By Mary Wright
Technology is making a difference in the mortgage industry, and women are making a difference in mortgage technology. No matter the size of the mortgage operation, technology is the key to tangible and intangible benefits that facilitate operational effectiveness and profitability, and produce the results mortgage customers demand. Technological infrastructure affects the culture, efficiency, and relationships of a mortgage-related business. It also affects the security of confidential information and trade advantages.
Challenges to Women in Technology
In recent years, numerous sources have affirmed that the technology field overall hosts a significant gender gap – it is a microcosm of the workplace as a whole. In March 2015, Huffington Post reported the percentage of computing jobs held by women has actually fallen over the past 23 years, according to a new study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), a nonprofit that promotes gender equality. The study found that, in 2013, just 26 percent of computing jobs in the U.S. were held by women, down from 35 percent in 1990. During that same period, the number of women earning computing degrees also declined. In 2015, Google reported that only 17 percent of the company’s tech jobs were held by women, although women made up 30 percent of its workforce. At the same time, Twitter reported only 10 percent of its tech jobs were held by women, although it had an even split of non-technical jobs for men and women.
Despite distressing statistics, women affect a significant and positive influence on the technology industry. In “Women Who Risk: Making Women in Technology Visible,” Tara Hunt addresses questions about why women aren’t flocking to technology careers and, if they are not in technology, where are they? She found that women were “present in droves” when she visited high-profile technology companies, like Yahoo. What she also noted was that, although women were contributing ideas and expertise about winning solutions to the team efforts, they were more often team members, but not team leaders, and their visibility was diminished because, as she puts it, “the female geeks are being absorbed into teams.”
Hunt also pays homage to societal influences that affect professional women’s career choices and upward mobility that Mortgage WOMEN Magazine has reported on in past issues. In the November/December 2015 issue, we looked at the state of corporate America in “Women in the Workplace.” Not surprisingly, and consistent with the studies and research about women in technology, LeanIn.org and McKinsey &Company released a study about the state of women in Corporate America. What the study found was that “Corporate America is not on a path to gender equality.” According to that study, three factors stand out:
- Women are still underrepresented at every level in the corporate pipeline due to a number of factors.
- Female leadership is imperative for organizations that want to perform at the highest levels. But, based on the currently slow rate of progress, it will take 25 years to reach gender parity at the senior-VP level and more than 100 years in the C-Suite.
- While CEO commitment to gender diversity is high, organizations need to make a significant and sustained investment to change company practices and culture so women can achieve their full potential.
Hunt cites a number of findings correlated to the LeanIn.org study that solve some of the mysteries about “if we clearly already exist [in the technology industry]—the question of where we are is still being asked?” She presents several theories about where women are, and, why they are not being seen in significant roles on a large scale:
I must choose family first. For as far as we’ve come, women are still the main caretakers of our families. Similarly, we reported in the July/August Mortgage Compliance Magazine, “Work-Life Balance,” that, in the age of the ‘Sandwich Generation,’ daughters are overwhelmingly the caregivers for aging parents, and, that, according to a 2014 study, daughters provided an average of 12.3 hours of elderly parent care per month as compared to sons’ 5.6 hours. Hunt recognizes that the balance of families and careers still hangs in the balance for many women.
I am invisible. There is a perpetual cycle of assumptions that lead to women becoming invisible. She cites examples from her own experiences and others. In media, at conferences, and in general discussions, Hunt relates, occasions that were supported by teams or groups of men and women, men were more often granted visibility and women were not recognized. In her estimation, the lack of role models in public view makes it incredibly difficult for young women to pursue and enter the Computer Science field, and even more difficult for younger women to pursue fields of study, mathematics, statistics, and the sciences, that prepare them for technology careers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics bears this out – in the mid-1980s, 37% of computer science majors were women; in 2012, that number had dropped to 18%.
I am not successful. The way success is measured in the technology industry needs adjustment. Successes that tend to be more “masculine,” that is, those represented by the more logical, linear, quantitative statistics (such as raw numbers and dollars), are more frequently celebrated. Successes that are more anecdotal, relational, and qualitative, the more “feminine” competencies, are less frequently celebrated. Think about ‘bottom line’ achievements – typically tied to revenue, not good will and reputation.
Thriving Against the Tide
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), by the year 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs available in the US, and we need to play catch-up to fill them all. But, we can discern that the Corporate America gender gap has not eluded the technology industry, and without an aggressive effort, those jobs will not be filled by women. The BLS also finds that 68% of women enroll in college (compared to 63% of men), and women increasingly outnumber men in college graduation rates. Yet women still make up only a quarter of the technology industry workforce. Changes are needed to prepare young women for careers in technology, and changes are needed in the business world to attract, support, promote, reward, and keep women in technology roles.
An effort to attract and empower young women to embark on technology careers has been launched by Reshma Saujani, a lawyer, politico, and activist. She hopes to be a change agent and catalyst for women in computer science everywhere to rebalance women in technology. She has helped start a movement, Girls Who Code, which suddenly has momentum. Girls Who Code, a non-profit organization, works to inspire, educate, and equip girls for careers in computer science. The Summer Immersion Program, offered in nine cities around the country, is a free seven-week course that focuses on three main aspects: skills, exposure, and mentorship. Instruction ranges from basic computer science fundamentals to robotics, web design, algorithms, and mobile development. Girls are also encouraged to start Girls Who Code clubs in their own schools. According to Saujani, gender equity in technology is the most important domestic issue of our time, and she is determined to affect change in it.
Much has been written about the lack of gender diversity in the working world. In “Women in the Workplace,” we related the challenges women face in the US to relieve the gender gap and achieve equal pay for equal work. Women not only observe a workplace biased against them; they believe they are disadvantage by it. Senior-level women view their gender as a bigger disadvantage than entry-level women do. They are less likely to view their organization as meritocratic and more likely to think that women have fewer opportunities. They are also more likely to believe that their gender has made it harder for them to advance compared to their male peers. Sadly, in general, CEO’s don’t widely perceive gender diversity to be a priority. The changes must start at the top.
Where are the women in technology?
Hunt says, “It seems that I’ve located the women: they are mostly at the big companies doing all sorts of cool and innovative things. They are in excellent, prestigious positions. But that isn’t the entire picture either. There are quite a few, individual women who are risk takers. These are women who leave the comforts of salaried, benefited work at the big companies to go and lead startups.”
According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), of the 56% of women in technology jobs who leave their employers mid-career, 24% take a non-technical job in a different company; 22% become self-employed in a tech field, 20% take time out of the workforce, and 10% go to work with a startup company. The turnover rate is twice that of men in the same field. The NCWIT says, “Simply reducing female attrition by one-quarter would add 220,000 workers to the science, engineering, and technology talent pool.”
In 2014, Fortune conducted a survey of 542 partner-level venture capital businesses. Twenty-three of them were led by women. Fortune compared it to their list of Fortune 500 female CEOS, of which 4.6% are women. In the same year, Harvard business school conducted a study of financial backing for startups. The results? Attractive men have disproportionate success in obtaining venture capital funding for startups, compared with women and with less physically appealing men. In fact, only seven percent of venture capital funding goes to women-owned businesses.
Even with the challenges of finding funding and the fortitude necessary to go the entrepreneurial route, start-ups with women executives succeed more often. Dow Jones released a study in 2012 that looked at venture-backed companies from 1997 to 2011. Companies that went public or were acquired were considered “successful.” Of those successful companies, the share of female executives was 7.1%, compared with 3.1% at unsuccessful firms. Even with that, the study underscored the fact that both venture companies lag behind US Main Street and Corporate America in women leaders. Few women hold top positions in venture-backed companies. Women own 28 percent of all businesses in the U.S., and women make up about 16 percent of board members and corporate officers of the Fortune 500. But women are 51 percent of the U.S. population and better educated than men. But even that 16 percent puts the Fortune 500 ahead of the VC-backed universe: Of the roughly 168,000 executives at companies in the analysis, less than seven percent were women.
The environment for women who are leading the way in mortgage technology is not without its challenges. Although the number of women pursuing technology roles in mortgage lending and servicing remains relatively low, their affect is undeniable. Women are leading in mortgage technology roles, and we want to promote their visibility.
Mary Thorson Wright is the Senior Editor of Mortgage Compliance Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.