Posted on March 22, 2018
Women in tech is a hot-button topic. Media headlines point to statistics about the lack of women in the tech field and lack of opportunities for women to advance. However, while progress is still being made, the idea that women do not have a place in tech is being actively challenged in NYC. Now, perhaps more than ever, could be the best time for women looking to position themselves in the tech world, and as a city that is known for inclusion, innovation, and paving the way, New York is the land of opportunity.
On a national scale, the lack of women in tech has been widely reported. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of women in tech reached an all-time high of 36 percent in 1991 and has been declining steadily ever since. In 2015, only 25 percent of computing occupations were held by women. And while 80 percent of women in science, engineering, and technology reported “loving their work,” 56 percent of women left the tech industry at mid-level (10-20 years) in their careers.
The data from NYC is quite a contrast. The Center for an Urban Future released an analysis on NYC’s tech sector, based on a 2015 report published by the Federal Bank of New York, focused on seven industries “in which firms use technology as their core business strategy.” The findings show that New York is undeniably giving women more opportunities:
The all-time high for women in tech across the country reached 36 percent over two decades ago, but in New York, women were holding 40 percent of tech sector jobs in 2015 - and the number is likely growing. Across several NYC tech industries, the lowest percentage of women’s participation stood at 32 percent. So even within specific industries, NYC’s lowest numbers were still 7 percent above the percentage of total women in tech across the United States.
The question is - why? What is setting New York Apart from the rest of the nation, and why is the NYC tech hub attracting women hoping to advance their careers in tech?
A study released by the Center for an Urban Future in 2016 revealed that women entrepreneurs are on the rise in New York - and they’re making an impact:
“As technology disrupts entire industries in New York City, another disruption is taking place right alongside—a flood of women entrepreneurs in virtually every industry in the city. Women founders of all ages, races and ethnicities are creating jobs, bolstering the city’s economy, strengthening families and neighborhoods, and providing new and creative solutions to the problems of modern life.”
From 2002 to 2012, women-owned businesses went up 65 percent, adding 56,000+ jobs and $3 billion to the city’s economy. This growth surpasses female entrepreneurship in other tech-hub cities in the nation, including Boston and Silicon Valley. And as women entrepreneurs have grown their presence in New York, so has the tech sector. Tech jobs in NYC increased by 33 percent from 2009 to 2013, four times higher than the growth rate of other industries, and NYC’s tech growth is speculated to be outpacing Silicon Valley.
So why New York? Through interviews conducted with women founders in tech, key reasons were discovered in this report:
“New York’s advantages are many, chiefly size, the breadth of its economic base and its dominance in industries such as fashion, media, beauty and retailing, all of which are rapidly being transformed by technology. Long time players in those industries, women are now using their experience and insider knowledge to move them into a digital future.”
The breakdown of advantages uncovered by the report reveal an environment ripe for women and technology, together. New York dominates in the industries of fashion, media, and beauty - areas where women have instilled their influence as leaders and innovators. At the same time, technology is rapidly transforming these industries, and as New York emerges as the next great tech tub, women already have a foot on the ground.
In a city that is rapidly advancing in technology, and home to major industries influenced by women, it’s natural that women in tech would consider New York as their best chance for success. The influx of women coming to New York for tech opportunities is both accompanied and reinforced by leading women who’ve sought to take initiatives further, making progress for women in today’s tech workforce and paving their way for the future:
As a Harvard biology student in 2011, Julia Tartaglia decided to do something about the lack of resources for women college students in science and engineering. She struggled with the reality that most of her professors were men, and although Harvard had a Women in Science program, she didn’t feel there was enough support for women in STEM fields.
To shed light on the importance of women in tech, Julia created W.I.S.E. Words, a magazine that told stories of professional women in STEM. As her work grew support, Julia entered and won as a semi-finalist in the i3 Challenge, Harvard’s premier student startup competition, where she received a grant for $2,500 and an office space. She was joined by her sister Christina and together they founded The Scientista Foundation, a national organization dedicated to empowering pre-professional women in STEM fields.
Today, Scientista is a one-stop resource for college and graduate women in tech, has spread its reach to 20+ campuses globally - and they’re based in New York.
But Scientista is only one of many New York-based examples of doors opening for women in tech. In 2012, Reshma Saujani, former Deputy Public Advocate of New York City, founded Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology.
While participating in a TED Talk about girls facing consequences by not taking risks, Saujani spoke of the tech industry and the bias that women face. She expressed concern over the problematic belief that girls are raised to be “perfect” while boys are raised to be “brave,” and formed a nonprofit to challenge the misconception that women don’t belong in tech. Thanks to a 13-book series and the launch of the nonfiction book Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World, the organization that began with just 20 girls in the city has grown to include 40,000 girls nationwide, building a pipeline for the future of female engineers that began in NYC.
Also in 2012, Jovena Whatmoor branched out of NYTechWomen to found NY Women in Tech, an organization dedicated to helping women professionals network and find opportunities within the tech industry. Having a mother who is a software engineer and business owner, and a sister who is a web developer/designer, Jovena was exposed to the tech field at a young age. From working in tech for most of her life, Jovena noticed that other women didn’t have the same support systems she had growing up, and has made it her personal mission to help women succeed in tech careers.
And in yet another example, in 2014 the New York Academy of Sciences announced 1000 Girls - 1000 Futures, a $2 million Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Commitment to Action to accelerate STEM education for high school girls ages 13-18, providing a program for young girls that includes mentoring, coursework, and networking for workforce development.
Women in the tech industry have noticed a void in their representation - and they’re filling it in New York. A swath of organizations have been founded in recent years, dedicated to STEM learning for young girls, and networking and career resources for women college students and working professionals. At every age, and from education to the workplace, New York is providing opportunities for women in tech. In return, these opportunities contribute towards an increase of women leaving universities with degrees in computer science, engineering, and math, emerging as a pool of poised, intelligent, and motivated female candidates in the NYC tech job market - a cycle of growth that continues leading the way towards greater progress and innovation within the tech space.
Women in tech is still a hot-button issue, but while the nation is noticing, New York is doing something about it. NYC is paving the way for girls and women in one of the largest tech hubs in the country. The city’s innovation, initiatives for inclusiveness, and women themselves are leading the way to growing the presence of women in technology. As the rest of the country is catching up, women are finding a seat at the table in New York’s tech space.