Today, March 8, 2021, we celebrate another International Women's Day (IWD). As a woman, and mother of two young adult daughters, this day means a lot to me.

The fight for equal rights, and the observance of the day, started early in the 20th century, but only in 1977 the United Nations officially instituted the IWD. In the history of mankind, this is a very recent revindication. Actions so natural for most of us like learning, working, wearing certain clothes, or the ability to vote, were until recently banned for most women. Unacceptably, in many countries, they still are.

The gender gap

There are countries where the gender gap is huge and very clear. But if you live in a more developed and open society, don’t be misled. Recent successes may lead us to think that all is done, and that we are close to living in an equal society, however, the situation for women is still concerning.

Take a look at the gender pay gap, and the workplace gender gap. According to the Gender Pay Gap Report for 2020, women in the US are still being paid $0.81 for every dollar earned by men, and although this difference has shrunk in past years, the incremental growth is getting smaller every year. At the same time, the gap widens for women of color, widening even more with career progression. Women in executive positions make as little as $0.69 to every dollar made by a man.

At the same time, access of women to leadership roles is still incomparably lower than men. The UN’s Secretary-General’s recent report shows that women are still greatly underrepresented in public life and decision-making positions. At the current rate, it will take another 130 years to achieve gender equality among heads of government worldwide. When referring to the workplace, the shortage of women in executive ranks may be one of the causes for problems like harassment in the workplace, the gender pay gap or the lack of diversity in decision-making. What’s worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these differences even further.

Nearly 80% of all workers who lost jobs in January were women. Women continue to carry the burden of carrying for children in households and with little to no childcare alternatives, women in the workplace are at great risk.

The hard truth about women in technology

When it comes to technology and engineering, the under-representation of women in the workforce is even more concerning. Women face significant challenges in finding equal career opportunities, in various dimensions.

As of 2021, women still only occupy 25 percent of the roles in these fields, being that this number decreases to less than 3 percent when it comes to Black or Hispanic women. Moreover, despite the huge growth in STEM jobs in the last 30 years, women are disproportionally missing to keep up.

An even more concerning finding relates to the degree gap. According to the latest report from the National Science Foundation, computer sciences have one of the lowest shares of women graduating, despite the increase in women graduating from STEM in general. In fact, the number of recent female bachelor’s in computer science hit a low in 2016, continuously down since 1997! With so many efforts to promote the interest of technology amongst girls and women, this fallback is extremely concerning.

Graphic with evolution of women degreed in computer science Degrees awarded to women in Computer Science, 1997 to 2016. Source: NSF/NCSES

But the situation only gets worse as women move to the workplace. After getting a degree in computer science, less than 40 percent work in the field. This “leaking pipeline” effect is extremely troubling, and certainly of the causes for the small number of women working in IT-related positions.

The gap extends to other areas, like culture in the workplace, or the small minority of female founders in tech startups. The truth is in fact hard.

An opportunity for all

So how can we invert this trend? What can we do to promote the interest and inclusion of more women in tech roles and leadership positions? I believe we can contribute towards a more equitable world, not only for women, but especially for women in technology. Each one of us, even in our own small way, can have an impact.

We must continue to:

  • Raise awareness for the huge gaps that still hold women back. This is still a problem.
  • Support Women in Tech/STEM groups, either promoting online, providing financial support or co-organizing events.
  • Be a role model and promote good female role models. Young girls must be inspired to pursue any career, and there is no better way than leading by example.
  • Support and motivate girls from a younger age. Insecurities towards technology and leadership start early, therefore we must create an environment where gender does not hinder passion.
  • Support other women. Either when hiring, upskilling, or applying to leadership positions, may our gender never hold us back from our decisions.

Together, we can make IWD count.