, and they deplore the lack of female role-models to get them interested in the sector (11). Initiatives for reconciling women and IT

In light of all this - clichés, misconceptions and a lack of female role-models - a number of initiatives are emerging to make IT more attractive to women. For example, at the beginning of 2017, the French National Education Ministry and the Ministry of Families, Childhood and Women’s Rights and the Secretary of State for the Digital Economy and Innovation signed a plan to promote parity in jobs in the digital sector.The objective of this plan is to raise the profile of these professions in career departments in schools, to showcase women working in these careers, and to combat the stereotypes that discourage women from taking an interest in these sectors. There are also plenty of related initiatives, such as: Girls in Tech, which is dedicated to accelerating women’s access to the new technologies and startup market; Pink Innov’, a network of women that proposes analyses and methods of innovation; or even Code First Girls, in the United Kingdom, which is committed to training 20,000 women in coding by 2020, free of charge. Furthermore, OVH is a partner in this initiative and is co-financing it. Things are also moving forward in terms of entrepreneurship, such as the Station F business incubator, at which 40% of startups are directed by women.

The progress made over the past twenty years is far from sufficient. Ironically, some movements have arisen based on a real “girl power” philosophy, reproducing the rift in the very model they are criticising. I am convinced that the most productive way forward is to demonstrate genuine parity by tackling issues that apply to society as a whole, rather than confining our focus to the difficulties faced by women during their careers. Nevertheless, it is still important to promote training for women in IT, through presentations in schools, workshops during events, mentoring in associations and companies, etc.”, according to Fabienne Billat, the founder of the Lyon chapter of Femmes du Numérique(Women in the Digital Economy). Ever since 2011, this programme has sought to promote equality between men and women in the digital sector and to promote jobs in this field in education, career orientation, training and businesses.

The world of information technology is an extremely dynamic one, and new jobs are emerging every day! The more women take an interest in it, whether in France or abroad, the greater the benefit for innovation and entrepreneurship. In order for this to happen, all the parties involved - businesses, associations and schools - have to play a part, and review the way they operate in order to take a fresh approach to women’s place in tech careers.  &nbsp

  1. Gender Scan Study, carried out by Global Contact, 2017
  2. Dans les filières high-tech, la part des étudiantes diminue, Le Monde Campus, 2017
  3. Study on the appeal of digital and engineering jobs for women in France , carried out by Syntec Numérique for Opiiec, March 2016
  4. The developer recruitment market, 2017, study carried out by Stack Overflow, the web platform that plays host to the largest developer community in the world.
  5. Les métiers en 2022, France Stratégie et la DARES, 2015
  6. < Les développeurs, rois du marché de l’emploi en France, Le Monde Campus, 2017
  7. @letudiant
  8. The growth in women in the tech industry is 238% faster than for men, presented by Ecoreuil.fr
  9. Women are seen as better coders than men – but only if they hide their gender, via @wef
  10. La disparition des filles dans les études d’informatique : les conséquences d’un changement de représentation, Carrefours de l’éducation, Isabelle Collet, 2004
  11. 11%, Kaspersky Lab, 2017