Why Women Leave Tech Careers

We often hear of the shortage of women in the science, engineering, and technical (SET) fields and it is easy to be discouraged by such dismal statements. However, we are wrong to assume that these smart, tech-savvy women are not attracted to this career field. In fact between the ages of 25 and 30, 41% of the young talent with credentials in science and technology are female.[1] This is surprising news, given the fact that we tend to underestimate how many women are in these fields. And yet, of these women more than half leave their careers in their mid-30s to early 40s. Why is that?

In an interview with Sylvia Ann Hewlett, President of the Center for Work-Life Policy in New York, Hewlett re-examines some of the factors that contribute to this claim. Hewlett is best known for her work on a research project called the Athena Factor[2], a global study that examines the career trajectories of women in these SET fields. The study found that women are instrumental to the industry, often more likely to than their male counterparts to value contributing to society. So what happens later on down the road for these women? The falling out happens through what Hewlett outlines as 5 key factors or “antigens” that include: hostile macho cultures, isolation, mysterious career paths, systems of risk and reward, and extreme work pressures.[3]

Each of these adversities are problems that cannot always be addressed so easily, especially when it comes to changing the ingrained mindsets of the macho culture. The manner in which women are treated branches out through these instilled stereotypes. In order for women to overcome these issues, I believe that there must be more women in leadership, who in turn mentor the younger, entry-level women who are in danger of feeling “stuck or stalled” in these fields. If there were more respected female role models in higher positions, the younger women would be more inclined to stick through the negativity because there would be a clearer picture of what their own careers could achieve.

[1] Melymuka, K. (2008, June 16). Why Women Quit Technology. Computerworld. Retrieved September 17, 2014, from http://www.computerworld.com/article/2551969/it-careers/why-women-quit-technology.html

[2] CTI Athena 2.0 Launch. (2014). YouTube. Retrieved September 17, 2014, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=farVyP3vgBA

[3] Hewlett, S. A. (2008). The Athena factor: reversing the brain drain in science, engineering, and technology. Boston: Harvard Business School.

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