While there are many successful women in business, there are few female leaders in charge of technology companies. Across the tech industry, there are more men working as engineers, computer programmers, and other technical roles than there are women. This trend affects female leaders who want to hire more women as employees, as well as the tech companies that would strongly benefit from a more diverse workforce with new and better ideas.
Women In Tech
There are many issues that top women in technology face. Some of these issues start with the pipeline tech that companies rely on to find employees, while others have to do with the tech industry itself. To address these issues properly, it is important to identify the issues and their possible solutions.
IT Companies Have Male-Dominated Cultures
Because most tech companies primarily hire men, male-dominated cultures are common in tech workplaces. This can come in the form of subtle watercooler talk, such as the discussion of sports teams or the nearly company-wide participation in a fantasy football team. The male-dominated workplace cultures can also show up in more significant ways, such as in how promotions are handled within the company.
From the tech company’s perspective, it wants to create workplace programs and activities that reflect the majority of its workers. If only 2 percent of staff members are female, the company can rationalize that its programs work for the other 98 percent. However, having a male-dominated workplace culture can turn away prospective female engineers who would prefer to work at a company where they’d feel more comfortable. This can cause a cycle where female employees remain the minority at tech companies, so the companies maintain male-centric workplace cultures as a result.
To overcome this, companies need to be proactive in engaging with their female employees to develop a workplace culture they are comfortable with. This might involve asking current female employees for suggestions or finding gender neutral ways for employees to connect. By taking the initiative to create a welcoming workplace culture, more women will feel comfortable working in this traditionally male-dominated industry.
Lack of Female Mentors
Mentorship is an important aspect of career development. In higher level positions within any company, it is important that leaders have the opportunity to acquire advice from more senior staff members. For women in tech, it is difficult to find senior female leaders to mentor them into the next level of their careers because there are so few of the latter. Unfortunately, male leaders cannot adequately provide mentorship to female employees, as the issues that women face in the tech industry are sometimes gender specific. Male mentors would not necessarily know how to advise women in overcoming them properly.
Some nonprofit organizations and industry groups have tried to address this challenge by creating programs and networking groups for women in tech to collaborate and to share ideas. While this has helped women find female mentors, the general lack of career progress for women makes it difficult for them to get advice from those in the most senior positions or with the most experience. This can hinder the career paths for these women.
Young Girls Biased Against Engineering
Many research studies look at how parents and society influence girls to take up careers outside of technology. Young girls are given dolls instead of building blocks to play with, which can significantly change their career interests over the long term. This type of widespread cultural influence limits the exposure of young girls to science, engineering, and math at a time when the world needs more engineers, scientists, and researchers.
It is critical that young girls are encouraged to pursue STEM-related subjects just as young boys are. Girls that aren’t encouraged at a young age will be at a permanent disadvantage, even if they become interested in tech as adults. If young girls are pushed toward more creative career paths, into education, or to be mothers, there will always be a significant career gap.
Tech companies have long recognized the power of diversity in bringing new, innovative ideas to the marketplace. When other industries were slow to find the best talent, regardless of where the talent came from, the tech industry embraced the benefits of diversity. However, in some tech companies, women are not seen through the perspective of diversity.
Female employees see the world differently. Their input on technology products and services can change the outcome of IT projects. For instance, if a software company is brainstorming ideas for its next mobile app and its capabilities, it will want to develop an app that appeals to male and female consumers. If the male-dominated team comes up with an idea, they may develop an app that does not appeal to female consumers. In this situation, input from female staffers may have helped the team come up with a more well-rounded idea that would sell even better.
For women working with tech companies, they often feel their ideas aren’t welcome. They may need to be asked directly for their ideas or encouraged to provide feedback. Otherwise, the companies will not benefit from the gender diversity they try to cultivate.
Women In Programming
While women in tech face significant challenges, women in programming-specific jobs face unique levels of gender biases. Customers and managers may feel that female programmers are somehow less capable than their male counterparts. This combined with other challenges keep women out of programming roles.
Managers Ask Men to Review Code
Sexism is prevalent for female programmers. Managers may not even realize they are doing it, but often managers will ask male employees to review code or otherwise second-guess a female employee’s work. It is critical that female programmers feel they are treated equally to male programmers by having a voice in regards to the work or equal access to complete tasks.
Due to how long men have dominated the tech industry, some customers think women are somehow less capable of programming. When in client meetings, female programmers sometimes face hesitant customers who are used to working with men. This can be discouraging for women and damaging to their confidence level.
To overcome this customer gender bias, it is important for customers to have more exposure to female programmers. There is no reason why male programmers should be seen as having any more skills or talent than female programmers. Only exposure will help women showcase their talents to customers.
Decreasing Number of Female Computer Science Graduates
Fewer computer science graduates complete four-year undergraduate programs each year. It is a trend that is negatively affecting the tech industry, since they have fewer potential applicants to hire into entry level positions. As a result, there are fewer women in senior programming roles.
Women need encouragement to learn computer programming skills in the collegiate environment. Some universities have developed initiatives to engage female students better so they stay in computer science programs. Currently, not enough is being done to attract and to retain female programmers into these programs. Few colleges make increasing female participation in these programs a top priority.
To combat this trend, some senior female programmers and technology entrepreneurs have created nonprofit initiatives to encourage women to sign up for college-level programming classes. Some of these programs even provide opportunities for women to learn more about computer programming outside the classroom environment. Instead, women can attend workshops and certification programs to become expert programmers without the inherent biases found within the education system.
Even in the 21st century, women manage a disproportionately larger share of raising children and managing home responsibilities. By contrast, many senior programming roles within the tech industry, especially at startups, expect a large number of overtime hours each week. This is one of the major reasons behind the gender gap for women in technology roles, such as programming. When put in the position to decide, many women choose positions with companies that offer a better work/life balance.
For companies that want to retain top female programmers, managers need to examine their company’s policies carefully regarding the work/life balance to ensure employees do not choose another company because of it.
Women in technology face challenges unique to their gender. These obstacles keep women from studying computer science, finding long-term employment opportunities where they feel comfortable, and advancing into more senior roles. Fortunately, this is a problem that employers and industry leaders recognize and are working toward solving.