Sexism in Tech: An Inconvenient Truth
More than 1 in 3 women (36%) said they’re not sure their company has made an effort to address gender equality concerns in the tech industry
Occupational sexism in the tech industry has been a subject of argument in the media for years.
A recent survey by “Women in Tech” states that:
- 82% of women believe that there are more males than females in tech
- 52% experienced gender bias in the workplace
- 81% believe that the tech industry would benefit from an equal gender workforce
- 70% believe SME’s, as well as large organizations, have a gender imbalance in the workplace
- 88% of women would be more drawn to companies with open diversity policies.
Culture has been a major culprit in allowing gender equality to grow to the level that it has. Here are some of the major issues of concern and possible ways to overcome them.
Trouble in Silicon Valley
Former Google employee James Damore once circulated a controversial anti-diversity memo, as reported by Bloomberg. The memo was 10 pages long and argued for less emphasis on gender diversity in the workplace. It also suggested that the reason women are underrepresented in the tech industry has to do with biological causes between men and women.
Once posted to an internal company forum the memo went viral among Google employees. It was then leaked to the media which in turn set off outrage and debate. Motherboard obtained the entire memo. Damore was ultimately fired from Google.
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki spoke out in response to the memo concerning her experiences of sexism in Silicon Valley according to Vox. YouTube is owned by Google and she has been at the helm since 2014. She was then quoted as saying:
“I’ve had my abilities and commitment to my job questioned. I’ve been left out of key industry events and social gatherings. I’ve had meetings with external leaders where they primarily addressed the more junior male colleagues. I’ve had my comments frequently interrupted and my ideas ignored until they were rephrased by men. No matter how often this all happened, it still hurt.”
Wojcicki did echo the message sent out by Google CEO Sundar Pichai to Google staff stating that parts of the memo violated Google's code of conduct. Pichai said:
“while people may have a right to express their beliefs in public, that does not mean companies cannot take action when women are subjected to comments that perpetuate negative stereotypes about them based on their gender … the language of discrimination can take many different forms and none are acceptable or productive.”
The primary message from Wojcicki was not to praise Google for firing Damore or offer solutions but instead attempt to show a form of solidarity with her fellow women in tech.
This example may have been heavily publicized because it happened at a tech giant such as Google with thousands of employees, but it’s far from an isolated instance. It is important that industry leaders such as Google set a proper example to smaller businesses about the urgency of communicating good values to their employees and stressing the importance of behavior in those values.
Gender pay gap
According to a Glassdoor report, the gender gap is a worldwide issue—the tech industry is no different. Men earn more than women in all eight of the countries studied, but the gap has been slowly closing over the last four years. In the United States, more awareness of this problem is closing the gap, however, the rate of progress is slow. If trends continue at its current rate the pay gap will not be fully closed until 2070.
Understanding the key drivers of the pay gap is the only real way of fixing it. The UK Government Equalities Office states effective actions would be:
Salary transparency in the workplace
Transparency is when there is an openness about policies and processes for decision making. This allows employees to have clarity about what is involved. Managers then need to make objective and evidence-based decisions as those decisions can be reviewed by others.
Greater pay transparency is theorized to close pay gaps as it can support women who may have weaker networks to gauge information when it comes to acceptable wages in the workplace. It can also spark public pressure due to the standardization of pay structures and remove pay secrecy.
In Australia, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, and the UK, new legislation requires companies to provide sex-disaggregated wage statistics. This requires firms to report gender wage gap data.
Use structured interviews for recruitment and promotions
Unstructured interviews are more likely to encourage unfair bias and influence decisions. They are more of a conversation with unprepared questions. Decisions are based on experience and impressions, therefore any opinions made are likely to be less reliable and objective.
Structured interviews, on the other hand, reduce the possibility for bias. Good structuring requires thorough preparation and training for the interviewer.
What’s more, it should be off-limits to ask candidates about sexual orientation, marital status, and gender identity.
Gender-related questions not allowed would include:
Are you pregnant?
Are you planning on having children?
Do you have childcare in place?
Appoint diversity managers and/or diversity task forces
Diversity managers monitor talent management processes such as promotions and recruitment within their company. They can reduce biased decisions on sexism and provide accountability to fairly represent all women in an organization.
Diversity managers must:
- Hold a senior role within the company or organization
- Be able to ask for more information on decisions that have been made
- Have full visibility of company internal data
- Be given the power to implement policies and strategies from within an organization
Dismantling bro culture
“Bro culture” is a term often used to describe a culture dominated by over-confident, arrogant, obnoxious men. Typically this would represent a guy who places success and winning above the respect of others. In Silicon Valley, “bro culture” is very much alive and has been well-documented by Forbes.
“Brogrammer” is the more specific term that targets male stereotypically masculine programmers in the development sector.
Possible ways to combat negative cultures like “bro culture” include supporting other women in the industry. According to Computerworld, it’s important for women to not see other women as competition for limited job positions. Instead, there should be a network of support helping other women who are just getting started. For example, pass on news of job openings and actively seek networking and mentorship opportunities.
Per career contessa, diversity training should include open dialogues among colleagues. This would include agreement on diversity ideas, as well as training and mentorship programs to combat bad office culture and promote equality. The main thing is making sure your ideas get heard and put into practice if acceptable.
Equality at an educational level
According to PWC, gender imbalance at schools and universities in the UK can play a big part in the lack of females choosing to take STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and taking on a career in tech. At the University level, only 2% of female students were choosing to take computer science as opposed to 9% of male students.
Some of the reasons for women not choosing this path are:
There is a lack of female role models in the tech industry
Active discouragement to enter the industry from family and peers
To make STEM subjects more universally popular, confidence needs to be raised as well as the encouragement of equality at schools and universities.
The Accenture Stem Report suggests the following:
Improving the uptake of key STEM subjects
The UK government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper focuses on the importance of increasing STEM skills overall. They suggest that increasing the uptake of underrepresented groups is the key solution to address skills gaps. These groups can include students from families with more traditional views about tech pathways or have parents not in STEM careers.
Computer science could also be taught before university at the secondary school level. This would help tackle many girl's concerns about the difficulty of the subject and make it more accessible to everyone, not just males.
Work experience in companies
The best insight into work comes in the form of work experience. This can really drive home what a STEM career involves. This should typically be targeted at students aged 14-16 and 16-18.
Every employer should show support equally for young males and females by offering work experience, as they can see first-hand the roles included in STEM and make early informed decisions. This will allow students more of an insight into a future career in tech, culture, and day to day skills.
Talks in schools from tech industry influencers and experts
According to Accenture, teachers believe that there should be talks in schools from industry professionals about STEM careers, work experience programs, and case studies of successful women in STEM.
Even in times of Covid-19, an industry expert can connect with classrooms virtually. Teachers could request a specific STEM topic(such as programming) and then matched with experts specific to that field. According to NewSchools, this is already happening in the U.S.
To tackle sexism in the tech industry, first, the status quo must change. Then, it must be consistently monitored at all levels. This not only involves solving problems in the current workplace but also getting things right at an educational level. More females need to be encouraged to learn STEM subjects to create an equilibrium in the tech industry.
Have you experienced or witnessed sexism in the tech industry?
What is your opinion on how things are and the possible ways forward?