New York’s tech scene, like others around the country, has always been dominated by men, but a growing network of groups and partnerships is hoping to narrow the lopsided ratio.
Only 9.8% of the female workforce is employed in a tech-related industry in the city, even though 39% of women with a bachelor’s degree majored in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, according to the city’s Economic Development Corp.
To help combat this, the Cornell NYC Tech program recently announced a partnership with Girls Who Code to launch a summer program to teach middle school-aged girls computer and technology skills. The announcement came just months after the founding of Coalition for Women in Technology, which supports women in tech through career development, mentoring and more, joining other programs geared toward women including Skillcrush and Girl Develop It.
All of these share a common goal: Getting more women involved in the tech industry.
“Women have not had a lot of role models in the industry, and there are a lot of challenges for women to enter a profession that’s so male-dominated,” said Jessica Lawrence, executive director of NY Tech Meetup, a founding partner in the Coalition for Women in Technology.
There’s “a really small percentage of women in the engineering workforce, and there’s a dropoff between women who study engineering and women enter the workface as engineers,” she said.
The reasons for the discrepancy, and the overall lack of gender parity, are many, according to women amNewYork spoke with: Intimidation at starting in an industry where male domination is so deeply entrenched; a “pipeline problem” in which very few women are educated in the fields early on and during college; an echo of cultural and workplace sexism; and a small amount of positions open to women during the industry’s founding decades ago that has carried over.
Still, groups such as the Coalition for Women in Technology, which Lawrence is heavily involved in, and female-focused education startups hope to close that gap. (And in some ways it’s already working: 18% of New York startups are founded by women, compared to 10% in Silicon Valley.)
Adda Birnir founded Skillcrush with the idea that tech and computer education wasn’t designed with women in mind, a problem she hopes to help remedy.
“To me it’s totally about that initial moment where you get exposure to it and the way it has been presented traditionally that can turn women off,” she said. “There’s been this problem from the very beginning, and we have a chance at changing that.”
Birnir added that the city’s relative youth as a tech hub compared to other areas allows it to “redo things and do them right” in terms of the gender gap, and Jessica Roy, editor of the New York Observer’s technology blog Betabeat, agreed.
“New York has a much better track record of trying to get women involved than [Silicon] Valley does,” Roy said. The tech industry “is a lot newer in New York, so we have the opportunity to start fresh and don't have the same sort of entrenched attitudes to combat.”
Roy added that the prominence of major tech leaders in New York, including Lawrence, Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani, and the city’s Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot help to solve the problem of a lack of female role models.
Saujani, who is running for public advocate, said the city has a chance to lead the U.S. tech industry in integrating women into the workforce.
“Programs like Girls Who Code are so important because they create a space and environment to learn, to fail and to succeed,” she said. “If New York is going to be the best it possibly can be, we need to make sure we’re activating our total workforce, and that means programs and education emphasizing getting girls into these fields.”
Birnir agreed, saying it will only improve. “Sometimes women get scared off by all the negative reports, and that is really sad, because it only gets better with more women in it,” she said. “There is an amazing community of support growing.”