March 31st, 2021 Read Time: 6 minutes
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The discussion surrounding gender diversity among IT professionals and those in other technology fields in general has recently increased. But if the numbers are anything to go by, the industry is still dragging its feet in giving female-identifying professionals a fair share.
In the computer and engineering occupations, women represent a mere 15% of the workforce. Although the number has increased over the years, it has taken nearly four decades for the number to rise from 3% to 15%.
In one of our recent Virtual Event IT Pro Tour webinars, we hosted a panel of leading female-identifying leaders to break the "IT Guy" narrative and set a new bar for professionals in IT and technology.
Tennisha Martin - Executive Director, Black Girls Hack
Chloe Becquet - Associate Director, Technology, Hellofresh
Danielle Cox - Senior Manager of IT, Divvy
Eva Pittas - Founder & COO, Laika
Dana Chamorro - Head of IT & Workplace, Benchling
Brittany Piazza Rugen - IT Project Manager, Electric
The discussion was moderated by Andrea Kayal, CMO, Electric.
"The underrepresentation is not just in the tech or in the STEM field. It's just in everyday culture," as Chloe Becquet, Associate Director, Technology at HelloFresh put so clearly. To Chloe's point, many female professionals in STEM fields may experience implicit bias and structural barriers at every career stage. The bias is not only in the professional circles but also at critical junctures like consideration for graduate school admission.
"I think it starts with education at a young age,” said Dana Chamorro, Head of IT & Workplace at Benchling— to put things into perspective on just how early gender bias even in school admission can hamper women's progression in IT and STEM careers.
Considering that the ratio of men to women in the IT field is 5:1, most people have had more experience with male IT and computer experts than their female counterparts. The notion that "men are the only ones to do this job," as stated by Andrea Kayal, CMO at Electric and the panel’s moderator, shows just how deep the cultural association between masculinity and STEM and IT goes.
"There's the barrier to get in, and once you get your foot through the door, the environment is very hostile. You're one of few women, if not the only one on the team," said Chamorro. This gender disparity not only rears its head in the lower ranks but also further up in female professionals’ careers.
In the IT world, as in many other industries, female professionals are often looked over for promotion opportunities, or they have to go beyond their male counterparts to prove their worth. As a result, the industry is flooded with male specialists creating a notion in the outside world that IT is a male-centric profession.
"I've had my managers tell me that I should be happy in the position I'm at and with the money I'm making,” said Tennisha Martin, Executive Director at Black Girls Hack. It's a statement used against many women trying to scale up the career ladder. As discussions about female empowerment and gender equality gain momentum, there is plenty that companies can do to turn these conversations into reality and have statistics portray women in IT and technology jobs more favorably.
Being female or nonbinary in the IT profession often comes with feeling invisible. You work long hours to prove your worth but receive little recognition in return. Managers can be more reluctant to acknowledge the achievements of women and, more so, those in the minority groups including non-binary and transgender employees.
Simple adjustments like sending out emails and messages highlighting ideas and projects brought by underrepresented groups in tech can go a long way in realizing the efforts that they put into their work and the value they bring into the company.
Gender disparity doesn't start at the workplace, it starts further back with education and training. There are not only fewer women and nonbinary professionals in IT, but also fewer of them taking up IT and tech courses in general.
Coding, design, and engineering should be encouraged across all genders from a tender age if gender equality is to be achieved in IT.
The final stage of increasing interest in IT and tech among women is, "Making sure that they're comfortable when they get there. Making sure they don't feel like they are the outsider," as Martin stated in the webinar.
Unintentionally, poorly written job descriptions can support gender biases in the workplace even before speaking with a candidate.
Instead of writing a description with a list of qualifications, focus on having performance-based job descriptions. These focus on what the person hired would be expected to accomplish. Avoid gendered language, especially masculine and feminine coded words that would entice only one gender to apply.
Knowing how to combat gender bias in the workplace can work wonders in improving the uptake of women and nonbinary individuals in various professions, not just IT.
Some of the ways institutions and companies can use to combat gender biases include:
"A lot of the time, males don't know. They're not going to realize that there's a problem going on, especially if it's not them – they may not see that unconscious behavior," said Danielle Cox, Senior Manager of IT, Divvy as she describes what is affecting most workplaces.
Do not assume that male employees are aware of what is happening. It's essential to make the unconscious conscious by highlighting gender biases at the workplace and calling them out when it happens. This will create a more aware and more sensitive environment that treats all genders equally.
Like their male counterparts, women and nonbinary employees need mentors, especially in industries like IT, where the rules of success are unwritten. Having allies can help in highlighting the strength, knowledge, and experience of those of underrepresented genders in a team.
While the rise of women in IT and tech has been incrementally steady throughout the years. However, there is still much work to be done, especially for nonbinary representation to create a more inclusive, gender diverse workplace.
At Electric, creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is a top priority. Electric encourages employees to bring their truest self to work. This is a place where all are welcome and all are valued. With partnerships like The Last Mile and Valence, and our ever-evolving employee resource groups (ERGs), diversity in IT isn’t something we just talk about—it’s woven into who we are.