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Taking a Hard Look at Why Women Are Still a Minority in Tech

This article has been writing itself for quite a while now. Finally with a bit of self-encouragement (we all need it from time to time) and a nod and a nudge from my boss and publisher of Gestalt IT, Stephen Foskett, the idea came to fruition. Stephen was surprised that I had been sitting on this idea all this time. Go write that article, he said. So here, I’ll say it out loud- women are grossly underrepresented in technology. It is one of the prime problems that beleaguers the tech industry of today.

The Problem Is Evident in the Statistics

47% of the working adults in the US are women, but as of 2015, only 25% of them held any computing jobs, records show. According to a study conducted by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), out of this 25%, women of color- Asian, Black and Hispanic made up only a meagre 5%, 3% and 1%. These numbers haven’t shifted in any significant way in the recent years. Despite it being in conversation nationally for years now, women in technology continue to remain a small minority and that speaks volumes about the status of gender diversity in the industry.

A McKinsey report from 2020 stated that organizations have been found to fare better when diversity and inclusion are the focus of the hiring process. With so many companies claiming to do exactly that when hiring a candidate, why is the problem still in full swing?

As a woman working in the tech industry, my window into the industry is through work. The Tech Field Day delegate list which constitutes IT practitioners from all over the world is staggeringly low on women delegates. That may seem oddly antithetical to what we stand for or what our values are as an organization. One may frown at it, question it, but the sad truth is that the list is only an echo of the bigger picture. Women in enterprise IT are a small number compared to men.

It’s one of those realizations that’s been burning slowly for a while. We have all realized it, thought about it, talked about it, spread the word, but as is common in any revolution in its nascent stages, nothing much came out of it that’s worth writing home about. Women found it hard to rise to leadership roles in tech before, and they find it hard today. Despite all the talks of equal opportunity and the spiel about gender and racial diversity in work forces, the scale still flagrantly lopsided.

Image: Sulagna Saha (c) Gestalt IT

The Corporate Pyramid in Tech

Like all industries, the tech industry too has biases and discriminations. For a woman to strive in its ecosystem, they have to work extra hard. Despite having the same degrees as their male peers, the same level of intelligence, the same work-positive attitude and ambition, if not more, a woman needs to acquire and hone her accessory qualities of being likable and pleasing to the men in the business and tolerant of the ton of biases against women that exists in workplace to prove that she is worthy of being one of them.

But stats of hiring for entry-level positions reveal a different picture. Nearly as many women get hired for the bottom-of-the-ladder roles as men, but higher up, the number starts to thin. Rising through the ranks is where the real challenge begins for a woman working in tech and it is where the bias is the strongest and most appalling. Women don’t get promoted as easily as their male counterparts and the reason behind this is glaringly simple – it’s the way women have been perceived through generations. They are viewed as lacking in self-assurance, authority and force of character – qualities that are considered imperative for C-suite positions. This distorted perception has given women a tightrope to walk on making it nearly impossible for them to become leaders by merit alone. Poorly formed and disproportionate opinions that had tainted their experience in the past still continue to do so. Things gets even worse when you are a woman of color.

Another thing that is worth noting is that men and women in workplaces and even outside have always been held to very different standards, and those standards haven’t nearly equalized today. For reason unbeknownst, the standards of performance that women are held to are loftier than what men are held to. The higher you go up the corporate echelons, the wider and more blatant this comparison gets. This finds expression in things like pay and promotion gaps.

A Reflection of Societal Disparity

Regardless of the industry, women have historically struggled to find an equal place as men in anything. Oftentimes, just being a woman excludes them from getting a place at the table. Even if a few women manage to squeeze through and grab their seats, they must prepare to be talked over, sidelined, or completely forgotten as men take over. Regrettably, the scale is so far tipped in disfavor of women, that the same forthcoming, assertive qualities that get a man chosen as the leader disqualify women from it and cause to be seen entirely in a negative light.

Image: Sulagna Saha (c) Gestalt IT

The Silver Lining

Despite most of STEM being a “boys only” stream and career choice, the gender gap is visibly shrinking. About 37% of startup companies in technology has at least one woman in their board of directors. This is significant improvement from the bro clubs that companies in tech used to be in a male majority workplace.

These numbers are not to be undermined. A change is afoot, the stereotype is dying a slow death. And even though it may still be a few more years before women’s struggle for equal career opportunities in technology end, it’s reassuring to know that there are forces at work paving the path for women’s success. Thanks to the people involved and our relentless fight, there are more female role models in tech today that there ever was.

United We Stand

The journey for women has been historically arduous in any walk of life, and there are still more red tapes for us today than there are for the other gender, but I’d hate to still think of us as the second sex living in the time that we do. A commonly prescribed solution would be for men to support and uplift the women in their families, friends and workplaces, and that is legitimate for the most part, but us women too can do so much just by ourselves.

To hold an equal position as men in workplaces and in the society at large, women need to come together to give this movement the momentum it requires. We need to stand up for ourselves and for each other, which is sadly not often the case. Women bullying women is as much a reality as gender inequality and that needs to stop today – even before we urge men to step forward and hold their hand out. We need to stop being our own enemies, find a way to make it work together, and be more united, because when that happens, we become the force that brings about the change. Only then will the problem of lack of representation in technology or any sector start to abate.

Meanwhile organizations need to work on making workplace environments more welcoming to women and supportive of their professional growth and success so that they can lead from the forefront instead of finding themselves in the backseats. And here’s an open invitation from Gestalt IT and Tech Field Day – while we always keep our eyes open for more female delegates to invite into the club – we wholeheartedly welcome referrals and applications. Your participation is valuable to us and we can’t wait to have more opinionated, involved and wonderful ladies on our delegate panel.

About the author

Sulagna Saha

Sulagna Saha is a writer at Gestalt IT where she covers all the latest in enterprise IT. She has written widely on miscellaneous topics. On she writes about the hottest technologies in Cloud, AI, Security and sundry.

A writer by day and reader by night, Sulagna can be found busy with a book or browsing through a bookstore in her free time. She also likes cooking fancy things on leisurely weekends. Traveling and movies are other things high on her list of passions. Sulagna works out of the Gestalt IT office in Hudson, Ohio.

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