Gender Disparities in the Tech Industry

May 19, 2016

So I have a pretty amazing family… I promise all of my blogs will not be about the amazing women in my life… but, I’ve got to brag. My sister, Ellie Stillwell, was recently published for her research in Gender Disparities in Tech, and I think all industries could learn from her findings:

Ellie’s work, conducted during her time as an undergraduate researcher at the University of Washington, comprised of a study about how stereotypes and gender disparities impact hiring decisions for women in the technology industry. Two experiments tested the hypothesis that women would be less likely to be seen as a cultural fit at tech companies and thus less likely to be hired as a result.

The first experiment focused on the environment of an imaginary tech company: could something as simple as the objects in an environment influence perceptions of fit, and ultimately hire-ability? To find out, participants acted as hiring managers trying to fill a position in a hypothetical tech company. They were given a job description, a description of a company environment, and an applicant’s resume – either male or female – to look over. The company environment was described as stereotypically “nerdy” with science fiction posters and computer parts strewn about, or as non-stereotypical, with art posters and plants as props.

The study did not find a hiring bias in favor of men over equally qualified women, but the results did indicate that men were mostly perceived to be a better cultural fit than women in the tech company environment. Results further indicated that both female and male candidates were seen to fit better into the non-stereotypical environment. The second experiment expanded upon this finding to explore what factors might make candidates seem to fit better.

The second experiment considered the candidates’ personal interests, and how their resulting cultural fit related to their hire-ability. These interests were either stereotypically nerdy in the way described above or were not. The results of this survey also suggested that there was no gender hiring bias, and indicated that candidates whose interests matched  the company’s stereotypical/non-stereotypical description tended to fit better. However, when candidates’ interests did not align, male candidates were generally perceived to fit better than female candidates.

This information sheds some light on the outlook for women seeking jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). However, Ellie and her colleagues caution against extrapolating the data too far. The participants were not professionally experienced or trained as hiring managers. The resumes also portrayed every candidate as completely qualified for the job, making it illogical to reject any of them. The fact that women were mostly seen as less of an environmental fit for a stereotypical tech environment than men is also problematic. Ideally, they would be equal.

Ultimately, Ellie’s study asserts that more research is necessary to answer the fundamental questions about hiring biases as they relate to perceptions of cultural and environmental fit for women in STEM. Architecture, like computer science and technology fields, also suffers from a gender disparity as recently published in the AIA Diversity Report. Further studies similar to this would be interesting to consider for the design industry. How do perceptions of an applicant and match to hiring environment contribute to architecture hiring practices?

Ellie has been accepted to the PhD program in the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, so join me in congratulating her! Her co-author, Sullivan Swift, is a research analyst at the University of Washington Professional and Continuing Education.

An overview of this issue in the profession of architecture was recently featured in the ‘Credential’ newsletter issued by LS Credentialing Services.