What are we missing?
For the past 50+ years, the tech industry has been leading the global economy, with one invention after the other and places like Silicon Valley being considered as the core of successful business and innovation. Companies like IBM and HP building on the momentum and creating a whole new world for others to follow. Nowadays, due to their “relaxed” work environments, global companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and many more are considered as some of the best places to work, thus collecting brainpower from all four corners of the globe. But is everyone feeling welcomed in the promised land of technology?
The closed world of Tech
The truth is that the tech world is suffering from a male-dominated environment where the presence and contribution of women is very small and their presence is seen as a “side dish” in the “brogrammer culture feast”, and you don’t need statistics to see that women are easily outnumbered in all levels of representation. This fact in itself is very harmful to the companies, the industry and furthermore the economic development as a whole. When it comes to working in tech, women are also undervalued and work/family balance is extremely difficult. Even though there are some successful women like former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki who’ve made it in tech, their success stories are often regarded as chance opportunities and not an ability. In general, women are considered less competent than man and their work is checked and contested much more than that of men.
A study by the open-source coding community GitHub revealed that, when the coder’s gender is withheld, women’s work is approved more often than men’s. (78.6% than code written by men 74.6%)
The Pink Factor
Women have been part of the tech world from the start, this combined also with the fact that programming was linked with clerical duties, like switchboard operation, typing, etc… Actually most of the women and people of color that you can still find in the tech industry are present as a result of the highly inclusive approach that companies like IBM and HP had presented. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and all the people in that generation came along in the ’80s or late ’70s. This happened to be a time when girls and young women were being turned away from computers. So you can imagine that your typical computer programmer looked much different than today.
But that was about to change, and a report (written by two men W.Cannon & D.Perry) played a big role in changing the industry’s perspective on the profile of the future computer programmer.
Out of the 1,378 programmers they interviewed, only 186 were female
The change continued with the false belief that programming was a man thing and the presence of women in the industry continued to fall. This happened at a time that the tech industry and computing jobs were experiencing growth. This can be seen as the beginning of the “brogrammer culture”, because of computing being related to boys.
Making the Change
Breaking the status quo is not an easy challenge after so many years of this “culture” being rooted in all aspects of the tech industry. Some of the main challenges where we can make a difference and improve are coming in the form of selection processes where people hire similar candidates to themselves; hiring processes that preserve the selection of men over women; lack of meritocracy and a clear gender gap in payments. A very good example is Pinterest that improved diversity by asking for referrals specifically from underrepresented groups. The more we mainstream gender equality in our working culture, the easier it will be for women and all marginalized groups to be able to enter the industry.
“In 2011 about 18% of computer science degrees were held by women”
Saving the Day
There is a solution though. And it starts from early on, in our homes, our societies, our educational system, the institutions that represent us. We can improve diversity in schools, like Maria Klawe, Harvey Mudd College has been doing; we can make inclusive decision-making processes; we can promote cases of successful women in the industry. If the above is not enough reasons to convince many of us, let’s look at gender equality from the economical perspective, and to give you a better picture of the women importance I will feed you with some facts:
“Promoting inclusiveness can improve profit margins”
“Companies that have worked toward eliminating sexism have seen their customer base grow”
“Women make up around 70–80% of consumer purchases”
“Companies with diverse leaderships report bigger earnings”
According to an International Monetary Fund study that looked at 2 million European companies, those with women in 40–60% of leadership roles recorded better financial returns.
Finally, history and society have played an influential role in shaping today’s tech industry into a male-dominated world. Improving women’s inclusion within the field isn’t easy, but there are clear business opportunities and financial benefits for companies that choose to diversify.
About the Author
I am a tech enthusiast and aspiring entrepreneur, a firm believer in empowering women and men through equal opportunities and presence in entrepreneurship and all walks of life.