Women in IT: From Her Perspective

A lot of women in tech, including myself, don’t like to spend a lot of time talking about being a woman in tech. The topic is controversial, usually uncomfortable, and comes with a negative connotation similar to “oh boy, what is she complaining about now?” Fortunately when you’re like me and work with a company that doesn’t just employ women in IT but empowers them, you can feel confident to speak on an issue that still persists.

Women with computer chip in the background
For an industry that greases the wheels of human progress, it seems counter-intuitive to see such social regression. More and more women have entered the workforce in recent decades, but they’re falling out of techie jobs or appear to be disinterested in entering the area to begin with. Dare I pose the question…Why?

There are a variety of reasons, some of which include:

  1. Education Pipeline
    Not enough women are enrolling in IT degrees such as computer science. For example, only 18 percent of US university computer science (CS) graduates in 2013 were women.
  2. Recruiting and Hiring
    Unconscious gender biases drive the pattern of hiring a man over a woman in the field. Perhaps the same unconscious gender bias that drives parents to discourage women from taking interest in the mathematical or scientific subjects that grooms them for a computer science degree.
  3. Pay and Promoting
    There still is not a single country in the world where women are paid equally to their male counterparts. The US female web developer makes 79 cents to the dollar men make for the same job. In 2009, Dell paid almost $10 million to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit from its employees over equal pay.
    Couple all of that with the fact that women run just 3.6 percent of Fortune 500 companies (and we think that’s a remarkable achievement!)
  4. Retaining
    In the US a quarter of women with IT roles feel stalled in their careers. In 2014, it was recorded that nearly 50% of women in IT roles leave within the first year due to issues with promotion and the hostile, brogrammer culture.

It’s disheartening to admit that still being very young in my career as an IT professional, I’ve witnessed or experienced all of those firsthand. Taking away the textbook and statistics, what’s it like being an IT professional from her perspective? Cue the finger snaps from my female readers.

The most common challenge is the dichotomy between being blocked for being too aggressive versus knocked for not being aggressive enough. Plenty of women, myself included, feel they have to walk a constant tightrope in monitoring and adjusting their professional behavior so that they can succeed, or even be taken seriously, in ways that most men probably couldn’t even dream of.

  • Analyzing whether your email was concise or curt.
  • Gauging if/when you should back down (or even participate) in an office debate.
  • Determining if/when to cut in with your idea during a meeting.

All of these hesitations are out of fear that we’ll damage one of the male egos in the room, and God forbid, the one that can influence our pay or promotion. Such actions are frowned on for women, and usually praised as confidence and leadership for men.

To bridge the gap, it won’t just take action from our male colleagues (though I have a to-do list for them as well.) We have to be an active participant in our own uprising, and stop the behavior that permeates this brogrammer / male-dominant culture. Starting with something as simple as our professional writing, stop giving in to the societal pull to sound less direct than you’d like out of fear of seeming pushy, bossy, or, worst of all, shrill. No more of these:

  • “I’m sorry…” – We have to stop apologizing for asking people to do things, particularly when it’s something that’s part of their job.
  • “I may be wrong but . . .” – Don’t lessen the impact of what you say before you say it.
  • “Does this make sense?” – Trust that what you wrote makes sense. Don’t openly question in email whether or not your thinking is sensical.
  • “Just…” – We need to stop using this word as a way to weaken a request or our opinion.

As for our day-to-day office interactions, 

Avoid being too easily offended. There is a line to be crossed, but don’t take yourself or the office too seriously.

Play to your strengths, even when they are stereotypes, whether it’s listening, emotional aptitude, or empathy. These are all good qualities in a leader.

Get a Sponsor. Start building relationships with your boss and other senior leaders from the beginning, and pay particular attention to cultivate those relationships with the individuals who believe in you and publicly support you—they are going to be your best advocates.

As for the men out there, changing women’s roles in the workplace can’t happen without a change in behavior from their male colleagues and partners.

Be an Advocate. If you see female colleagues get interrupted in meetings, interject and say you’d like to hear them finish. Openly ask women to contribute to the conversation. Look for opportunities to acknowledge women when their ideas are implemented, both publicly and to higher ups. Women are less likely to toot their own horns, so help make sure your colleagues get the credit they deserve.

Recruit & Promote Women. Know that some of the most promising candidates won’t come to you: Men will apply for jobs when they meet 60% of the hiring criteria while women wait until they meet 100%. So go after them, finding qualified candidates using LinkedIn and references. Make sure you’re helping to give the women who are already a part of your organization an opportunity to rise.

Share the Office Housework. Changing gender stereotypes about duties isn’t just for the home front. Don’t fall into the trap of expecting women to take on stereotypical support roles like note taker or party planner.

Above all, understand that your actions can help set the tone for other men in the office. Be aware of your subtle biases when it comes to gender. You may not realize it about yourself – or others who work with you.

The truth is…if women start gaining more ground in the workforce, it doesn’t mean men have to lose out. The zero sum game mentality, implying someone always has to lose — which has also permeated our marketplace, in more areas than this — has got to go. If we tackle issues like diversity, innovation, businesses with strong, robust strategies, and overall value creation should skyrocket.

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