Why more than half of women leave the tech industry

Numerous challenges cause women in tech to leave their jobs. Here's what it will take to get them to stay.

Why more than half of women leave the tech industry

More than half of women in tech leave the industry by the mid-point of their career, which is more than double the rate of men, according to a previous Center for Work-Life Policy study. The main reasons women currently leave tech included weak management support (23%), lack of opportunity (20%), and lack of work-life balance (22%), Capital One found. 

Capital One's Women in Technology report, released on Tuesday, surveyed 250 women who have remained in tech careers at least eight years and occupied senior roles, as well as 200 women who left the tech industry after three or more years. Conducted by YouGov, the report identified the necessary qualities women need to be successful in tech and provided companies with advice on how to retain more women. 

SEE: Transgender employees in tech: Why this "progressive" industry has more work to do to achieve true gender inclusivity (TechRepublic cover story)

Gender diversity is a long-standing issue in the workforce and especially in the tech industry. Being outnumbered, underpaid, and overlooked in comparison to their male counterparts, women have notoriously faced bigger challenges than men, forcing many women to ultimately leave their tech positions.

The majority of women who stay in tech (73%) said they considered leaving their tech careers at some point because of limited opportunity for advancement (27%), unfair compensation compared with male peers (25%), and little support of management (22%), the report found. 

"Women who have stayed in the technology industry rank the work itself as the top factor for staying in their field," said Julie Elberfeld, senior vice president of card and small business tech at Capital One. "It is a common misconception that women are somehow not wired for technical fields or do not have the skills to take on these careers, but our survey proves otherwise. Women love challenging, meaningful work that is intellectually stimulating."

Women who stay in tech 

Since many women in tech love the work they do, they must create their own reasons for staying in an industry that doesn't make them feel welcome, the report found. The main reasons women cited for staying in tech included being good at their work (56%), the enjoyment of working with other technologists (44%), and their love for the work (43%).

Women who achieved senior roles in tech cited intellectually challenging work (39%) and work-life flexibility (31%) as top reasons for staying. While these reasons are similar to those cited by women who decided to stay in tech in the first place, senior executive women also attributed their success to their own grit and determination (30%). 

"Like myself, most women in technology are also driven by purpose and find success in a job that rewards this," Elberfeld said. "Unfortunately, it is the external environmental factors, like not having management support or fair pay that end up being the cause of so many women leaving the industry."

Almost all female techies who stayed in their careers (93%) rated a sense of purpose as a very important trait for successful individuals, according to the report. However, women also outlined other qualities necessary to not only survive, but be successful, in the tech world. 

"Women in technology need to have grit. This idea of grit was a hunch I had and asked to be included in the survey, as I have felt in my own experience that perhaps my orientation towards perseverance made a difference, and I hear other women talk about grit in their success," Eberfeld noted. "In the study, we saw that women felt part of their success was oriented around their own sense of grit, determination, perseverance, and focus. Specifically, 94% of women who reached senior positions said they are confident in their ability to find a solution to difficult tech problems."

How tech companies can encourage women to stay 

Of the women who stayed in tech, 75% said they had female role models in their company, 45% said they participated in peer groups, and 56% said they were given training opportunities. 

To help companies retain their female tech talent, the report outlined the following five tips: 

  1. Give women challenging and rewarding work with opportunities for advancement.
  2. Make sure the right training is available at the right time for female employees.
  3. Provide women with work-life balance and fair pay.
  4. Encourage mentorship, peer networks, and social connections specifically for women.
  5. Support women in finding and deepening their sense of purpose.

For companies that do offer such support, Elberfeld encouraged women to take advantage: "If your company has a peer group or mentorship program, lean into those groups of women for support."

"Also, keep seeking out challenging work," Elberfeld added. "There's a reason why you chose this career path, and it's important to keep stimulating yourself intellectually."

For more, check out 3 mistakes tech companies make retaining women on TechRepublic.  

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