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Surprising Best (and Worst) Cities for Women in Tech (2017)

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

The best and worst cities for women in tech aren’t what you might think. Here's the full list.


It's a great time to have a career in technology, but it's no secret that women (and ethnic minorities) often face professional challenges that their Caucasian male counterparts do not. In addition to being outnumbered by men in STEM, women make a fraction of what their male counterparts make, are promoted with less frequency and are unlikely to hold high positions. It's counterintuitive that an industry so focused on progress would be as resistant to change as it appears to be, but the numbers say it all.  

MORE: How to Overcome Gender Bias in Technology 

SmartAsset is a fintech and data analytics company based in New York. Each year it publishes a list of the best cities for women in tech, which it compiles based on data from the Census Bureau. You can read all about its indexing methodology here. In general, the study factors in gender pay gaps, income after housing costs and growth after four years of employment. In 2017, SmartAsset evaluated 59 cities and assigned them scores out of 100, and the results are surprising.  

When most people think "tech hub," they think Silicon Valley, Seattle, Austin and maybe the research triangle in North Carolina. While it's true that all these areas are home to many tech companies, women in tech are woefully underrepresented and underpaid in many of these prime tech spots.  

Silicon Valley has had a notoriously bad reputation for sexism (and racism) since it first became a tech mecca, and it still does. Before I receive a bunch of angry emails informing me that data isn’t the plural of anecdote, the data backs me up on this too. Silicon Valley Bank's 2017 Startup Outlook Report stated that 70 percent of the region's startups have no women on their boards of directors and 54 percent don't have even one woman in any executive role. Not even one.  

That said, nearby Fremont, CA, which is technically an East Bay city and not part of Silicon Valley, appears to be significantly more progressive. In fact, it was ranked in sixth place by SmartAsset for Best Cities for Women in Tech 2017. Unfortunately, gender equality progress seems to be a scenario of one step forward, two steps back. SmartAsset's overall finding was that the gender pay gap in technology broadened slightly in the last year: In 2016, the female-to-male earnings ratio was 86.7 percent, and this year it was 84.8 percent.  

Seattle, Austin and Raleigh are generally thought of as more inclusive high-tech cities, but the data doesn't support this notion at all. In ultra-liberal Seattle, women make up just 20.6 percent of the tech workforce and are paid 83.2 percent what their male counterparts make, which places Seattle at No. 26 on SmartAsset's list. On the upside, female tech employees in Seattle do seem to enjoy better growth opportunities (29 percent) than women in many other highly ranked cities.  

Austin and Raleigh both did significantly worse than Seattle, coming in at 52nd and 55th place respectively. Female tech workers in Austin make just 77.8 percent of what men make, while Raleigh women rake in a measly 72.9 percent of what their male counterparts make. In Austin, women make up 22.1 percent of all tech workers; in Raleigh, they account for just 18 percent of the tech workforce.  

So, if these major U.S. tech spots are still about as diverse as an English rugby team, where are the best places for intelligent women in tech? The answers might surprise you. These are the top five cities for women in tech: 

  1. Washington, D.C. 
  2. Kansas City, MO  
  3. Baltimore, MD 
  4. Indianapolis, IN 
  5. New Orleans, LA.  

In D.C., women account for 41 percent of the tech workforce and make 94.8 percent of what their male counterparts earn. In Kansas City, women make up just 30.3 percent, but they out-earn their male peers by 3.4 percent. There are only two other cities where women earn more than men in tech: Detroit, MI, and Indianapolis, IN.  

Detroit also boasts the strongest numbers in terms of representation, with women accounting for 42.2 percent of all tech pros in the city. The other top 15 cities, in order, are Fremont, CA; New York, NY; Detroit, MI; Denver, CO; Philadelphia, PA; Albuquerque, NM; St. Paul, MN; Charlotte, NC; Milwaukee, WI; and Houston, TX.  

There are several well-known cities that you'd expect to see higher on the list than they are, like Portland, OR (57th place); Phoenix, AZ (50th place); Los Angeles, CA (48th place); Dallas, TX (30th place); and Boston, MA (28th place). It seems that region, population size and political leaning have no impact on the number of women being hired and promoted in tech-related jobs.  

There's tremendous room for improvement, even at the top. The study was weighted and scored out of 100, and the top-scoring city only managed a score of 88.18, so a B+ was the best in the class. The scores decrease rapidly as you move down the list, and by the time you get to No. 15 the score is 61.58, which in academic terms would rank as a D-. Most students who earn a grade of D- are not in the top 25 percent of their class 

That said, once women break into an industry, they tend to put down roots of steel. Hopefully, as women continue to rise through STEM careers, they'll use their status to pull up others (women as well as ethnic minorities). While it is admittedly correlation, it's interesting to note that the No. 1 city on the list (Washington, D.C.) also came in first place in the National Women's Business Council study for the highest percentage of women-owned businesses relative to men-owned and equally owned businesses. Similarly, Kansas City, No. 2 on SmartAsset's list, came in seventh place in WalletHub's study of the best U.S. metropolitan areas for women to own a business.

It appears that female entrepreneurs may be the answer to tech's gender problem, and the gender pay gap in general 

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