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Where are all the women in Tech?

Where are all the women in tech? There are, of course, very high profile female executives who are great examples to all of us (Ginni Rometty, Marissa Meyer, Susan Wojcicki are just a few). But what about the many thousands of strong female leaders in tech whose every move is not covered by mainstream media? People like Daniela Lange, who leads product development for systems that process payroll for over 80-million individuals worldwide, and Satya Sreenivasan, leader of a team of developers working on the next generation of medical analytics software, who speaks passionately about the creativity and artistry that goes into writing code. These women are exemplars, and we need to make an effort to find and share their stories; each one has the beauty of being both extraordinary and tangible.

/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/women_in_tech_smithsonian_874303.jpgThe excuses around why we don’t hear more from these women are generally one of the following: “we can’t find any women” or “women don’t self-promote as much/as well as men”. Controversial? Perhaps. My experience has been mixed: some years ago, a dear (and sadly, recently departed) friend asked me to help program a new conference series. Today, the highly respected and successful Social Shake Up events have a near 1:1 ratio of men to women. My conclusion? Conference organizers or journalists who “can’t find any women” are simply not doing their homework. Conversely, while working on a writing project just before taking my current role at SAP, I began interviewing startup CEOs. The good news? 100% of the men accepted my interview requests. The bad news? A disappointingly low 30% of the women did. Successful women are important role models, and as such, I believe self-promotion is actually a responsibility.

The examples offered to young women and men shouldn’t be a choice between Sheryl Sandberg’s level of success or nothing. We need to hear the voices of successful women across the spectrum – to see ourselves in their journeys and to inspire young women everywhere to pursue technology at school and in their careers.

So, if you’re a woman in tech – step up and tell your story. And if you’re someone who tells stories about the technology industry, make sure you do your research, because, as Daniela Lange puts it so eloquently, “There is nothing inherently masculine about making software”. Many women are doing it, too.

Starting in May 2015, the SAP News Center began publishing “Spotlight on Women Leaders at SAP”, an effort to showcase the many exceptional female leaders at SAP.

Image credit: Lunde, Barbara Kegerreis, Goddard Space Flight Center. Smithsonian Institution Archives.

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  • Maggie,

    You talk about leaders, managers, CEOs. To become a great leader or CEO in IT or technology industry you have to be a great engineer/programmer and inspire others at the same time. But are there a lot of great programming women? Are there are lot of women who write code or design enterprise software architecture? Successful career in engineering or programming is a must for anyone who wants become a leader of an IT company. But unfortunately I don't see a lot of women programmers.

    BTW, one of the greatest women in IT I can recall is Iris Classon: Iris Classon (@IrisClasson) | Twitter.

    • Hi Dragomir - thanks for your comment. I think that's my point - these women exist (or else we would not have any well-known female leaders in tech) but we don't often hear about them. This series is intended to profile and highlight some of these very accomplished individuals within SAP.

    • Why or why "woman in Tech" necessarily equates "leader" or "programmer"? There are plenty of women who are "in Tech" (and in SAP world in particular) and are neither. Still they are pretty fantastic.

    • Agree with you Maggie and Jelena. There are many such women who are great programmers, architects, APOs, product managers etc. Important is to establish those connections. Additionally, women should also start taking pride in their work and talk more about it. I see that many women feel shy talking about their achievements. Women definitely need to talk more about their achievements. Self promotion is a responsibility in this case.

  • Great article, Maggie, and thank you for the nice words. You are spot on saying that if we are serious about wanting to change the ratio, self-promotion is our responsibility.

    When I was asked to give this interview, my initial gut reaction was along these typical excuses: Feels awkward being interviewed because I am female, what's the big deal, not comfortable being in the spotlight, too busy,... Then I thought if I get this chance to help encourage women to get into IT and take up leadership positions, I should try. After all I am also very curious to see what drives other ambitious women, why they make certain choices in life and how they manage their priorities. And it was a surprisingly rewarding experience, the response from females within and outside of SAP was overwhelming and showed me that there is indeed a need for sharing our stories.

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Daniela - and it's brave of you to acknowledge that it may feel uncomfortable to do so, but being a role model is really important.

  • Hi Maggie

    This came up in Coffee Corner....

    Women in computing... are we such a rarity? How many do you know?

    Erika Atencio converted the discussion into a blog in Careers Space Women in computing... are we such a rarity? How many do you know? (Republished)

    Self promotion is a big part. Unfortunatley, I've also heard of some women (in tech) say they wouldn't recommend IT to their daughters as there isn't enough flexibility and work hours can be an issue. This manager worked projects and had to travel or out of hours. It was an interesting conversation as I found Tech Industry to be the perfect industry for allowing flexibly working conditions - a barrier for some women participating in the workforce.



    • Ok, I'll jump in, though with not much different than what I said a few months ago in Erika Atencio's original post.

      In the 15+ years that I have worked for my current employer, I have seen eight CIOs (or IT Executive Directors -- we change up the title from time to time). My current CIO is a man, but four of the prior CIOs have been women. So, a 50/50 ratio for the top job doesn't seem too bad!

      Four senior managers are direct reports to the CIO, and two of those have another six managers combined reporting to them. Of these ten IT managers in the department, five are women (and two of those are direct reports to the CIO), so again, 50/50!

      The ratio does start to skew a bit more male when we get down to the "line" workers. The department as a whole has 65 men and 39 women working in it: roughly a 62/38 ratio now. However, where it's really interesting is the makeup of the different teams.

      The Help Desk skews female: 4 women to 2 men.

      The "hardware"-related groups, such as the PC techs, network operations, and network/comms engineers, skew male: 40 men to 7 women. But, most of the managers in this group are women, and they are also highly technical and hands-on, having come up through the ranks in their fields.

      The "software"-related groups (data reporting, applications support, and of course SAP), on the other hand, are much more evenly matched: 24 women to 22 men. For SAP we are 4 women to 8 men, with one female and two male developers.

      Obviously, one IT department does not a national trend make, and we are probably not very representative, being public sector. However, if there is a trend, it shows that the "hardware" fields remain highly skewed male, the "software" fields are fairly evenly matched, while leadership in both areas runs about 50/50.



        • Hi Maggie

          All tongue in cheek on that post.

          To your question: they don't need to be mutually exclusive but more importantly they can't be.

          The only way to solve a gender imbalance (in any industry - nursing/teaching/etc sway the other way) is for it to be solved by everyone - regardless of gender.

          When it comes to participation rates and barriers or reasons for women not progress I see more value in asking people at different levels of the organisational structure - be them male or female. What is the opinion of a student choosing her field of study? What does the tertiary educator see of the women and how they progress in their studies (are they swayed in a certain direction)? What do graduate employers, managers, other professional see as they come up the ranks?

          I think back to when I was in school 1990s-2000s. Technology was coming into the classroom. We started with one PC in the library where we got to queue up to use Encarta and then progressed to the one classroom which gave us weekly access to Where in Time is Carmen Sandiago. Those primary school classes both girls and boys loved being introduced to computing but it was all at application layer.

          I moved to all-girls private school for secondary education (13-17 years). This school had just completing a major building project which resulted in 5 new computer labs and full time onsite network support. It was probably one of the schools which realised printers need swipe cards after us girls would print entire scripts of Friends episode as we used Yahoo (?) to find stuff). We got exposed to lego logo programming (male teacher) and basic webistes.

          But this is where I started to see change. Technology was perceived as difficult (IT, Maths, Physics and Chemistry were seen as the "hard" subjects and Arts, Biology and History were the "easy"). Different parts of the brain I guess. So sadly, the school had to cater the subjects for what the students wanted. And slowly, the IT subjects with programming, networks and computer hardware were replaced with Typing and Multimedia Design.

          Yes, students had exposure to subjects that could form part of the IT subjects but really those subjects were not "straight IT". These students would not identify as working in the IT/Tech Industry. They may use elements in their current jobs but otherwise that's it.

          My university degree was a Bachelor of IT. I enrolled at the height of the dot com boom (it crashed whilst at uni and I was lucky SAP projects kicked off at graduation). It had a 10% enrollment rate of women. Interestingly, none of us dropped out and all entered the tech industry for our first job. But over the years I have seen some move towards business administrators as they have started families. Of this cohort quite a few were developers and business analysts.

          So part of where are all the women in tech may come back to their first exposure and introduction to technology and the less interesting aspects of it. If a student loses interest in technology (even though they are exposed to it daily) what chance do we have of seeing them enter the industry and work their way through the ranks?

          How do you increase participation ranks at the lowest levels if your pool to begin with is so small?



          • When I was in university (early 80s... gosh, I'm ancient! 🙂 ), I attended an engineering college with about a 65/35 ratio of male to female students. Not too far away, in the same city, was a traditional "women's college" (offering only liberal arts programs, and today it remains an all-female student body), and social mixers and dances were often combined affairs between the two universities. The male engineering students used to joke, derisively, about the students attending this other college, stating that they were there to study for their "MRS degree." I admit, the first time I heard that, I was unworldly enough to not understand what it meant.

            Flash forward a few decades, and while attitudes in the workplace -- or at least in my workplace -- do seem to have improved markedly, I'm not sure attitudes in the general population have. As a public sector institution, there are citizen-operated blogs dedicated to highlighting everything about us that anyone finds objectionable; it's impossible to please everyone, even just some of the time. About nine or ten years ago, I came across a statement made in a comment in one such blog about my IT department. The comment author was of the opinion that we did a very poor job in managing IT resources, and as Exhibit A for why we were bad at our jobs he pointed to how most of our developers (at the time) were women. "Huh?" I thought when I read that, and he went on to explain how any developer worth his salt would obtain one of the exciting and highly-compensated jobs at a high-tech private-sector organization, and only those who were second- or more likely third-rate would end up in IT in the public sector, and this somehow equated to women -- who apparently couldn't cut it in the faster-paced private sector -- taking the public sector jobs.

            This was insulting on so many levels that it left me speechless, and as you can tell it remains in my conscious memory to this day, many years later. It still bothers me.

            To be fair, others jumped in on that thread to resoundingly refute that point of view for the sexist misogyny that it was.

            What's more, it's demonstrably untrue. In terms of total compensation, I think we're actually quite competitive. Why else would former SAP consultants -- former SAP employees, even -- choose to work here once they tired of all the travel? Why else would our turnover be so low that it's not unusual to have staff remain on the team for fifteen or twenty years? Maybe it's not as fast-paced here; maybe it wouldn't be exciting for a 20-something looking to hit the big leagues. But just about anyone on my team could get another job tomorrow without having to break a sweat, yet they choose to stay. We are clearly not the B team here.

            But uninformed attitudes persist.

          • I see private vs public sector debate all the time. It is really insulting (going off on a tangent) when some see it as second rate work even though some department budgets can go into the billions to manage. Oh well

            Economical downturn is when you'll also see private sector people flock to the public sector 🙂

            Maybe time is what it will take as people start to see

  • Honestly the IT industry has many factors that have discouraged people of all genders from participating

    - First the culture of either your job or a "social life".  A culture that promotes and loves making people work 60 to 80 hours a week is a hard sell to anyone.

    - Not providing enough apprentice or entry paths and only hiring folks with 5, 10+ years of experience.  Why go into a field where recent graduates are not welcomed.

    - Lack of geographical diversity.  Why do all the major tech firms have to locate in small concentrated places.  I dare the IT Industry to locate in the Fergusons of the world for a change. 

    That being said I have been blessed to work for and with some amazing women in my career.  My former co-worker was awesome example of successful IT professional.

    That being said I'm doing my part for the future by trying to build my daughter's interest in technology.  I haven't had much luck or response so far, but I try personally to see something may click in the future.  It's a small thing, but then again many big things come from small changes.

    Take care,


    • Stephen, I've tried this with my daughter as well (who is now 17). She loves videogames, and she also loves social media (especially Twitter and chatrooms), so a few years ago I thought it would be a natural fit for her to learn more about computers and networking in general. She enrolled in a computer skills her freshman year in high school, but hated it (unfortunately, I think it was basically just teaching how to use Microsoft Word and Excel -- valuable, but not exactly inspiring and exciting). I offered to send her to a computer programming summer "bootcamp", but she wasn't interested, and then I found a summer program for learning how to design and create videogames. I thought that one would be a hit for sure, but no.... she just wants to play them, not make them.

      On the other hand, on her own initiative she taught herself how to use some free animation and sound editing tools, and has gotten into recording vocals for short animated videos. This level of creative work seems to inspire her much more, but perhaps more importantly, it's not something that Dad tried to push her to do. She found it on her own.

  • I've been thinking about this for a few days after I first read it.  What first comes to mind is India.  What really is exciting about SAP Bangalore and seeing all the students attend the pre-TechEd event is the higher percentage of woman.  I'm really happy to see Priyanka Porwal's comment above because she's one of many extremely talented and well spoken colleagues I've had a chance to meet when visiting Bangalore. 

    After watching a TED talk this morning about a woman sharing how she's teaching kids about computers, I feel that there's a strong role for parents and educators in breaking the old stereotypes of technology being difficult and "masculine," especially at a young age.  Software and code, for example, should be portrayed as another creative form of expression.  And encouraging children to see where technology exists around them (especially with IoT) and then getting them to think about what they'd like to see developed can help lay a strong foundation for both little boys and girls on where they want to go in life.

    Maybe that's where India (and eastern Europe) are ahead: they've already shed this notion that technology and software are masculine fields and encourage and/or support woman to get into tech.

    • Thanks Jason for the kind words. Perhaps would be good to also get analytical data related to various demographics - region, gender. That helps in figuring out if it is really a workdwide problem or specific to certain areas.

      I believe with the advent of technology, smartphones and smart devices are such an integral part of life. I find younger generation way ahead of us in terms of technology and one needs to continously invest in their learning to keep it up. We need to encourage that learning for all, specially for women if that is what leads to feeling that technology is tough and where are the women in Tech. Investing continously in learning, making the right connections, investment in social media to build one's reputation are all activities that could help bridge the gap for women in Tech.

      • Some interesting stats from India I found online:

        45.9% of all enrolled undergraduate students in India are women.

        2012-2013 the percentage of women enrolled in specific undergraduate degree programs included:

        • 28.5%  Engineering/Technology
        • 40.2% IT and Computer
        • 35.6% Management
        • 32.0% Law 

        So, in India, woman comprise of almost half of undergraduate students and, of them, over half are in engineering/technology/it/computer programs.



    • Hi Jason - great comment, and one of the best places I have ever seen for engaging a broad and diverse group of people in "STEM"-type topics is Maker's Faire. When families are brought together in these kinds of activities, girls and boys participate equally. It's pretty amazing to just stand and watch it in action at these events.