Women are a majority in the general population; why are you calling women a minority?

Let’s get started at the very beginning with some basic definitions and education to ensure we are all on the same page.

Definition of Terms

  • ‘Gender refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex. Behavior that is compatible with cultural expectations is referred to as gender-normative; behaviors that are viewed as incompatible with these expectations constitute gender non-conformity.’1
  • ‘Gender identity refers to “one’s sense of oneself as male, female, or transgender”. When one’s gender identity and biological sex are not congruent, the individual may identify as transsexual or as another transgender category.’1
  • Diversity  “The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences.  These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.  It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.”2
  • Minority, often short for underrepresented Minority, can be defined as “a racial, ethnic, religious, or social subdivision of a society that is subordinate to the dominant group in political, financial, or social power without regard to the size of these groups.”3 When discussing minorities, it’s very important to note “... the requirement to be in a non-dominant position remains important. In most instances a minority group will be a numerical minority, but in others a numerical majority may also find itself in a minority-like or non-dominant position...” 4
I’d also like to include this related excerpt I found particularly relevant for this conversation:
“A Diversity Issue Exists when…
  • an issue (policy or business practice - formal, informal, internal, or external) has a different impact on a particular group (i.e., impact on men vs. women, black vs. white, American vs. foreign, urban vs. rural, married vs. single, etc.).
  • It happens more frequently to a particular group (i.e., different groups may have dramatically different "numbers" - turnover, terminations, promotions, discipline, few or no role models, etc.).
  • It is more difficult for one group to overcome (i.e., upward mobility for a particular group within an organization - "glass ceilings").
  • A diversity issue exists where the policy or business practice has an impact exclusive of difference (not inclusive of difference). Is there a trend or pattern (intentional or unintentional)?
Having a diversity issue is not necessarily a bad thing. Doing nothing about it given you have knowledge of the issue is where organizations go wrong (negligence). Being in denial about these issues do not make them go away. Ignorance is not bliss inside or outside the courtroom. The real question is why do we have this issue and can we take action to correct it or improve the situation.”5
Now that we’re hopefully on the same page with our terminology in the gender equality and diversity space, let’s bring it back to our discussion back to Technology.  I’m going to keep our focus solely on the gender diversity aspect with a focus on any individual who identifies as a woman.  There is a lot more work to be done with other types of diversity too and I'll talk about that in another post.

Women as a Minority in Technology

It is well established that women are underrepresented in the technology workforce. When you start at the beginning of an article such as Eight charts that put tech companies’ diversity stats into perspective, the overall employment numbers seem lower than you’d expect, but some companies do much better than others.  It continues to get worse though when you finally get to the bottom of the page, where the articles list the number of engineers (figure 1).  The numbers have been similar in some of the companies I’ve worked for. Just ask me how lonely I’ve felt in some jobs as the only woman on a team.  It seems like it shouldn’t matter, but I'll get to that.
Figure 1. Percentages of Male and Female Employees at major technology corporations. Left/blue is males and right/fuschia is females.
source: https://gigaom.com/2014/08/21/eight-charts-that-put-tech-companies-diversity-stats-into-perspective/

As another example, Stack Overflow released some data from its 2015 user survey.  I agree with their assessment that the overall proportion of females to males appears to be much lower than expected. The trend that I found most interesting though is Figures 2 and 3, which show the steep drop off of women programmers as they gain experience.  Stack overflow analysis suggests this is due to an influx of new programmers from recent WIT initiatives, but it could also be an example of the “leaky pipeline”, an analogy to describe the phenomenon that women are leaving the technology workforce in droves.6  Only time will tell which of these theories(if any) is correct.
Figure 2. Percentages of women per range of experience.  
source: http://stackoverflow.com/research/developer-survey-2015#profile-women

Figure 3. Percentages of men per range of experience. 
source: http://stackoverflow.com/research/developer-survey-2015#profile-women


At this point, I’ve established that there are far fewer female developers than would be expected. I’ve also shown some of the many sources of data that shows the steep dropoff in experience levels. I didn’t go over it explicitly, but if you read the articles mentioned and do a minimal amount of research there are plenty of data-backed articles that talk about the lack of women in technical leadership positions.  I haven’t even begun to discuss the continued harassment and even death threats that women in our industry(including me) continue to receive.  All of these reasons are why we call women a minority in the technical workforce and why there is a major diversity issue in our industry. It's time to change.

Call To Action

We could talk about the problem all day, but let’s get moving towards a solution. I can refer you to many different programs that focus on bringing code and STEM programs to young girls and women as part of the pipeline problem. However, a need I see (and my personal focus and passion) is supporting and retaining the women in our Groovy community. The first step to success is identifying and quantifying the current state of the community.

As an exercise, think about your own company.
  • How many women are there total?  
  • How many(and what percentage of) women are in leadership positions?
  • What teams are women on?  
    • Do they tend to flock to certain positions?
      • Quality Assurance(QA)
      • Project/Product Managers(PM)
      • Database Administrators(DBA)
      • Front-end vs back-end?
  • How many women at your company are actively working as developers/engineers?
  • If one woman left the company, how would that affect your numbers?

Now that you have a sense of where your company stands, I’d encourage you to contribute to projects like the one Tracy Chou started after this blog post she wrote around the same time we were forming Gr8Ladies (or if you don’t know the ratios at your company, feel free to peruse the data to see what I’m talking about).  https://github.com/triketora/women-in-software-eng

Gr8Ladies and the Groovy Community:

I am frequently asked how many women I think there are in the Groovy Community.  My personal experience is about 10% in the workforce and then at conferences, the percentage ranges from about 2-8%.  But what if there are more women at other companies who just don’t go to conferences(in which case, I want to work on getting them there and speaking too!)?  I’ve set out to get a better sense of the numbers so I’ve started this project. You can see the data/graphs at http://jlstrater.github.io/gr8ladies-d3.  Please contribute verified numbers from your teams/companies!

1 From the American Psychological Association (APA) http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/sexuality-definitions.pdf
2 University of Oregon Diversity Initiative http://gladstone.uoregon.edu/~asuomca/diversityinit/definition.html
3 Dictionary.com definition #4 http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/minority
4 United Nations Human Rights -- Office of the High Commisioner of Human Rights http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/Pages/internationallaw.aspx
5 Queensborough Community College Diversity Definition http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/diversity/definition.html