People from all corners of the technology world (and beyond) have offered their take on the topic of women in tech, from Paul Graham’s infamous summation to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In empire. Even Louis C.K. has thoughts on the matter.

We recently analyzed Meetup data to see what we could learn about the global tech scene. This inspired us to go a level deeper. We wanted to use this same data set to see what Meetup patterns might tell us about the state of women in tech.

How we got the data

For the first round of Meetup analysis, we used Meetup’s publicly accessible API, downloaded the data for every global meetup in the technology category, and analyzed it in RJMetrics. To analyze gender data, we had to get a little more creative.

Meetup will, via its public API, tell you the member name for every member in a public group. (Pause for reader to unsubscribe from all controversial meetup groups.) The API won’t give you much beyond name, but fortunately, that’s all we needed: about 75% of users supply a name that maps to a name as recognized by the US Census Bureau. We mapped name data to census data to arrive at gender.

One more data-gathering challenge: Meetup is huge. There are thousands of tech meetups, many with thousands of members—many millions of total tech meetup memberships. We couldn’t pull every single member for every single group. Instead, we chose the 50 biggest cities, and pulled the members for the biggest group in every city.

Typically the biggest group in a given city is a large group with general membership that is representative of the overall tech scene. The biggest of all tech meetups, the New York Tech Meetup, fits this model nicely, as does our own Philly Tech Meetup. Using these groups as a proxy for overall city population seems reasonable to us.

Women in tech

According to our analysis, women make up 29% of the tech community. This matches up closely with other data sets. 2011 census data showed that 25% of computer workers were female and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this year that 26% of computer and mathematical occupations are held by women. Sanity check: passed.

tech-community-by-gender

Women make up 29% of the tech community http://ow.ly/ynWtS

Cities going beyond the 29%

It’s clear that women still comprise a minority in the tech industry, but we were interested in exploring the cities that broke the mold. Out of the top 50 biggest tech centers in the US, which cities’ tech communities are more than 29% female?

17 of the 50 major tech centers in the US have higher-than-average numbers of women in tech:

City % Female
Las Vegas 64.81%
Oakland 46.80%
Nashville 43.49%
Miami 40.33%
Dallas 39.97%
Phoenix 37.63%
San Mateo 34.60%
Houston 34.25%
Portland 32.66%
Atlanta 32.34%
New York 31.90%
San Jose 31.09%
Palo Alto 30.19%
Seattle 29.89%
Austin 29.65%
Baltimore 29.65%
Washington 29.00%

The first thing we notice about this list? Las Vegas is the only city where women make up the majority in tech.

What makes Vegas so special?

In Las Vegas, women make up 65% of the tech scene. This is the only top tech center where women are the majority. Why the anomaly?

Vegas is the only top city in the US where women are in the majority of the tech scene http://ow.ly/ynWtS

Outside of the tech bubble, Vegas is a welcoming place for females on a number of fronts. For one, the city has had a female mayor, Carolyn Goodman, since 2011. Across the country, only 18.4% of cities with populations over 30,000 can claim that level of female leadership. Additionally, Nevada ranks highest in the nation for gender paycheck equality, with women earning around 85 cents on the dollar compared to men.

The female mayor piece got us thinking about the other cities on the above average list. So we did some counting:

City Female Mayor
Las Vegas female mayor
Oakland female mayor
Nashville male mayor
Miami male mayor
Dallas male mayor
Phoenix male mayor
San Mateo male mayor
Houston female mayor
Portland male mayor
Atlanta male mayor
New York male mayor
San Jose male mayor
Palo Alto female mayor
Seattle male mayor
Austin male mayor
Baltimore female mayor
Washington male mayor

We thought we might be onto something. To confirm, we ran a regression analysis on the 50 biggest tech cities. What we found is that a female mayor is positively correlated with more women in tech.

Female mayors are positively correlated with more women in tech http://ow.ly/ynWtS

Other research corroborates that female leaders in civic roles influences the educational choices of younger females. Of course it’s worth noting that female mayors is by no means the primary influence on women in tech. A city is an ecosystem and big changes tend to happen as a result of many small factors shifting.

Do female group leaders matter?

Buoyed by our discovery on the impact of female mayors, we wanted to further examine the impact of female leadership. 22% of all tech Meetup groups are led by women. Are these groups more likely to have higher numbers of female members?

22% of all Meetup groups are led by women http://ow.ly/ynWtS

We regressed the percentage of female group members against the gender of the leader of that group. The answer? No dice. Having a female group leader doesn’t lead to greater female membership based on our data. While a female mayor is correlated to more females in tech, we can’t say that the same relationship plays out at the group level.

How does a city’s tech density impact female membership?

When we first starting looking at Meetup data, we were curious what the most densely concentrated tech centers were. Not surprisingly, Palo Alto tops this list:

City Meetup % of Population
Palo Alto, CA 148.62%
Mountain View, CA 92.49%
Cambridge, MA 48.45%
San Francisco, CA 47.95%
Santa Monica, CA 36.30%
Princeton, NJ 32.55%
Boulder, CO 30.56%
Sunnyvale, CA 22.40%
Menlo Park, CA 16.95%
Herndon, VA 16.53%
Oak Brook, IL 15.94%
Washington, DC 15.49%
Vienna, VA 14.62%
Santa Clara, CA 14.60%
Addison, TX 14.17%
Hoboken, NJ 13.91%

Our top cities by women in tech, however, are mostly absent from this list. Is there a connection? Do tech-dense cities have fewer women in tech?

We ran another regression analysis of the density of a tech scene vs. the % of female membership. Tech density has a small negative impact on the number of women in tech, but it’s not statistically significant.

We certainly think the disparity in these lists is interesting, and we don’t consider our analysis exhaustive. The data is out there for anyone who wants to dig deeper!

The future of tomorrow’s tech centers

The reasons keeping more females from getting involved in tech are complex. They range from the “brogrammer” culture of the industry to educational systems that discourage women from pursuing STEM programs. Solving this problem isn’t just beneficial to women who want good, high-paying jobs; it’s beneficial for the entire tech industry.

It’s quite possible that Vegas, Oakland, Nashville, and other cities exceeding the 29% standard will have an advantage in the coming years. By creating environments conducive to women in tech, they’re expanding the size and diversity of their technical human capital.

As with any complex issue, we think that the most productive conversations include a healthy dose of real data. We hope these new data points we’ve uncovered will help develop productive conversations in the hundreds of tech communities that are thriving around the world.

  • Bruce Flannigan

    Vegas is jumping up and down waving their arms because they feel women have some dominant presence in the tech industry here. I can say first hand that unless there’s some hidden region of Vegas I don’t know of, that analysis is severely flawed.

    There is a news headline here today that now reads “Las Vegas top in the nation for women in tech”.. LOL – this is based solely on the analysis of people who have signed up for Meetup.com – not exactly a reliable sampling to claim “top in the nation”. (For the record, the media here is desperate for attention and things like this bring a lot of false hope.)

    • http://rjmetrics.com/ Tristan Handy

      Hey Bruce! Thanks for the comment.

      I’m not completely sure how to respond because you didn’t necessarily address anything specific about the analysis. My guess is that the takeaways just don’t jibe with your experience. Do you live in Vegas? Are you a part of the tech scene there? If so, it would definitely be interesting to hear your “on-the-ground” perspective.

      As participants in the tech scene ourselves—RJMetrics sponsors several meetups in Philly and employees are active in many more—I can tell you from first-hand experience that meetup groups are a primary way that technologists get together to network and learn.

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        but meetups are biased towards certain factors, almost all of them only present in largeish cities. Outside of those, they’re nonexistent.

        • http://rjmetrics.com/ Tristan Handy

          Actually, we didn’t find that to be the case. There are a ton of tech meetups in smaller cities. Check out the map in our original post:

          http://blog.rjmetrics.com/2014/04/23/whos-meeting-up-a-ranking-of-top-startup-cities/

          Certainly, the meetups in larger cities are larger on an absolute basis, but they’re not always larger when you look at them as a percentage of the population. We didn’t show % of population data for small cities in that post, but when I was crunching the numbers I can assure you that there were plenty of smaller cities on the % of pop list.

          • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

            I think you and I have VERY different ideas of “a ton” and “smaller cities”. You’re also ignoring some unique features of the smaller cities on that map.

            For example, FL. There are exactly two “smaller” cities on that density map: Tallahassee, and what looks like Gainesville. One of those is the state capital, the other is where the University of FL is located. (and, I live in Tally. the number of “meetups” here is small, and highly vertical. One of the largest groups, for example, is the SQL Server admin group. If you’re not a SQL Server admin, not exactly something you care about.)

            the rest of FL is clear. As is most of GA, all of MS, ND/SD/Wyoming, etc. Minnesota has one location, etc.

            Where you find the most meetup locations is, unsurprisingly, near tech loci. So ATL, Research Triangle, major cities and locations. This explains for example, the way relatively small cities in Silicon Valley have so many meetups. Although given that two of the smallest cities have no industry other than tech, you can’t exactly tout them as representative of ‘average’ small cities. Well, you can, but it’d be silly.

            in addition, the overall population density for the silicon valley area is not small. it’s not like Palo Alto is 300 miles from Mountain View and it’s desert in between.

            In fact, none of the “small” cities are far from a large tech center or centers. Silicon Vally IS a tech center, boulder is less than 100 miles from a major military center, and is a fairly major science research center on its own, etc.

            so you can’t just say “no, meetups happen in smaller towns and they’re the primary way people get together based on that article, because the “small” towns you have 1) aren’t that small, 2) are in fairly dense places where regardless of specific city demographics, you have a LOT of people in the area in the tech business and 3) are located near tech epicenters.

            If you’re in an actual small town that doesn’t fit those three requirements, as your map shows, you don’t tend to exist.

          • http://rjmetrics.com/ Tristan Handy

            I think that’s a fair point. Well said. I don’t have the data at hand to dig into that any more deeply, though. Do you think that there are many technologists in these small towns located further from urban centers? If so, do you think they’re meeting up, but not using Meetup.com to organize this? Or is there not enough critical mass for a scene to develop at all?

          • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

            well, it depends on your definition of “technologist”, and theirs I suppose. I’ve been a sysadmin for 20 years, but if you asked me about being a technologist, I’d probably give you a funny look.

            as far as how they’re meeting up, hard to say. there’s a lot of local cultural habits that can affect that, and as you point out, if they aren’t using a methodology that you can mine, then they effectively don’t exist.

            That’s a danger when you’re limited in terms of data sources as you are: forgetting that the source can introduce a not-small bias.

      • Bruce Flannigan

        Let me give you an example Tristan..the escorts here use everything possible to gain an advantage to meet new clientele. LinkedIn is filled with them. These days if your profile is public on Facebook, they’re bothering you there, heck they’re even on Pintrest. Networking in this town is very tight, the veteran workforce knows everyone in their sector, it just is the way to survive here. Technical placement recruiters are frowned upon, and anyone in this industry for long is usually at a maximum two degrees of separation from anyone else. You make it here by knowing someone.

        Trade shows are where the experienced workforce builds their network, G2E primarily, CES to a lesser degree. If you want to survive in this town, you leave these shows with a stack of business cards.

        But again, many females on Meetup in Las Vegas that you may see disguised as the technology industry types, the escort business is big here and they know no limits.

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    Let’s see: you’re talking about a field with:

    rampant elitism

    rampant ageism

    a view of teamwork that is by and large noxious

    a view anyone who likes working for someone else as kind of stupid

    a viewpoint so deep into the meritocracy delusion that it views anyone not completely thrilled with being in tech, regardless of reason, is somehow “lesser” and doesn’t “deserve” to be in tech.

    “Fitting in” with “culture” is now more important than skill and ability, so the very concept of diversity, in terms of actual approach to solving problems or thinking is now bad.

    and we wonder why the members of the industry are so skewed towards a particular type of person.

    Self-awareness is not something the tech biz does well.

  • Narelle

    Now plot this against average wages in the ICT industry…

  • boutell

    Thanks, this is interesting.

    You mentioned relying solely on the largest tech meetup for each city. I do have to ask if that allows any conclusions to be drawn about Las Vegas specifically. I assume you’d mention if the largest meetup happened to be specifically about women in tech, but it could be something less obvious like aggressive outreach to women by that particular meetup.