Women in technology: Be the exception to the rule

The technology industry has long been dominated by men and the lack of diversity in the field has been acknowledged for some time, but it is only recently that more women are becoming the exception to the rule and are starting to enter the sector. Part of this imbalance has been caused by long-held perceptions that tech only interests men, but this is an attitude that is changing.

So how can this male-oriented perception be challenged? The place to begin is with girls at school age. Much of the problem lies in early education. Quite simply, schools have not been doing enough to encourage an interest or enthusiasm for technology among girls and yet girls that study IT although fewer in number continue to outperform their male counterparts, not only at GCSE but A-Level, Vocational and Higher Education levels, 31% of girls gain a distinction, compared with 21% of the boys*. Career advisors do not themselves know enough about the IT industry to advise girls on how to enter it and from here it flows all the way up to the issues in the workplace of retention, support, and lack of female mentors and role models who have made it to the top.

30 is a magic number

Women represent under 30% of the ICT workforce and 30 is apparently the age Silicon Valley considers professionals ‘over-the-hill’, perhaps 30 is becoming the modern ‘midlife crisis’ age?!
A recent Cnet.com Silicon Valley report and diversity data published by 11 of the world’s largest companies, found the percentage of women working in tech jobs is notably low; Google and Facebook all have less than 20% of women working in tech jobs with Twitter as little as 10%.

So what kind of jobs are there for women in the Technology industry? Well, the sector is vast and the different types of jobs numerous and while the advancement of technology is happening as rapidly as at any time in history, the proportion of women working in the sector is not keeping pace. A woman could enter in product development, helping to create new software and hardware; perhaps the most obvious role in IT, as well as support, data science, testing and even project management and IT strategy.

Women think, act and approach problems differently to their male counterparts. I can’t say what of that is cultural and what is biological (and it doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this argument), but they do, currently, tend to think differently. For example, women tend to be more emotionally sensitive and more empathetic, and on average women are also more design-focused and having a company made up of people who approach problems in different ways is good — diversity of thought is good for business!

It’s a man’s world

Unfortunately the buck doesn’t stop with the lack of technological encouragement in schools. Stereotypically women are seen as a ticking maternity timebomb, so, in April 2015 when the UK government announced new rights allowing parents to share leave following the birth or adoption of their child (previously, it had only been an option for a mother to take paid time off work to look after a newborn) we rejoiced — finally a shift in traditional thinking and a shout-out to equality for both genders. Now, most couples who are in paid work and bringing up a child together can share leave following the birth or adoption of their child.

This new legislation was intended to radically transform the way we all view and arrange childcare, yet surprisingly a year on and less than 2% of eligible men have done so according to the charity Working Families. If more men were flexing their flexi-working muscles, then women would be seen less as a ‘risk’ for maternity costs or ‘unreliable’ due to parental duties — hands up ladies who’s been advised by a recruitment consultant to “remove your wedding ring before going for the interview”. Frankly, although this should be a win-win for gender equality for all, the last year hasn’t seen us entering a harmonious, progressive world where everyone ‘has it all’ and the deeply embedded stereotypes have proved hard to overcome. There is still an old-world view among the ‘old boys club’ that a child should be brought up by mum, and dad should be at work. This lack of equal parenting results in many mothers who are bravely captaining the domestic ship and their careers are having reduced incomes and stagnant or non-existent careers combined with guilt and resentment.

The hope of the future

Of course not all companies are run by the ‘old boys club’ there are a few already and the numbers are growing that are committed to gender diversity and talented female professionals who want to restart their career in technology after taking a break and at Alliants we are proud to say we are one of them.

More women are needed in the technology industry, and with encouragement and support from educational institutions, parents and industry leaders alike for more girls and women to pursue their own interests in tech, there is hope that the skills gap will be filled and a substantial shift that will result in a positive change to women in technology.

How about you? Have you experienced or seen covert or even overt gender inequality played out in a workplace or during a recruitment process? Or have you perhaps had your techie dreams shot down in flames just because you’re female and it’s “more of a man’s job”?

We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

*data from The Women in Technology Project Research Report

This article was originally posted on the Alliants blog here

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