There is an alarmingly high quit rate among undergraduate women in computer science – from 50% of first year students to 18% at graduation.

The Challenges

The Pipeline Problem

Every year in the U.S. over 600,000 tech jobs go unfilled, threatening our ability to innovate and compete. The shortfall in tech talent is largely due to the low number of college students graduating in computer science, averaging only 55,000 graduates per year from U.S. universities.

Thanks to significant investments in K-12 educational programs designed to include more girls in STEM fields in the US, introductory computer science courses at most universities boast a 50-50 gender balance. Unfortunately, the quit rate among women in computer science is alarmingly high – only 18% of computer science graduates are women.

The percent of women in
CS & E majors does not
represent the overall
population of college
students.

It is critical to support and retain women undergraduates majoring in computer science and engineering. This requires interventions and best practices focused on the reasons why women quit at alarming rates, many of which come down to a confidence gap.

The Retention Problem

Many tech executives now understand that the recruitment and retention of women in technical roles is a bottom line issue: it enhances revenue, performance, and productivity. Leading tech companies are eager to hire women who bring experience, perspectives and strong technical talent to help design and develop next generation products and applications to meet the needs of their customers. They also recognize the importance of the large and growing base of female consumers, who comprise over 80% of the purchase decisions per household in the US.

Not only do women represent a clear source of potential talent to reduce the shortage of computer science and engineering graduates, they are also a potential source of valuable, competitive advantage to tech companies. Research demonstrates that companies with more diverse teams outperform competitors, highlighting the bottom-line impact of diversity and the importance of retaining women in tech careers.

Diversity statistics reported by technology companies

There is a shortage of women in technology roles in the top tech companies.

  • Women in tech roles
  • Women employees

The State of Women in Tech. Statista, March 2016

The Causes

Understanding the reasons why there is such a high quit rate among women in college requires more thorough research. But, according to the studies available and firsthand interviews, The short answer boils down to the “confidence gap.”

Young women often lack confidence in their abilities
due to three underlying factors:

Isolation

Women say they often feel alone with their self-doubts and performance anxieties.

Impostor Syndrome

Like many highly accomplished people, they are unable to internalize how talented they really are so they feel afraid of being found out as an imposter.

Implicit Bias

They’re fighting the stereotypes that suggest that women aren’t as good at coding as men. Sometimes this bias is evident in unconscious ways, sometimes in more overt ways.

The reasons women quit early in their tech careers also merit further research.

There’s a lot that we don’t know. We don’t know exactly why women quit tech roles. Until we fully understand the reasons why in a deep and nuanced way, we cannot fully effect change toward a better future for women in technology, the companies that want their talent, and the US economy that needs their participation in tech innovation.

Promoting women in the tech workforce is not only the right thing to do, it’s a strategic imperative.