Are we ready to close the gender gap?

Anne-Lise Brown
Anne-Lise Brown ↓ 7 minute read
Mar 29, 2022
Read 16 times
IT

Dear passengers, we have arrived! It is not our final destination, but it has been quite a ride. We are now embarking on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and technology and innovation are definitely here to stay, ready to transform the economy, our lifestyles, and the systems and procedures that have been governing our societies for some time now.

You might think that the gender gap in tech is almost closed in 2022, but the reality is there are still some big discrepancies. Of course, there are various reasons behind this and the discussion goes way beyond “bro cultures” or discrimination, but we will address that in a minute. Last year, Deloitte Global predicted that big companies in technology, on average, will reach nearly 33% overall female representation in their workforces (spoiler alert, we are not quite there yet), while a study conducted in the UK by Tech Nations reported a percentage of 26% women in the tech labor market. It is indeed a progress in comparison to the previous years’ statistics, but we still have a long way to go.

And you know what the cool part is about technology? It is made for all! It has the power to shape inclusive, creative, and dynamic cultures, and it is designed in such a way that it benefits the progression and innovation of our modern society as a whole. Or so it should... The harsh truth is that the underrepresentation of women in the technology industry reinforces social inequalities. For example, early speech recognition software struggled to recognize women’s voices and airbags failed to protect women as they were designed by and tested on men. This is just one of the reasons why involving women in the design and development of technology is fundamental for technological innovation to fulfill its collective purpose.

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Photos from the ROTSA event - The inspirational stories of women in tech start-ups

Where does this difference come from?

STEM differences. Indeed, there is uneven gender representation in STEM education, which of course leads to further underrepresentation in the labor market of female IT professionals. Still, the concern lies in what is happening between graduation and employment. A study conducted by WISET & UNESCO (2020), shows that in Korea a third of the STEM students are women, but they only make up 20% of the STEM workforce.

The economic empowerment of women is an overall win-win for women, companies and society. Women are feeling recognized, accepted and motivated to show up every day and perform at their best, companies benefit by representation making it easier to attract and retain talent, and society will be better represented and understood, which will translate to more reliable products and solutions. And here’s some great news! -companies with three or more women in senior management score higher in all dimensions of organizational performance (McKinsey & Company, 2017).

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Come on, guys, we can make it!

The one whose name we don’t like to mention - COVID-19. There is no doubt that the pandemic affected all of us, regardless of our gender, but the impact it had on men vs. women manifested in different ways. It was a step backward after a few years of advancement and it was a risky time for progress made toward closing the gender gap. The pandemic highlighted the undervalued “invisible” household work that is often taken on by women (Mercado et al., 2020), while also being impacted by the closure of schools and childcare facilities. Oh, and needless to say that the new work norms imposed by the pandemic were not faced with the same ease by both genders. Online communication strips away many subtle and nonverbal cues that women usually rely on when deciding to jump into a conversation or when they evaluate the manner in which they want to respond. Men have a tendency to speak longer, and to be more argumentative, and assertive, which makes it harder for women to be heard in group settings (Gupta, 2020).

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Photos from the ROTSA event - The inspirational stories of women in tech start-ups

Work-life balance. Traditionally women are regarded as more attached and dedicated to their family responsibilities than to their work. In the hiring process, the prospect of a woman planning to have a kid in the near future is looked at as a threat; a distraction from family-related commitments is listed as a major concern when managers consider hiring female employees (Braun and Turner, 2014); and employers may feel that men with family responsibilities will work harder and be more committed, but women with family responsibilities have less commitment to work (Koput and Gutek, 2010). The "motherhood penalty” shows in the way women’s competence is viewed, in the salary aspect, in the benefits that childless women have. Put all of that on top of the demandingness and sometimes long working hours that characterize the complex industry of technology, and you most probably get a bunch of women who are discouraged from pursuing a career in IT.

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Photos from the ROTSA event - The inspirational stories of women in tech start-ups

Lack of role models. We kind of venture differently into a challenging environment when we know that other people who resemble us made it. In this survey from 2021, half the 1000 women (48%) surveyed, said that the lack of a positive female role model is another one of the major challenges the tech field faces. The lack of role models and mentors, as well as the lack of females in senior leadership roles, represent obstacles for females in their IT career advancements. A mentor can provide advice, strategies, networking opportunities, and boost the mentees' confidence in their own capacity, all of these contributing to developing skills and improving work performance.

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Photos from the ROTSA event - The inspirational stories of women in tech start-ups

What is there to do about it?

  1. Starting young. Creating expectations about social roles starts as soon as we come into this world. Education plays a huge role in building the confidence of young women in their abilities and their freedom to choose the career path that suits them the most. There’s an established dynamic that settles in our mindsets from an early stage, and the only way to foster change is by implementing small, powerful changes in the contexts of both family, and school. Let this sink in - the preconceptions are simply mental, and social and linked to education.
  2. Company culture. As an employer, it is your duty to promote diversity and inclusion within the company starting with the recruitment process, and all the way to the internal strategies and the support you are willing to provide to your employees. Make inclusion and diversity goals that are transparent and measurable and create a culture of accountability, where progress toward these goals is a priority. In a male-dominant working environment, there might be unconscious but persistent pressure on female colleagues. One of the biggest threats is gender invisibility, a phenomenon that appears when employees follow the culture and needs of the majority and ignore the biases that might linger at the workplace. For example, unintentional, but discriminatory choices of words such as “you are a good female coder”, could perpetuate the belief that women can try, but they won’t really make it in this male-centered industry.
  3. Flexibility rules! Flexible working hours are so important in attracting and keeping talented women in the world of tech, and fortunately enough the pandemic made this became pretty much the norm. Dear employers, please understand this need for all employees, and maybe even more so for women, and learn how to embrace it for the sake of happy, productive teams.
  4. Stronger together. Providing support networks, access to training and mentoring are very important in making women feel represented and understood in this industry workplace support, and it is a very accessible and successful tool. An example of a great motivational and networking opportunity would be a conference or event dedicated to women in IT like the one organized by the ROTSA (The Romanian Tech Startups Association). At this free-entry event, women startup founders and leaders shared their inspirational career stories and their insights on the IT industry, leaving the crowd full of hope and confidence, encouraging them to pursue their dreams in a field where they indeed belong.
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The power of belonging! Photos from the ROTSA event - The inspirational stories of women in tech start-ups

Resources:

  1. Korea Center for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (WISET) (2020). Policy & Statistics.
  2. Gupta, A.H., (2020). It’s Not Just You: In Online Meetings, Many Women Can’t Get a Word In.

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