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Ladies and Gents, the Pipeline is Not the Problem: #WomenInTech

Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré
Ladies and Gents, the Pipeline is Not the Problem: #WomenInTech

There is a pervasive myth that women aren’t drawn to tech-industry jobs because of inadequate encouragement in math and science classes in school. Within this dominant paradigm, it’s assumed that when more women enter science and engineering programs, the diversity problem will fix itself.

No, it won’t. At least not while we’re convincing ourselves that the pipeline is the problem. The pipeline – the track from STEM studies in academia to career – is actually doing fairly well, at least in most developed countries.

Recent studies show that high school girls in the U.S. participate in equal numbers in science, technology, engineering and math (ie. STEM) electives, and Stanford and Berkeley both report that 50 percent of their introductory computer science students are women. We’re here and our numbers are growing, at least in the beginning of the pipeline. However, just two years ago the U.S. Census Bureau reported that men are employed in STEM occupations at twice the rate of women with comparable qualifications.

Some articles also cite statistics like “Women make up only 26 percent of the computing workforce, and only 18 percent of undergraduate computer science degree recipients,” which neatly ignores all of the non-engineering jobs in which women are engaged – in large numbers. When you look at the larger picture of tech careers, it’s not a pipeline problem that emerges, but a retention problem.

Women are dropping out.

It’s too easy to say that women leave their tech jobs because they have children. In Kieran Snyder’s Fortune magazine article “Why women leave tech: It’s the culture, not because ‘math is hard,’” she reports her findings from interviewing 716 women who left tech, 625 of whom said they were never coming back. Only 22 (3%) said they’d like to. It wasn’t the nature of the work that drove them out, or the fact that some had children. Snyder says nearly everyone she spoke with said they’d enjoyed their work – just not their work environment.

This is why articles, like the Guardian piece titled “Silicon Valley is cool and powerful. But where are the women?” tick me off. As do the frequently-asked questions: “Why are there so few women in technology? Where does the problem start?” Don’t even get me started on the people who cry “Oh, if only we had more women!” My answer to that is: You would if you treated us better.

When I asked the women I know in tech-related fields for their experiences, I was very careful to phrase the question to encourage positive experiences as much as negative ones. I myself have had mostly positive experiences with men in my field (growth hacking, customer success and inbound marketing). Men like Lincoln Murphy and Jim Gray have been extraordinary mentors to me, and I cannot enter into this discussion without saying that there are many strikingly good people out there who support women like me in tech, and do so without any ulterior motives. And I’m not alone.

But Joanna Wiebe, founder of Copyhackers, shared, it’s a sad statement that we need these men:

Then Wiebe shared three of the most disheartening stories I’ve heard.

At a conference dinner last year, a speaker – a very respected person – told me that women have smaller brains than men do and, as proven by science, are simply not capable of what men are capable of. This person stands in front of audiences and influences them. And he said that to my face. But why wouldn't he? My little brain wouldn't know to be offended. Just a cute little tiny brain filled with pink fluff.


My manager at a huge tech company complained to me that he didn't like working for women because he'd once worked for a female CEO that "everyone thought was such a bitch." His manager at the time was a woman. I. Was. A. Woman. (And still am. :) ) And evidently he'd never, ever worked for a male CEO that held his team to higher standards and, like, expected things of them. Men lead; women bitch.


A woman walked up to me after I'd spoken at a conference and told me I should "play to my strength" which, in her opinion, was this: "you're cute." I'd worn a dress to speak, so I guess looking like a woman was my first mistake. No amount of data on the screen matters when you've got a skirt on, evidently.

Other women I’ve spoken with didn’t want their names mentioned for fear of backlash, but were more than willing to share their stories. Lauren S., an SEO tech specialist, for example, explained a more subtle side of the issue that so many of us face every day:

My position as a lead tech for the largest brand in our company doesn't offer any authority or respect from my supervisor or other colleagues. And despite being one of three SEO Technical Specialists who have been here for over 2 years, I am almost never consulted, listened to for analysis input/info, and have to scream (seemingly) twice as loud for my accomplishments to be acknowledged.

Even though I worked my way up from the associate level, to mid-level (ALMOST senior level now), when HTML questions or general website edits are brought up, if I jump in to volunteer my knowledge (because at this point, I usually know the answer to the problem) I am generally brushed off or ignored.

In December of last year, my supervisor sat me down to inform me that he had spoken to other members of the SEO department and many told him that I come off as condescending, and a "know it all". Jumping in on conversations or helping someone out with a website/HTML/technical issue is common practice in our department. I usually only jump in when I think I can provide help or assistance, which many of my colleagues do frequently (all male).

The most frustrating part of all of it, has been the feeling that no matter how hard I work, or how many times I prove myself, I will not be taken seriously as a leader in my department, or in my field.

She plans on leaving her job with this organization within a few weeks.

Entrepreneur and inbound marketing strategist, V, asked to be kept anonymous since her story happened “too recently.”

The male co-founder of my company kept insisting he had the experience for our project and I didn't. So every time I proposed something (that I did have experience with) he would want the data. And when I doubted him, he would just give me the “experience” crap.

I think a lot of men genuinely think they're better than women and that we should yield and listen to their wisdom and knowledge of the tech world.”

I have long defended the men in my industry because I’ve had the pleasure of working with so many who have encouraged my work, who have picked up the phone to help me sort out a problem that would have cost their paying clients $1,000 per hour. But recently I’ve realized that I’ve also experienced unfairness in the workplace that I can’t find reasons for, other than gender bias, such as receiving the same salary as others I was asked to train.

As frustrating as it is to be a woman in the tech industry, there is another population who suffer even more setbacks and discrimination. Minority women. In a 2015 report by UC Hastings College of the Law, 100% of the 60 African-American and Latina scientists interviewed said they had encountered discrimination. Of the 500 women of color who responded to the online survey, more than 75% felt they had to provide evidence of their competence repeatedly. Many had stories of being mistaken for janitorial staff.

Whereas the proposed solutions to the “pipeline problem” are relatively straightforward and government endorsed, there is no simple remedy to create the large-scale culture shift that needs to happen for women to enjoy equal treatment and respect in technology fields.

Perhaps one part of the solution is men in positions of power and influence helping women into their own positions of power and influence. But from there, it’s up to us. We need to create work environments that are supportive of women. We need to found companies with maternity leave policies and childcare practices that make sense for us. We need to give other women the respect – and pay – their experience, expertise and talents deserve.

We need to fix what’s happening once women are in the pipeline.

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Nichole the Chief Strategy Officer at Inturact. She is also a moderator at Product Hunt and; Previously, she was in growth at View her website.
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It's all Mad Men's fault ;)
Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré
I confess that I actually loved that series.
Rand Fishkin
Thanks for writing this Nichole - I love that you embraced this topic and that you used real people's stories. Thanks to Joanna and Lauren, too - those cannot have been easy experiences to share.

I'm probably projecting, but I felt like part of this might be taking a stab at the post I wrote recently around Moz's efforts to help improve diversity. I used the word "pipeline" there to describe this issue which NPR summarized neatly in their graph:

To your point - there's plenty of women interested in STEM fields in high school and even early college, yet the number of graduates with STEM degrees, especially in the fields of computer science, are abysmal, and have dropped massively in the last 30 years.

I think the points and research you cite above can neatly put a nail in the coffin of any arguments like "women don't like subject XYZ as much as men" or "maybe women just don't want to be in these fields." That leaves the far-less-comfortable answer that something is causing women to drop out of those degree paths in college and to drop out of technical careers early in their professional lives, too. I think you've got some great stories above illustrating exactly why that happens.

I'm in total agreement that more needs to be done to create a better, more welcoming, more equitable environment in technology for people who don't fit the stereotypes of a tech worker. I don't know if you had a chance to read my post, but if you did, and there's things you think Moz is doing wrong or could do better, it would mean a ton to me (and to all of us) to get your suggestions/input.
Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré
Rand Fishkin
Hi Rand,

Thanks so much again for taking the time to read and respond.

As mentioned on Twitter, it was a coincidence that we addressed the same topic, so my article isn't in response to you having used the word "pipeline" in yours. :) I wrote this article as part of a Women in Tech series that SEMRush is focusing on this week.

I just read your article, though. It's thoughtful and brilliant.

I deeply appreciate this public acknowledgement:

"When I look around the room at a conference, in a meeting, or during a networking event and all I see are people who look like me (white dudes), I’m deeply uncomfortable. ~31% of all Americans are white men, which means there’s something weird going on if a conference has 30 speakers, of which 27 are in that group. Conference organizers and some attendees have argued to me that perhaps those 27 white dudes are simply the best speakers out there – better than anyone else they could have selected to present." well as the tangible examples that you provided about how Moz has made changes to improve.

I have actually been working on another article that is much more similar to yours; in it, I address why minorities in tech should be able to speak for themselves rather than have "allies" speak for them. (Example: "ally panels" at conferences that simplify things by pointing out that the advancement of women in tech is mostly important because these "allies" have mothers, sisters, daughters, etc.)

I might be able to think of a few more things that Moz can do. If you'd ever like to discuss everything more in depth, I'd be happy to jump on a quick call and share my thoughts.
Rand Fishkin
Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré
Would love that. Will reach out over email.

Re: Ally panels - totally understand. I was pretty nervous and worried about writing this post because I have seen so many "ally" stuff go so badly, which sucks. At the same time, I didn't want some bad apples to spoil the whole bunch, and because I'm such a strong believer in transparency (as well as intentional efforts for diversity) I felt like it wasn't authentic to me/Moz to keep it bottled up and not share. That, and Wil's interview of me was a catalyst for reflecting on all this stuff.

Thanks again Nichole! You rock :-)
Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré
Rand Fishkin
Thanks! Please e-mail me at my main e-mail address: nikki.elizabeth at

I'm checking out the video tomorrow.

Talk soon.
Kathleen Garvin
Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré
Thanks for joining the conversation, Rand! Tara Clapper and I attended the event with Wil in Philadelphia, and I'm glad it inspired you to reflect on tech and diversity (though I already recognize you as a long-time advocate for both).

I read your latest article, but not before you removed a lot of the disparaging comments — that in ITSELF is why these conversations are still needed!

If you're interested, some of the women of SEMrush are recording a podcast on being a woman in tech today. It will most likely go live by week's end and will be posted on the blog.
Kathleen Garvin
Nichole, thank you for writing this piece! Until more men align with women to help stop this type of behavior in the classroom and workplace, it will continue to be a long and uphill battle.
Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré
Kathleen Garvin
Thanks, Kathleen. We just have to keep speaking up.
Very well stated. Though I guess I should be forthcoming about my own experience. I was a computer science and information systems major as an undergrad (mathematics minor). Our department was almost entirely devoid of females. It was not so bad freshman and soph year when you had ladies that had math or CIS prerequisites for other majors, but after we got into upper division coursework, it was a total sausage fest. My initial jobs in programming/development were about the same with the only females being HR folks.

On the digital marketing side of things, it is much more balanced, which has been a very welcome change. Maybe offer more scholarship opportunities to young ladies that would like to study mathematics, computer science, engineering, etc.
Kathleen Garvin
Rob Wilson
Thanks for commenting, Robby! Do you recall the females in your class being treated any differently?
Kathleen Garvin
Not that I recall, but again, post soph. year they were non-existent for me in classroom. At my first job (C++ QA programmer) I did not interact with co-workers much at all, female or otherwise. Just put my headphones in every morning and worked. Being on the Digital marketing side has been a great change for me, Far more diverse group of people than in programming.
Kathleen Garvin
Rob Wilson
Got it. Thanks for sharing your perspective!
Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré
Rob Wilson
Hi Robby, thanks for sharing your experience. I definitely think there should be more scholarship opportunities for minorities in general.
Well said. It really is a shame how women are discriminated against still today. I am the SEO Analyst and my voice is never heard. Throughout my career, men have always been my supervisors. I once had a male coworker ask me why I needed to take so much time off for maternity leave (6 weeks-the time my physician told me to take) and that labor isn't that hard, that he could do it no problem.
Kathleen Garvin
Hi PB! Thanks for your comment.

I'm so sorry you've experienced this in your career. Unfortunately when this type of behavior is permitted at the top, it tends to trickle down. And the fact that the U.S. is the only developed nation that doesn't guarantee paid maternity leave speaks volumes.
Alison Foxall
Kathleen Garvin
The U.S. is the only developed nation that doesn't have required paid maternity leave because we try to remain a free country where we don't force people or businesses to do things they don't want to or can't even afford.

If I had to provide paid maternity leave at this stage of my business, I would be out of business. It's not that simple as waving a new law around to do this.

Search for companies that offer both maternity and paternity leave. This should be a standard that people demand from their employers, not pushed as a law.
Kathleen Garvin
Alison Foxall
I won't open the Pandora's box that is the Affordable Care Act. But agreed, parental leave should be a standard women — and men — push for in the workplace.

Locally, I followed along as workers in Philadelphia campaigned for paid sick days for years. This past February, our mayor signed a bill that requires employers with 10 or more workers to offer accrued sick leave: Per the article, the new law could apply to 200k residents.

Right? Wrong? I don't know. Of course I like the idea of low paid workers not having to work with the flu because they can't afford to miss a paid day. At the same time, I worry about the city making things (more) difficult for small businesses.

Point being, I don't think government intervention is always the answer; but, I don't know that businesses will or can offer certain benefits without it.
Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré
Wow, that's quite a comment. I'm glad you stuck around despite it.
Alison Foxall
I'm sorry about your experience :( - it sounds like this particular individual has zero experience with birth and child rearing.

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