The Empowering Guide for Women In Tech
Do we need more women in the technology industry? Until a few years ago, many of us, including American author Jennifer Gregory, who has been involved with IT companies for many years, would have answered “that’s just how it is” and forgotten the issue entirely. Today, Jennifer Gregory realises her mistake and presents some accurate advice that is poised to transform the world of new technologies.
Why is gender disparity in IT an important issue?
It is a fact that less than one-fifth of technology industry employees are women. Even though, overall, they make up about half of the total workforce in the economy. This disparity is not only detrimental to women themselves. It is also a serious problem for companies employing this type of practice, which in turn has a negative impact on the industry as a whole. And indirectly, this issue affects all of us as users. The majority of our technology is still developed by men, tested by men, advertised for men, and as a result, the recipients of these products are mainly…? You guessed it! Men.
The current condition of women in the technology industry
It may come as a shock to some that the percentage of women employed in the technology industry in one of the world’s most developed countries, the USA, is now lower than it was in the 1980s! And this is despite a slight but steady increase over the past few years.
However, the underrepresentation of women in the technology sector is not the exclusive fault of companies in the industry and their managers. Yes, they have a very strong responsibility in this regard, but they cannot change much by themselves.
It is essential to convince women to try their hand at IT while they are still in education. They should join optional computer classes and be encouraged to do so by both their teachers and family. PR activities or social campaigns may help to consolidate women’s determination to develop in the IT sector, but they will certainly not teach them the basics of programming, and do so in a way that will awaken their interest in this field, rather than nip it in the bud.
So, despite a stream of articles, videos and posters all over the place, women still only make up 32% of Apple’s total workforce, and only 23% in strictly technical positions. At Google, the statistics are very similar. The percentage of women here is 31% and 21% respectively. Even worse is the situation at Microsoft, where women only hold 27% of the positions and in technical departments make up an equal one-fifth of the workforce.
The impact of gender disparity on the technology industry
Let’s start with the most direct impact, namely that on women who have nevertheless managed to get into the industry. It turns out that women leave IT 45% more often than men, and 33% of female employees in technology companies have considered, or are actively considering, a change of career path because of the masculine environment in which they have to operate.
With technological developments making this area of life more of an issue for basically everyone, the number of people affected by the disparity is also growing. It is also ceasing to be a question of mere inequality in treatment and its moral evaluation, but is shifting to purely practical aspects:
- Women are also using technology. Nowadays, practically as much as men. Yet their perspective and needs, which in many cases differ from those of men, are not taken into account when creating devices.
- The technology industry offers many high-paying positions that are currently unavailable to women.
- The “self-fulfilling prophecy” effect – women are not competing for IT positions because they are mainly occupied by men and, at the same time, men do not want to hire women for fear that they will not find their way in a predominantly male environment.
- Gender disparity in companies is not financially viable for them. Companies in the top quarter in terms of gender equality showed above-average profits 21% more often than those with greater disparities.
How to help women spread their wings in the technology industry?
There are six key aspects that need to be emphasised to enable greater participation and development of women in the sector:
- More women with diplomas and IT courses. Boys are encouraged to take an interest in computers from an early age. It starts with video games, which are mainly developed to suit boys’ tastes. At school, it is also boys who are encouraged to take an interest in computers and then in programming. Girls are steered towards art or music at this time, and their interest in mathematics is sometimes actively suppressed. This is confirmed by the data. In US high schools, we see as many as 81% of boys and only 19% of girls in computer science classes. This, in turn, translates into less than 18% of female college graduates in IT-related fields. Back in 1994, the figure was 10 percentage points higher.
There are many ways to break this deadlock. One of them would certainly be making computer sciences a mandatory subject at every stage of education and providing a professional, comprehensive education programme on the topic. Children should learn the basics of programming through fun activities as early as in primary schools. The whole process should be supported by informed teachers and a range of extra-curricular activities, including those dedicated specifically to girls.
- Levelling the field for men and women for advancement in the industry. Women resign from high-tech jobs more than twice as often as men. This is inherently linked with the fact that almost half of women in the industry feel that they do not have the same opportunities for advancement as men. In the IT world, there are usually two main paths of progression – increasingly more responsible and complex programming tasks, or managing a team of junior developers. Women tend to be pushed towards the latter path.
How to counter these problems? First and foremost, set clear development paths and promotion requirements. A structured mentoring programme for women in the tech industry would also be useful.
- Change in recruitment and hiring methods. Due to the existing gender disparity in the industry, current recruitment processes inevitably operate in a way that perpetuates this disparity. On the one hand, men often conduct, or at least ultimately decide the outcome of recruitment. Out of two candidates, a woman and a man, with similar qualifications, most will choose the man, considering it a safer choice. On the other hand, an interesting job or a promotion within the company’s structure may not be of interest to a woman at all, because the offer has been drafted by a man. Meanwhile, the priorities for assessing the attractiveness of a job for both genders turn out to be radically different! Men primarily pay attention to interesting challenges or a positive organisational culture. At the same time, women focus on benefits or flexible working hours. Only the pay level is important for both genders.
Questions about marital status, children or future plans in this respect are also still a standard. Of course, these questions are only directed at women.
In order to get more girls into technology companies, women need to influence the recruitment process, both directly, as interviewers, and indirectly, by creating offers with clear terms and conditions that are of interest to their gender.
- Equal work – equal pay. Such a correlation seems obvious on paper. Unfortunately, in reality, we are often very far from achieving it. And it is difficult to imagine bridging the quantitative disparity between men and women in the technology industry when the quality disparity is so pronounced. Currently, the overall gender pay gap in IT is around 3-4%. Perhaps, at first glance, this does not look like a huge discrepancy. But when we take a closer look, e.g. only at coders, the gap increases to 11% already. Additionally, for those with up to a maximum of two years’ experience, it is only 2%, but for seasoned employees with a minimum of 15 years’ experience, it already rises to 5%.
There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, women are less likely to negotiate their salaries, being satisfied with the starting salary offered by the employer. Which in turn is usually already lower than for a man. Women are also more likely to be passed over for a pay rise. Female employees submitting such a request to their superiors received a positive response in 15% of cases, while men received a positive response in 20%.
The solutions here, again, seem obvious and yet, as it turns out, so difficult to implement. Firstly, it is necessary to introduce transparency in salaries – specific job-related pay ranges, promotion paths and so on. The second issue is up to women themselves. They need to start fighting for better pay and be conscious that they deserve it. And those around them should support their efforts.
- Fair and safe maternity leaves. This issue, of course, is not limited to the technology industry, but here it is still seldom the norm. In an environment where no more than one in five employees is a woman, several months’ absence from work is still a shock, not least for superiors who should be ready for such situations. Of course, this does not mean that pregnant women are looked upon as if they were aliens in every IT company. But, although these are rare, such incidents still occur, unfortunately more often in tech than in other industries.
It happens, especially in smaller technology companies, that there are absolutely no procedures in place for such cases. The employers do not know what the pregnant woman is actually entitled to, how they can support her or how to provide a substitute during her leave. Although situations in which a woman who decides to take maternity leave loses her job are now isolated incidents, it is still not unlikely that she will be removed from a particular project. Women also often face veiled or even explicit pressure to return to work early.
Of course, we can also find examples to the contrary – usually in large companies such as Microsoft or Amazon. There, paid maternity leave of more than 20 weeks is a standard, a really comfortable deal by US standards. Similarly, fathers get up to three or four months of paid time off. Access to remote working is of course also becoming prevalent.
- Changing culture and attitudes. This item essentially sums up many of the points already made in earlier sections of the article. Although directly disrespectful or even demeaning behaviour towards women from men in the technology industry is increasingly rare – and if it does happen, the untactful man often suffers the consequences – culturally driven subconscious actions that devalue women’s work are still commonplace.
In order to change these patterns of thinking, work must start with baby steps. First of all, by having frank conversations with everyone in the industry, regardless of their gender or position. Listening to their experiences and expectations is vital to fully understand the issue.
At every step, it is also worth facilitating communication between employees themselves, if only by organising outings and company events that are interesting and engaging regardless of the gender of the team members. Indeed, it is crucial to create a safe space where women, but not only them, can freely communicate their concerns and needs.
Jennifer Gregory can almost always be found writing content for B2B technology companies, rescuing dachshunds from local shelters, refereeing teenage drama in her house or drinking as much Diet Mountain Dew as possible.
After years of swearing she wouldn’t ever write a book, Jennifer gave in to pressure from her friends and family and published a bestselling book for freelance writers – The Freelance Content Marketing Writer: Find Your Perfect Clients, Make Tons of Money and Build a Business You Love.
Last Updated on August 22, 2023 by Anastazja Lach