Survey of women who left tech: "it's the culture"


Maybe what the hi-tech industry needs is far fewer libertarians and more (women’s)libber-tarians.


On the issue of maternity leave in the US: how does the tech industry compare to other industries?

Total inflexibiity and lack of ML seems to be a big part of women getting out of many industries, but it would be interesting to know if it’s particularly bad in the tech sector because women make up a smaller percentage and so it’s not something many companies consider properly.

I’d also be interested to see if this is industry wide or if it’s mostly in the silicon valley/start-up/webby part of the tech industry. Tech is a big industry, not all of it is run by 20-something straight male brogrammers. It would be interesting to see how places like Boeing compare.


I’m not surprised.

And then you have our workplace where there’s more openly gay men than women. To management’s credit, they recognise this and want to correct it (not least because we’re missing out on 50% of the population in our search for the best people, but also because its just crazy).
Imagine coming for interview and seeing an office full of men - that must be offputting for a start…

We try to make an inclusive atmosphere, there’s very little ‘macho’ or ‘brogrammer’ behaviour, but as men we’re not aware of the issues which face women, so we need to listen to those few women we have working here.


Part of the reason I loved being a technical writer was the flexibility of it; when my daughter was a baby, I was able to leave my very boring job for a really great consulting gig where I made bank, worked from home most of the time, and worked 30 hours a week. It was during the dot com boom, so that probably made a difference. When my daughter was 3, we moved to a place where there wasn’t a tech industry and I became a stay at home mom, but I worked part time in graphic design and web design work to keep my skills up. When my daughter was 9, I returned full time to engineering technical writing.

My experience returning to work was jarring; I was now making less than I had made when I left full time work (which, again, was during the boom era), had to return to very similar work to what I left even though my skills had grown because my resume didn’t have full time work on it for years, and in the meantime, the men my age had all moved forward in their careers.

It is only now that my daughter is a late teen that I feel my career has finally taken off to any degree. On the other hand, I felt that technical writing was a good career to balance with motherhood, and now that I am instructional designer, I feel that this career, too, would suit a mom.

As far as the diversity issue; the bigger companies are better at this. But the last small company I worked for was truly a family, probably the only place I have ever worked that felt that way, and we had every color of the rainbow and at least two relatively out gay men (in a company of less than 100). I have never as a woman felt out of place at work in tech, but I have felt that my opportunities are much more limited than the men I know, as usually there is at least one powerful man who just is incredibly uncomfortable with women.


To add to what you’ve written, I’ve found there’s also usually at least one man who prides himself on being a “feminist”, “inclusive”, what have you, and if you don’t know better you can waste a lot of time and talent proving yourself before finally realizing that somehow all the promotions and raises go to the white het-married men anyway.


I’ve worked in both engineering and software development. Software development is definitely a little more open to different folks, and there are a lot of Indian men who are up the chain in that industry. Engineers are VERY conservative in their values and it is dominated by white married guys. In fact, I am very sad this week because one of the truly wonderful women software leads I have worked with is now leaving the company, a woman who has the rare respect of all her peers - I was really looking forward to working with her more.

Many engineers have wives that work at home and it doesn’t occur to them that there are women who might wish to continue working, even if they are working right next to a woman who is obviously career oriented. To me, it can be a very paternalistic environment to work in; although, I do think there is a kind of family friendliness as I feel my co-workers are very family oriented and value stable families.

In the large company I work at now (in the Fortune 500), there are many women who have flexible work situations; my co-worker, for example, frequently works from home while a sitter or her mother cares for her young child. At my last job, too, which was a very small company, there were mothers who had created flexible but very technical roles. However, I can count on one hand the number of women who were truly in leadership roles in any company I worked for for the past 20 years.


Maternity policies are probably generally worse at small and new companies. A lot of structure is created only after experiencing a need.

Be interesting to compare to other industries. I’d really not be surprised if half of mother’s stop working or change fields overall. Without that comparison I have to be a bit skeptical of any explanations.

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Many women said that it wasn’t motherhood alone that did in their careers. Rather, it was the lack of flexible work arrangements, the unsupportive work environment, or a salary that was inadequate to pay for childcare.

I’m a man, and this is part of why I’ve been out of work for a while.

My wife works as a schoolteacher. I know, it’s a stereotypical “woman’s job”, but she has a relatively flexible schedule, is off of school at roughly the same time as the kids, and so on. She makes right at median U.S. household income. I made considerably less. My paycheck was going toward health insurance, Medicare, Social Security, daycare, and anything left over went in my gas tank. And because of the “traditional values” of our society, people expect you to do whatever it takes to make up for her income, instead of letting her continue to work, my job was demanding all kinds of time of me, and because I’m a man, my conservative boss would look at me like I’d grown a second head if I said I had to go pick up my kids from daycare. In the end, it was a no-brainer, really.

The kicker is that I stayed away from tech because I learned about the horrid “live at work” culture that was going on in the Dotcom 1.0 days. Yeah, you want me to have a cot at my desk? No.


I’m an engineering manager at an ISP, currently manning a booth at NANOG; we have given away all but the last few “Mens small” tshirts, but have every size available in women’s tshirts. Nicely logo’d, no company branding, just a “Tech Hero” face, male on the men’s shirts, female on the women’s. I suspect these women’s shirts will end up being tossed, as there just doesn’t seem to be any demand, even when free, for a tech-themed women’s shirt.

As a hiring manager, it’s depressing how few resumes I even see from women. Back in the late 1990s, I hired and trained up several women for the ISP I worked for back then; most have since left the industry, though a couple have survived and even gone into engineering management.

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I’ve founded many tech companies in San Francisco and while this article states there isn’t a pipeline problem, it certainly is not true.

When hiring engineers, I would get about 50 applications from men for every woman (I once actually counted for a position - 453 from men, 7 from women - based on linkedin lookups and sometimes guessing from the name).

I did everything I could think of to try to even out those numbers short of breaking discrimination laws - posting job opening day predominately female oriented environments like various women’s clubs at Berkeley for instance.

I also did this for minorities. I almost never got a resume from black or latinos.

it bothered me immensely because without a diverse cultural worker pool, you risk building a product that only appeals to a single segment of the population. Then there was the issue of monoculture which I find abhorrent. Plus, no one wants to work for a mid-sized company where they are they only not just a minority, but they only one. It is just uncomfortable and I didn’t want our recruiting later on to be that much more difficult.

In the end though, my companies tended to still look like every other tech company. Maybe more gay men and a few more women, but nowhere near what I would have liked. It was incredibly depressing.


I bet you can send your leftover shirts to Capital Technology University and their female professors and students can wear 'em. When did a student turn down a free shirt?

Aut viam inveniam aut faciam!


The article fails to mention that it was just last year that Berkeley got an even split on their introductory CS class. Does he know what is meant by “pipeline”, or is he deliberately misleading with that anecdote?

IT is very demanding on all levels. If you’re just starting out, expect long hours, if you move up the responsibility chain, you’ll need to allow for more and more availability until it invariably reaches 24/7. Of course, the more organized the company you work for, the better prepared they are to avoid working you to death. But the only way to escape this is to move into a management role.

It’s been my experience that there isn’t any real understanding by management professionals on how to build/structure/grow an effective IT department. Business school seems to shy away from properly building on this subject, so much so that the classic path: “From mailboy to CEO” is just not available in the IT world. the stigma that IT workers are not “people persons”, (People people?), is something that is a sort of self perpetuating myth. In fact, if a coder moves into a management role, and sticks with it for too long, its going to be very hard to get another coding job in the future.

Maybe, just maybe, we need to look at women staying away from the field as a sort of a “dead canary” telling us something’s horribly wrong, and should stop trying to shove more canaries in because “they keep dying”.


Why not see if there’s a local high school group who could use them?

Aloisius, I have over 30 years as an applications programmer and moved to the Bay Area over two years ago. I peppered Silicon Valley with my resume and got no takers.

While it’s nice that companies in the Valley are now publishing race, ethnicity and gender demographics, they are not saying anything about age. I think I am “too old” for them.

Well? F- them! If they don’t want my experience, I don’t want their product.


Yup. I did 80-hour weeks the first 4 years of my career. Then I did a stint at a bank that new how to treat people right. After that, another consulting gig and 80-hour weeks for 3 years. I am SO done with that!

I got out of front line security tech in my 30s and moved to security governance, now in my 40s I am wanting out of that too. Commisserating with a friend of mine around the same age who is still front line we both agree that the reason we want out is “the culture”. Its very hard for me to honestly tell a young person to pursue any kind of “career” in IT in any aspect any more.

I’ll take a Men’s small :smile:

Certainly my engineering industry doesn’t seem very family friendly (and it’s worse in the US - not getting any time off when my son was born was a bit of a shock, I think I’d have got 2 weeks Paternity leave in the UK, as a recent hire in the US I didn’t even qualify for unpaid time off) and clearly it’s very male dominated. Some flexible working is okay, although management is always trying to pull it back.

In my experience women have been much better represented at the junior/mid levels of management than at the engineering or executive level. If I had to guess, I’d imagine that the women who aren’t put off by the industry are those who are determined, so they do well, until they hit that glass ceiling. Just a guess, though.

Thinking back to my uni days, there was one woman in my specific subject (of 15/20 students or so?), and I’d say that was about the same split across the whole engineering faculty, I’d reckon.

Now there’s something interesting I’d never considered before. the older you get, the harder it is to get a job, sure, everybody knows this, but other than modeling and possibly sports, IT workers are considered old faster than in many professions.

How does this relate to the culture at large? When all you’ve got is twenty something’s in an office and people in their 30’s are seasoned pro’s and a couple of “really old” people in their 40’s are the oldest people around, well, what kind of culture can grow in such an environment?