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Women Who Inspire

Tech Gender Gap

January 26, 2015

Seattle is a U.S. tech capital, yet it has one of the widest tech gender gaps in the country. Producer Stacey Jenkins takes a look at the city's computer programming industry, and efforts being made to increase its dismal participation rates among women.

Seattle – Seattle is at the center of a new tech boom. Glossy new office buildings and digital start-up companies are everywhere. Geekwire Magazine has dubbed the city the new “Cloud Capital of the World.”

The economic growth is positive, but who’s benefitting from the growth is a little concerning. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, Seattle has the widest pay gender gap of the top 50 metro cities in the US. The study reports that women in the Seattle area are paid 73 cents for every dollar paid to men in the area, amounting to a yearly gap of $16,346 between men and women who work full-time.

Participation rates leave a wide gap as well. The nation’s leading tech companies are required to release their diversity reports each year. The reports disclose participation rates among men and women in the industry. These companies include Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Microsoft and Apple.

Gender Breakdown of Leading Tech Companies

  • Tech Jobs
  • Non-Tech Jobs




















* Amazon did not release a gender breakdown for tech jobs.

When you look at the participation rates in non-tech jobs, women represent around 45% of all employees in the companies above.

But when you look at female participation rates in tech-specific jobs at these companies, those numbers dip to an average of 15% (see above graph).

Heather Wade is a technical product manager at Tune, a mobile marketing tech company in Seattle. “I have to say I feel that things are better now than they were 8 or 10 years ago, but that doesn’t mean we’re there – we still have progress we can make."

Heather has worked as a computer programmer for over a decade.  Computer programming has one of the lowest participation rates among women in the tech industry. Heather says that in past jobs, she was often the only female in her department and sexism was rampant.  Inappropriate internet searches, sexist jokes and demeaning statements were the norm. When she was promoted, she experienced backlash for her efforts in management as well.

“I think there’s a tendency to perceive women in leadership as bossy, “ she said.  “In a previous role when I was firm with the engineering team, I was taken aside and told that I was managing like a field marshal and maybe I could tone it down and be a little gentler with people – but all I was doing was trying to get people to meet deadlines,” she said laughing.

Computer programming is one of the highest paid industries in the tech world. It also has one of the highest growth rates.  The late nineties to the early 2000's saw a significant increase in tech jobs during the "dot-com bubble", however, it was primarily men that filled these jobs (see graph below) The national growth rate for software developers, for example, is projected at over 200,000 new jobs in the next decade. Experts say that tech companies would be wise to reduce the gender gap in pay, and in participation rates.


Trish Millines Dziko was the first Senior Diversity Administrator at Microsoft, where she worked from 1988 to 1996 as a computer programmer. 

Dziko says that in order to truly close the gender gap, leadership and managers need to change a culture that they helped create, as demonstrated by Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, and his recent blunder when asked about women seeking raises.

“Really, it’s about getting them to see a different way they can push from the top and listen from the bottom,” said Dziko. “Listen to what women and people of color are saying about what it’s like to work in that company and figure out what are the things that you can change today”.

“Listen to what women and people of color are saying about what it’s like to work in that company and figure out what are the things that you can change today”.

Dziko made a change in 1996 when she left Microsoft to create TAF, which stands for Technology Access Foundation. TAF is dedicated to STEM education for underserved populations. Dziko says in addition to changing leadership attitudes, getting girls interested in technology at an early age is key to helping them stay with it later in life.

“If you look at studies, it shows girls are interested in math and science all the way up through 3rd or 4th grade, so catching that and showing kids that STEM and can still do that stuff and you can still be interested in that stuff,” she said. “Nobody’s going to treat you differently, and by the way it’s going to get you a much better career in the long run”.

The news of getting girls to code has spread, and after-school coding classes for kids has become a big trend in just the past couple of years.  Eric Fredrickson teaches elementary kids to code in his after school program called Creative Coding for Kids.

“Eighteen months ago it was just me and one assistant and now we have 21 teachers, and we’re in 16 schools. The demand and response from the parents has been so positive,” said Fredrickson.

Fredrickson has been a coder himself since the 1990’s. He founded Creative Coding for Kids after his daughter became interested in coding and wanted to take a class.

“At the elementary age, there isn’t a lot of bullying, and boys and girls aren’t out to prove anything to each other as much,” he said. “It's a much more comfortable and supportive environment, which is why it’s so important to start them young.”

Nyah Curcuruto says she loves to code and hang out with the boys in her class.

11-year-old Nyah Curcuruto is one of only two girls in Fredrickson’s class at Queen Anne Elementary. She loves the class and said the absence of girls doesn’t bother her at all. “To be honest, I feel like I just fit in with the guys, because I’m in a whole room with them and they’re making me feel so welcome, like I’m not just a girl doing coding that’s different from everyone else,” she said. “They’re making me feel like I’m part of a family.”

The culture shift in coding is not just limited to grade school. Heather Wade credits the young cofounders of Tune, Lee and Lucas Brown, for changes in her workplace.

Keri Stoller landed a job in the tech industry after taking classes through Girl Develop it.

“I think at Tune I don’t feel like there’s a differentiation if you’re a female or a male – we’re all just Tune employees,” said Wade. “I think that having new blood in the industry is what’s going to change the game. They (leadership) don’t have a lot of the perceptions that people 10 or 20 years older than them would have. So when they address women in the workplace they address them as equals and I think that does drip down through the ranks.” She said.

Wade is also doing her part to entice more women to enter the world of computer programming. She runs the Seattle chapter of “Girl Develop It”, an organization that offers affordable classes and weekend study groups.

Wade says she enjoys seeing more women entering the field, and hopes more younger girls consider it as a future opportunity as well.

“I think the best way to sell technology to girls right now is to point out that they interact with technology every day," says Wade. “The games that they play, their mobile devices, Instagram, Pinterest -  all these things that girls are consumers of  -  if you can show them how they interact with technology on a day-to-day basis and what the potential is, and they start creating that themselves, it opens up new doors for them.”


Stacey Jenkins

Stacey Jenkins is the managing producer of Spark Public. She is an Emmy-award winning producer who is passionate about pushing the boundaries of digital media and training the next generation of multimedia journalists. Stacey has been a Digital Content Producer at KCTS 9 for the past four years; her stories have been showcased locally on IN Close as well as nationally on SciTech Now and the PBS NewsHour's Art Beat. Stacey’s experience also includes working as a senior producer for KPTS, as an assistant media instructor and producer for Portland Community College and a TV news reporter for the CBC in Canada.

Fun Fact: Stacey’s guilty pleasures include over-the-top Halloween decor, eating sweetened condensed milk straight from the can and Maroon 5’s “Sugar” video.

More stories by Stacey Jenkins

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I'm glad to see young girls, women code! They need early support in all fields to excel.

These lines in the article struck me: “Really, it’s about getting them to see a different way they can push from the top and listen from the bottom,” said Dziko. “Listen to what women and people of color are saying about what it’s like to work in that company and figure out what are the things that you can change today”. Its hard for employees to speak honestly to their managers if their managers are the ones that are making them feel uncomfortable. That's why there's a company that allows women to talk about their companies' culture honestly and share what they know with each other:

I signed up, and really like the site. Kudos!

Having lived in Seattle, WA for over 35 years - 3 years ago I was offered a position in San Francisco by a major corporation to manage their SEO, SEM, Social Media, and analytics - and took it. I worked in the San Francisco area and lived there for 2 years. I was one of the highest paid employees and the only female on my team. No one treated me differently, and there was complete respect for one another.

Due to some corporate restructuring the entire team was laid off, and I was very well cared for as a result. I immediately found a position in the area - again, paid very well and in a position of respect.

I have recently moved back to Seattle and have been looking for work in the area for several months now. I make it all the way through to the final in-person interview with the decision being between myself and one other candidate. In the past 3 months on 4 separate occasions with 4 different companies, the other candidate was chose because "he just has..." whatever it is they say he has more of than myself. Funniest part is they want me to stand by just in case the other candidate doesn't work out. It is always that close of a decision.

I have since stopped looking for employment and am starting my own agency only because I have gotten more work being out of work in consulting, teaching, and connecting.

Now that I have experienced living and working out of the Seattle area and back I do see first hand the gender gap - not only in pay, but in the choice to hire men over women. It is frustrating, however, I am happy with my choice to work for myself, and with my team of male partners.

@Jenn I think it’s not just in Seattle, but everywhere, there’s always equality between race, gender and religions. Some of them don’t know how to respect people in the worst case.

I've been part of the web industry since 1995. I started off as designer and illustrator, and had NO desire to learn anything technical. Well, it pulls you in. I was forced to learn HTML by 1996...And guess who taught me hand coded HTML? Women. The industry started off on a progressive foot, I gotta say. There was a mix bag of races, ages and some equality between men and women. While most companies were owned by men, the main mangers or project leaders were women. However, around 2002-2003 (after the bubble bursted, and started to rebuild it's self) all began to get creepy. Suddenly, I didn't see too much diversity. Less women for sure. As the technology required to build web applications grew in advancement (making things closer to software development than in the past), I grew my skills along side it. I became a full on .NET developer, and ditched the designer thing for a while. During that time I saw NO women developers. None. Not even doing HTML (even though HTML was mostly for template design, and not for the final web pages them selves) I hardly even saw women designers. It became one big homogenized bro-fest full of entitled white male man-children. Occasionally you would have team members from India working in the states. But rarely. I worked with one database admin who was female and from India, but she didn't do anything beyond queries in Access databases. So I'm not even going to qualify that. The final bit of my story is that I am so disgusted by the industry (from both a developer and consumer level), that I am no longer pursuing a career in the web field. I'm more focused on community/ecological issue. I would love to find some organization participating in growing equality in gender, race and age in the tech fields. But util then, I'm full embraced in my Luddite roots