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Survey of local tech workers reveals inequities

Nearly half of women plan to exit the field, citing issues with pay and discrimination

Posted online

Members of Springfield Women in Tech and Springfield Tech Council had a question: What is working life like for women employed in the technology field?

The groups commissioned research firm Habitat Communication and Culture LLC to conduct the industrywide local Tech Workplace Survey to find some answers. In all, 363 people – men, women and nonbinary individuals – took the online survey, and 12 professionals participated in focus groups. A broad set of survey responses provided a basis for comparison among genders in a field in which, nationally, gender disparity is well documented.

The results showed many areas where local men and women in tech agreed, as well as some areas of inequity and concern.

Survey respondents reported a high level of job satisfaction, with 69% of women and 71% of men strongly agreeing or agreeing that they were satisfied with their jobs.

However, the survey results released this month uncovered a hidden crisis, industry officials say, which is that a large number of women do not intend to spend their careers at work in the field they trained for. Some 53% of female respondents said they intend to stay in the tech field for the duration of their careers, compared with 71% of male respondents.

“At a very personal level, we hear of the challenges that women in tech are experiencing, but I do also know some women that still really like it,” said Maranda Provance, a board member with Springfield Women in Tech and director of development for marketing agency Mostly Serious, which operates under the same owners as Habitat. “We can’t fix problems when we don’t know that they’re there. As a community with this research, we have rare insight into issues and what shade that takes.”

For the study, Habitat Communication and Culture created an electronic survey and led a series of focus group discussions. The price of the study was $10,000, Provance said. It was funded by the two groups with support from Bass Pro Shops, SRC Holdings Corp., CNH Industrial Reman and Jack Henry & Associates Inc.

Habitat released these key findings of the study:

  • Women are paid less than men at statistically significant levels, even when controlling for experience and education. Nearly 55% of male respondents earned over $100,000 annually compared with just 30% of women.
  • Women report more interest in and less access to professional development opportunities, including formal mentorship programs.
  • Women are significantly more likely to report experiencing discrimination or harassment during their time in the tech industry. Women are also more likely to feel uncomfortable or to face barriers when it comes to addressing these instances. Nearly 46% of women said they’ve experienced discrimination, compared to just 16% of men.

Emily Buckmaster, executive director of Springfield Tech Council, said many of the revelations of the survey were surprising.

“I think that we’re used to people job-hopping, but just entirely leaving the whole industry was concerning,” she said. “We really need to look at how we can best encourage and support them.”

Salary and leadership
The survey revealed a big gap in pay between men and women. Asked if they were paid fairly as compared with others within their organization, 73% of men said they were, but only 58% of women said yes.

That may be because men reported higher earnings. Some 45% of men reported earning over $100,000, compared with 24% of women in that pay scale.

Men were also more likely to identify as owners or C-suite executives, at 13%, than women, at 5%. Asked if women were well represented in leadership in their current companies, 64% of women said yes, compared with 73% of men.

Buckmaster said the survey results suggest an opportunity to establish a local mentoring program, which she called low-hanging fruit when it comes to helping solve problems like losing professionals.

“It would be really interesting for Springfield Tech to be able to provide some resources on what does it look like to mentor, and how can we set this up,” she said. “It’s exciting, because it could be attainable, and it could start helping in that area specifically.”

Benefits
Paige Oxendine, a consultant with Habitat, said the survey showed areas where men and women were in broad agreement – such as in valuing salary above other factors in considering where to work.

She noted benefits were a big driver of the initial conversation about the project.

“Do women prioritize or evaluate workplace benefits differently than their male peers?” she said. “On that that front, we just really didn’t find a lot of distinct differences between men and women.”

The majority of both men and women have health and dental insurance, retirement contributions and paid time off. Their top desired benefits were listed as profit sharing, desired by 40% of all respondents; stock options, 30%; paid parental leave, 22%; and wellness perks, 20%.

“Locally, men and women largely have access to the same benefits today,” she said.

Oxendine noted both men and women expressed a strong desire for remote and flexible working conditions.

“There’s been so much conversation about a return to the office, but folks are reluctant to get back to the office,” she said. “It’s really hard to walk that back.”

This is especially true when professionals can argue that they are more effective when they have true flexibility, she said.

“That’s really challenging for an organization to undo,” she said.

Provance agreed.

“I wasn’t surprised personally that flexibility and a remote option were the second most desired compensation or benefit,” she said. “I do think that with so many companies moving to put people back in the office, they will be surprised that it’s so highly desired. I do hope that companies take heed that it’s such a strong desire for people, men and women.”

Some people believe that collaboration needs to happen in person, Provance said.

“Personally, outside of really intensive, long meetings on really tough topics, I feel we’re just as productive collaborating digitally,” she said.

For tech professionals, this may be more true than for others, she added, as digital platforms pose less of a challenge.

The survey revealed that 34% of male respondents said they work remotely 100% of the time, compared with 23% of women.

Next steps
Provance said the Springfield Women in Tech are still mulling over the results. While there are opportunities to help mitigate some of the problems, the survey results are new, and the group has yet to decide what area to tackle first.

She agreed that mentorship is an easy initial step, as 70% of women responding to the survey said they would be interested in having a formally defined mentor or mentee. A majority of men, 56%, also expressed interest in mentorship programs. Only 28% of respondents said their employer offers any type of formal mentoring.

“We’ve already wondered about how can we potentially provide a mentorship program for companies that don’t have a lot of other women to be mentors,” she said.

Providing connections between companies may be a solution worth exploring, Provance said.

“We definitely are going to follow up and figure out some ways to extend the research and make it more actionable for companies in our area,” she said.

One of the most important next steps will be communicating the study’s findings to local employers, Buckmaster said.

“This is a really great opportunity to form some work groups,” she said. “We have a strong volunteer base within Springfield Tech Council, and many of our sponsors are interested in making sure tech is the best it can be in our area.”

She said employers need to hear about the results of the study.

“We’re trying to get that information to our (human resources) partners and companies,” she said. “Nearly every company has somebody in tech, so it’s not just tech companies we’re trying to educate on this.”

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