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The Culture Keeping Women Out of Tech Jobs

Tinder, the mobile dating/hookup app, is just the latest of several tech companies to face accusations of sexism in the workplace. On Monday, co-founder Whitney Wolfe filed a lawsuit against Tinder and parent company IAC for “a barrage of horrendously sexist, racist and otherwise inappropriate comments, emails and text messages.” Tinder co-founder and chief marketing officer Justin Mateen has been suspended.

In May, Valleywag leaked emails from Snapchat CEO and co-founder Evan Spiegel during his frat days at Stanford; the emails were less than female-friendly. This followed Julie Ann Horvath’s exit from GitHub due to sexual harassment, and the PR disaster that ensued when a sexist flier was seen in the women’s bathroom at Twitter’s headquarters.

Stories of sexism in the tech industry are seemingly endless and a reminder that the gender imbalance in tech has more than one cause. It’s often presumed the gender gap shows that women aren’t pursuing STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). But data from the National Science Foundation tells a different story. Just over half of the bachelor’s degrees earned in STEM fields in 2012 were earned by women, a number that has stayed consistent since 2002.

But an American Community Survey report, published by the Census Bureau last year, found that women make up 39 percent of the STEM workforce (and that estimation may be on the high side).

As the recent lawsuits indicate, these traditionally male-dominated fields aren’t always welcoming to women. A survey of 5,685 adults with experience in STEM fields conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) found that women feel “marginalized by lab-coat, hard-hat, and geek workplace cultures that are often exclusionary and promulgate bias,” and they “feel excluded from ‘buddy networks’ among their peers and lack female role models.”

It’s clear that women enjoy STEM work: 80 percent in the CTI survey said they loved it. The CTI survey also found 54 percent of women said they were “eager to get to the top.” And yet 27 percent said they find their careers stalling due to workplace sexism. Despite their drive, the women surveyed were 45 percent more likely than men to say that they planned on leaving the industry within a year.

Proposed solutions abound, and it’s unclear what the best path is, but one thing’s certain: For its own good, the STEM culture can’t keep going like this forever.

Hayley Munguia is a former social media editor and a data reporter for FiveThirtyEight.