Companies tend to inflate the numbers of women in their ranks holding ‘technical’ positions. No corporation wants to admit that their company has little to no female engineers; instead, they create an overarching category of people on technical teams, and then divide by gender.

The statistics a company publishes concerning the number of women hires are often very misleading. Companies often say that women in graphic design or project management are ‘technical’ in nature; they are not typically regarded as so by most engineers. They are artists or human resource and task specialists who schedule, track, and motivate the developers. However, it is convenient to use them to showcase high numbers of women in technical positions in any organization. I wrote a now defunct blog post on my experience asking about this, which was chronicled in Huffington Post.

Here’s the original data I compiled on Klout’s proportion of women in tech at the time. It’s just an infograph (don’t mock my nonexistent graphic design skills), but it illustrates the situation quite well. Click the thumbnail to embiggen.

Klout by the numbers-Large

As a result, most people are not aware of the true nature of the difficulties women face being hired to work in development and programming teams. These are tiny, overwhelmingly masculine pockets of an often quite egalitarian overall corporate culture.

The way to determine the real number of women in technical positions is to ask how many female engineers are on board. That is not a number which can be inflated; ask to meet with one or two in order to find out how women are treated in the organization. If you are concerned with how that might appear, contact the women via social media. You should be able to reach at least one or two…if they exist.

It’s very tough to tell how many companies are inflating their numbers. I know of two large companies at a minimum in the Seattle area which count project managers and graphic designers as “technical” employees, when in reality it is a rare event indeed for a woman to be employed as a software engineer or web developer. Be cautious when companies tout their high integration stats; the truth is that unless the CEO, CTO, COO, and VP Engineering are all female, I would never believe offhand any company that tells me that “42% of our technical workforce is female.”

If you know a company that is seeking female engineers and which would be a great place to work, even if the proportion of technical women in the company is low, leave it in the comments. I can think of several places with low ratios that are great workplaces.  It’s merely the vicissitudes of hiring which have left them low on women, though they work hard on diversity.

A small disclaimer: if you are a project manager or graphic designer and you consider yourself to be technical, I believe you. I am speaking only of the corporate habit of trying to make female engineers believe that they will be on a team consisting of a gender split like unto that which the company publishes as its official gender ration for technical positions.

Parts of this post adapted from “Technical Interviews for Technical Women” © 2011 Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack

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