How One Texas Software Company is Defying the Gender Gap in Computer Science
For some people, there’s a preconceived thought when you hear technology or software and the kinds of people that work in the industry. Some might think male-dominated. That’s not the case at PDX, a pharmacy software company in Fort Worth, Texas.
Statistically, women in computer science are underrepresented. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are roughly 1,536,000 people in software development, application, and systems software. Only 18.7% or 287,232 are women. At PDX, 48.3% of the software development team (design, quality assurance, development) are women.
PDX supports a positive work environment for female developers
At PDX, women make up almost half of the software development team. In comparison, at a larger tech company, only 20% of women make up the technology workforce. The narrow gender gap gives PDX an advantage when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
“I think it’s very important to surround yourself with different ideas and different backgrounds, it’s what makes you better,” said Brandi Sherrill, VP of Design and QA. “I think women are naturally intuitive, so you can better respond to your audience.” When it comes to work ethic, she said, “If you are getting the work done, a good leader isn’t going to ignore or overlook your efforts because you are a woman, or whatever minority group you are a part of. Good work can’t be ignored.”
Gender related obstacles appear to be nonexistent in the PDX work place. Natalie White, Senior Developer at PDX, says, “Women choose PDX because of the inclusive culture.” White currently resides in California and works from home full time.
“I could’ve said goodbye to PDX and worked at a tech giant when we moved to CA for my husband’s job; there are a dozen options 15 minutes from my house. But PDX allowed me to work remotely and I chose to stay,” White said. “They recognize my performance, and the people I work with are great. I’m not willing to leave a company where women’s contributions are valued to go to a place where people may assume I’m not competent or worse – may think I only got the job to meet a quota.”
Why is there a larger than normal female presence?
PDX stemmed from an independent pharmacy in small town Granbury, Texas. In 1985, Founder and Chairman of the Board, Ken Hill, decided it was time for a new approach to safely dispensing prescriptions for patients. He formulated a team who together would venture into the realm of pharmacy software, and PDX was born. The pharmacy industry has a sizable female presence, with close to 60% of pharmacists being women.
Because the software PDX builds relies heavily on the input from pharmacy experts, it makes sense that PDX attracts women with pharmacy backgrounds and has opened the door for more women to enter the world of software design, quality assurance, and development.
Trey Ferguson, VP of Clinical Development, sees the value of women on the development team and the importance of diversity of employees.
“We have some of the most talented women that I’ve ever worked with,” Ferguson said. “In addition, people from different work backgrounds, have come into the pharmacy technology industry and not only learned the industry and culture, but have excelled in it. We at PDX are very lucky to have these women working for us.”
Societal norms have a large impact on our everyday lives; when it comes to choosing a career path, it is no different. Social norm is for women to pursue nurturing professions like nursing or teaching. When asked what their idea of someone in computer science is, rarely does that description relate to a female with nurturing attributes. This is a stereotype that some of the women at PDX have had to overcome.
Trish Reilly, a design architect for PDX, revealed that when she tells people she works for a software company, people often assume she must be in an administrative or other non-technical position.
“Most people don’t even ask what I do, not even my family,” Reilly said. “There is an assumption that I don’t do anything special, because I am a female.”
She believes that such assumptions exist due to societal stereotypes: Women simply do not work in the field of computer science because they perceive themselves as not having the intelligence necessary to do so.
What does the future of women in software development look like?
Dawn Scheffer, Director, Software Development and Automation, believes the current climate of females’ obstacles being brought to the forefront in today’s society will highlight opportunities for women, especially in male-dominated industries like computer science.
“I don’t need to be stronger, I don’t need to be faster, I just need to have a brain and be willing to work together,” Scheffer said when talking about competition with her male counterparts in her career.
According to the NCWIT, by 2026 there will be about 3.5 million computer science-related job openings. Due to the current rate of U.S. students, male and female, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, only 17% of those jobs could be filled.
PDX women are advocates for young girls interested in computer science.
One key takeaway that White shares with the young girls and women who are interested in the field is that a person can truly make a difference in the lives of others by working in computer science.
“If your brain is wired such that you’re capable of performing the jobs in software development or computer science then you should get into it. It can change the trajectory of your life,” White said. “It’s about making the connection between technology and helping people.”
While the talented women at PDX offered their unique perspectives on the topic of women in
software development, their shared hope is that doors continue to open for young girls across all aspects of life. They want women to know their value, know their worth, and ask for what they deserve.
Until then, outreach programs and organizations, such as Girls Who Code and the Society of Women Engineers, are fantastic mechanisms for the education and exposure needed to inspire girls and women to experience the world of computer science.