From Facebook’s onsite barbershop to Google HQ’s free bus system, the tech sector has earned a reputation as a hub of forward-looking places to work. However, these tech trailblazers are lagging behind in one surprising area – gender equality.

This Statista chart shows that female employees are underrepresented across the workforces of eight industry giants. In the worst performing companies, Microsoft and Google, women struggled to make up a third of the total workforce.

Image: Statista

The number of women in actual tech jobs, as opposed to administrative positions, was even lower. Only 15% of tech roles at Twitter are occupied by women.

Not one of the companies surveyed had reached equal gender representation in their workforce. While some fared better than others, they all had too few women in leadership roles and doing tech jobs.

A 2016 report from McKinsey found that women made up 37% of entry-level roles in tech (compared to 45% in the overall sample), and only 25% advanced to senior management roles. Just 15% reached the C-suite.

In 2015, women held 25% of executive, senior-level and management positions in S&P 500 companies. Although the percentages of women in leadership in the eight tech companies on the chart are similar to, or even above, this figure, this is far off the United Nations goal of making gender equality a reality by 2030.

Roots of the STEM shortage

With many countries at a standstill and some even going backwards on gender equality, the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Report issued a “fresh call to action to accelerate progress”.

Image: World Economic Forum

The report amplified the need for more women in science and tech. Adding that the present disparity is a real obstacle to gender parity, "since STEM careers are projected to be some of the most sought-after in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

Presently the global gender gap in STEM stands at 47%, with 30% of all male students graduating from STEM subjects, compared to 16% of all female students.

The pipeline problem

Research shows that the STEM gender gap starts young. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) recently interviewed 2,000 British high school and university students to investigate the gender disparity. They found that only 27% of female students said they would consider a career in technology, compared with 61% of males, and only 3% said it would be their first choice.

Presently the global gender gap in STEM stands at 47%, with 30% of all male students graduating from STEM subjects, compared with 16% of all female students.

Image: PWC

Research in the US has revealed the trend starts even younger, in secondary education, where women are severely underrepresented among "advanced placement" test-takers in tech fields.

Image: Harvard Political Review

However, the research by Harvard Political Review confirmed that when women do take tests in STEM subjects, they are just as competent as men.

The power of perception

Parental influence is also a factor. An OECD report found parents are “much more likely to expect their sons to work in STEM careers than daughters, even if they show the same ability”. The report found 50% of parents in Chile, Hungary and Portugal expect their sons to work in STEM fields, but less than 20% expect the same of their daughters.

Although such an attitude isn’t universal, and in South Korea, for example, the gap is only 7 percentage points, this shows that a shift is both possible and already underway in some countries.

While parents and schools play a role, there’s also a perception issue to be remedied by the industry itself. Only 22% of students surveyed by PwC could name a famous woman in tech, whereas two thirds could name a famous man.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is one example of a high-profile woman in tech, but the industry has yet to produce a female leader as instantly recognizable as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk.

COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg
Image: REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

A recent Forbes profile shows that there are plenty of women, such as YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and IBM CEO Virginia “Ginni” Rometty, who aren’t as well known despite being in incredibly influential positions.