Women in tech has been a burning topic especially the last few years, and it has already been classified as a controversial one. Women tend to be vocal about the scarcity of the gender in tech, and for those who have actually made it, they are dedicating a lot of their time trying to promote gender diversity in the industry or even contribute towards closing the gap. There are a lot of initiatives out there, some also supported actively by men. However, the progress made throughout the years, is minimal. It’s still a sign of progress, and that’s the positive side of the coin. But, it makes me wonder, if during those decades we have only made a small impact in tackling the gender diversity in tech, how much time will it eventually take us to indeed achieve gender diversity?
We are two of the many women who are fighting to close the gender gap in tech. And we have found ourselves being very active in understanding the issue better, so that it can also be better addressed. So, I was pretty surprised to hear the following, scientifically based argument coming from a man in tech, someone who understands the issue, addresses it, and tries to contribute in resolving it.
But, before I go there, let’s have a quick look at the past. Women are voicing the gender gap in tech, and are expressing their concern about not getting the same number of opportunities as men do. On the other hand, companies and the tech industry are explaining that it’s very difficult to find females who have the right skillset for the positions they are hiring. And let’s be frank, women don’t want to be hired in a position because of their gender. On the contrary, they want to be hired because they have the right knowledge, expertise and skillset for the position open, but on top of the previous characteristics, they also happen to be women. The factor ‘gender’ plays a secondary role. Or at least it should. Otherwise, for those who don’t see it this way, you might soon find yourselves confronted with another reality in the tech world; lack of respect in your work environment.
So, what is really happening at the end? Is there a truth somewhere in the middle?
Let me start by mentioning the reasons most people are aware of, or at least bring up in their conversations, who are also research based.
Gender stereotypes: There’s a high number of people who still think that men are better at science and maths than women. However, the OECD tends to disagree with that statement. The organization has found that men and women have similar performances, but women tend to walk away from tech.
Lack of talent pool: Companies have been voicing their difficulty finding female talent pool when looking for candidates in tech. And to be frank, that is true. There is a limited number of women who choose that industry, and therefore, this statement doesn’t come as a surprise.
In-group favoritism: The American Sociological Review recently revealed a study mentioning that hiring managers tend to recruit those who are culturally similar to themselves, ie with same tastes, hobbies, experiences. Given we are talking about the tech industry, a man dominated area, that doesn’t come as a surprise either.
But it’s pretty interesting to have a look at the core of the issue, why do most women tend to away from tech?
The revelation that blew my mind
I was surprised to hear, and later on read, what I am about to convey below. Our family plays a very important role in pre-defining women’s future in tech or non-tech industries. It’s very subtle, but still very impactful as you’ll read below.
Recently, a research was conducted among women, trying to identify those factors that can trigger them to choose a career in tech versus non-tech. The sample consisted of women in tech and women in non-tech, industries and it focused a lot on the background of those since childhood. That research came up with some interesting findings, in terms of patterns seen in the childhood of a girl.
Those women that had a job in tech, were gifted as girls mostly gender-neutral toys, which were oriented towards technology, like PIs, closed circuits, LEGO and other toys classified in that area. As a result, they instinctively developed an interest in the area, and as they were growing up focused on activities related to those, such as reading about tech, watching tech and science shows etc.
On the contrary, women in non-tech industries were gifted the typical ‘girl’ toys, such as dolls, and household equipment like kitchenettes, cleaning tools etc. Those girls, as they were growing up, were mostly interested in activities related to clothing, make up, etc. You see the pattern already, don’t you? That, in addition to the social norms, don’t make it easy for a woman to choose the tech world.
When I talk about social norms, I refer to the support girls receive from their parents to join an engineering university. Don’t go too far. Think of how often you hear a girl saying ‘I want to become an engineer’. Also think of the reaction of their parents; women in engineering was scarce to find, and therefore supporting girls to join an engineering university was difficult.
Another thing I personally experience in the workplace, is the limited support women offer to other women. Men have strong networks of support, and they help each other advance their careers. My personal experience is that women tend to shy away, unless a fellow female is equipped with the necessary skill set and is strong. And by strong I refer to a personality who is able to cope in a male dominated industry, doesn’t take things personally and is able to speak up and shine among men. Now, this is my opinion, but I must say I am still assessing my claim every day. So far, my judgement hasn’t proved me wrong, though.
Concluding, I would like to redirect you to some of the articles and reports I have read, which I find very informative. Next Generation has published a data driven article, zooming in the statistics of the male female ratio in tech. Another scientifically driven article was published by Guardian, and focused, amongst others, to the topics mentioned below.
Feel free to share your thoughts below and drive further the discussion around the scarcity of females in tech. Let’s unite our voices and contribute towards female empowerment in the tech industry!