How Software Engineering Culture Deters Women

IEEE Computer Society Team
Published 08/03/2023
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Frustrated Woman

In 1946, women made up more than 50% of the first programmers tasked with creating the U.S. military’s first computer to automate missile trajectory calculators. Without programming languages, compilers, or any precedent to go from, a group of women physically hardwired and programmed computers that took missile projection calculations from 30 hours to complete by hand to mere seconds. Roughly 80 years later, why do female software engineers now only account for 28% of the workforce?

While women comprise 49.7% of the world’s population, they only account for less than a third of software engineers. As digital innovation speeds ahead, true change must come from different experiences and worldviews. The female viewpoint is essential to capture in software engineering, but this isn’t easy when women are significantly underrepresented.

Software Engineering Culture as a Deterrent for Women

One of the most significant pain points of women in STEM revolves around the stereotypes, work-life balance, behaviors, and many of the non-technical aspects of software engineering. Women are just as capable of learning computing skills, but the software engineering culture is often a deterrent. While women still perform most of the household management and care, even while working full-time, work-life balance is an important criterion when selecting a career. Poor work-life balance causes stress for 72% of women, so long hours and late nights coding are not an attractive offer. Mix in childcare and domestic labor, with women still performing more than 50% of home labor, and women in tech are not drawn to the cultural expectations of software engineers: heads down, little socialization, and long hours.

Outlook: More Diverse Teams as a Way to Improve Software Engineer Retention

When considering how to retain software engineering talent, 93% of survey respondents said a positive team environment and collective spirit. Diversity across the board in software engineering is critical; diverse teams perform better and are more productive and engaged. Most importantly, they often create a better final product, which can have a far-reaching ripple effect when viewed in terms of life-altering new technologies. Bringing in more women, different cultures and backgrounds, people of color, and people of varying gender and sexual identities have a stark effect on creating a more positive software engineering work environment for all.

But what are other ways to bring women into the software engineering field in practical terms? Does it start with early education? Increased mentorship? Or does it begin with changing the culture of software engineering? Read the proposed solutions and full article “Frustrations Steering Women Away From Software Engineering”.

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