Working Toward Closing the Gender Gap in Tech

Milo Goodman
Gymnasium
Published in
4 min readFeb 19, 2018

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The gender gap is present in most industries, but it’s no secret that it’s notably wide in tech: women make up nearly 60 percent of the American workforce, but occupy only a quarter of technology jobs. Research suggests that this disparity is linked to the gendered social norms that can take root in childhood. For this reason, organizations are addressing the problem at all angles by both working with school-aged girls and creating initiatives to equal the professional playing field.

While girls initially show the same amount of interest in technology as boys do, this interest appears to decline as they grow and internalize sexist stereotypes. Studies have found that girls hold themselves to a higher standard than boys do in subjects like math and science due to a belief that they “have to be exceptional to succeed in ‘male’ fields,” and 6 in 10 girls admit that they would be more confident in pursuing a career in tech if they knew they would be treated the same way as their male coworkers.

Nonprofit organizations like Made With Code, App Camp For Girls, Black Girls Code, TechGirlz, Girls Learning Code, and Girls Who Code (GWC) aim to disrupt this status quo by working with girls in middle and high school. GWC teaches participants how to code and introduces them to potential careers in computer science, and, with the assistance of companies like AT&T and General Motors, they have established thousands of free after-school clubs in cities across America. The curriculum of the Clubs program, though designed for students with any level of experience, works its way up to college-level coding concepts. Volunteers teach vital soft skills including confidence, teamwork, and time management in addition to hard skills like conditionals, functions, and variables to ensure that every girl leaves the classroom ready to take on tech. The proof is in the pudding — well over half of GWC participants report that they’re more likely to consider studying computer science thanks to their experience with the program.

While some major players in the technology industry appear reluctant to commit to combating the gender gap with the same fierceness as organizations like GWC, there are a number of prominent companies that have prioritized diversifying their staff and committed to paying men and women equally. Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft are leading the pack; they have all reportedly achieved pay equity on a global scale. Others like Accenture are making a difference by both hiring more women and giving them the same paycheck as their male counterparts by default. Salesforce even created an initiative called Women’s Surge to ensure that male and female employees are equally paid and promoted.

Despite these efforts, the gender gap in tech appears to be ever-widening. Women who do pursue work in the tech industry often face significant challenges and obstacles based on gendered perceptions of competence.

Krista Van Guilder, a senior UX designer, has experienced this firsthand: “One project lead I worked with was skeptical that I would design something they could use. At the first design presentation, after I delivered a very well thought out and clean UI along with a detailed description of how it would work, he admitted he didn’t think I would deliver. He realized quickly that he was wrong when he saw the designs.”

A lot of work still needs to be done before men and women in tech are viewed and valued equally, and more proactive behavior from companies would be a step in the right direction.

Jen Kramer, a freelance designer and educator, says that women can also work towards closing the gender pay gap by “advocating for ourselves and setting boundaries” when it comes to defining the terms of a relationship with a boss or client.

“[Women] are taught to collaborate, not set boundaries about how we should be treated,” Kramer says. “We aren’t taught how to demand respect within the boundaries we draw.”

Becoming aware of the limiting effects of this gendered socialization and making a conscientious effort to overcome them can help women get on equal footing. The bulk of the work that needs to be done, however, must be taken on by those who have the potential to make a difference through direct action.

Of course, those who continue to participate in the perpetuation of gender stereotypes play an undeniably influential role in the endurance of the gender gap in tech. However, there are steps that other groups can take to bridge the divide; elementary and middle school teachers who teach STEM subjects have the opportunity to create and foster a positive and inclusive learning environment for young girls, and employers in the tech industry can build on this momentum by making proactive moves towards equality in hiring and pay.

These efforts, when combined, could address this systemic problem at every level and have the potential to even the playing field.

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