Ana Redmond launched into a technology career for an exciting challenge and a chance to change the world. She was well-equipped to succeed too: An ambitious math and science wiz, she could code faster, with fewer errors, than anyone she knew.
In 2011, after 15 years, she left before achieving a management position.
Garann Means became a programmer for similar reasons. After 13 years, she quit too, citing a hostile and unwelcoming environment for women.
Neither expects to ever go back.
“There are a lot of things that piled up over the years,” Means said. “I didn’t know how to move forward. There was a lot I had to put up with in the culture of tech. It just didn’t seem worth it.”
That’s a huge problem for the tech economy. According to the industry group Code.org, computing jobs will more than double by 2020, to 1.4 million. If women continue to leave the field, an already dire shortage of qualified tech workers will grow worse.
It’s why the industry is so eager to hire women and minorities. For decades tech companies have relied on a workforce of whites and Asians, most of them men.
Plenty of programs encourage girls and minorities to embrace technology at a young age. But one truth is little discussed: Qualified women are leaving the tech industry in droves.
A Harvard Business Review study from 2008 found that as many as 50 percent of women working in science, engineering and technology will, over time, leave because of hostile work environments.
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According to the Harvard study, the reasons include a “hostile” male culture, a sense of isolation and lack of a clear career path.
Redmond, 40, didn’t want to leave her tech career. But she felt stuck, with no way to advance. She said male co-workers seemed to oppose her. “It was like they were trying to push me out at every stage,” she said.
She had built a prototype for a travel website, she said, a feature to auto-suggest cities and airports based on the first three letters typed into the search field.
Her male bosses told her she’d built it without permission. Then they said only architects within the company could pitch features — and all the architects were male.
In the end, the project was handed to someone else, and she was assigned to less interesting tasks.
“They just kept asking me to prove myself over and over again,” she said.