The IT sector is rapidly expanding. It’s almost impossible to find an industry which hasn’t implemented information technologies and 90% of the digital data we use today was created in the past two years. Further, the global revenue of the IT industry is predicted to grow by 5% in 2018, and all the numbers are sending the right signals. However, when it comes to the number of women employed in the industry, the sector is still lagging behind.
Society has been constantly progressing, but it’s once again failing in gender equality. One of the worse examples is the IT industry, where women are highly underrepresented, and in some cases face discrimination. According to the recruitment agency Next Generation, women fill only 7% of tech positions in Europe and they’re holding fewer positions in computer science than they did in the 1980s. These data sound even more surprising knowing that statistics from 2017 show 627 000 unfilled positions in the tech industry in the USA. All these positions could have been filled if only there were more women available in the industry. So what is causing women to be less likely to get involved in the tech industry?
For the technology sector, gender-based stereotypes commonly start in elementary school, continue through university and end up into the workplace. Usually, women’s interest in STEM positions (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) rises around the age of 11, but soon after it drops. This can be related to the lack of female mentors and early social bias on genders. Despite the disheartening path, some women still choose STEM study programs. However, they make just 20% of all graduates, and yet only 7% makes it to the real work market.
What discourages women from seeking a career in the IT sector? According to the Next Generation survey, respondents state three major issues facing gender equality in the technology industry.
- Gender stereotypes;
- Lack of competence;
- In-group favoritism;
How do they define these issues?
Society puts a lot of pressure on both genders to fit specific standards. Eventually, those standards transform into stereotypes. Stereotypes create bias, especially, when it comes to hiring people. In the tech world, men are dominant gender, therefore, the pressure for women to fit particular requirements increases. And usually, females are downgraded because of prevailing stereotypes related to STEM positions.
Lack of competence
As numbers of women in IT study programs are decreasing, it’s easy to get preferences when hiring them. Because more men than women are graduating in the field, employers tend to choose male candidates and believe that female candidates aren’t competent enough.
The IT industry is mostly occupied by men which makes them take higher positions. As a result, male bosses unintentionally recruit more male candidates rather than females. Also, the lack of females in higher positions makes it harder for women to be hired and relate to the industry.
Some might disagree with these statements because it can be perceived that the lack of female workers in the IT sector is due to women not wanting to choose this kind of jobs. However, the issue follows back to the early years of a person’s life. In 2017, National Geographic magazine published an article about gender equality and how the environment during the early stages of childhood affects further child’s development. Research done in 2015 showed a direct correlation between gender-based toys and further career choices. As boys tend to play with constructors and games which stimulate spatial thinking, it leads to men more inclined to express themselves in industries such as IT, Science, Engineering and so on. And on the other hand, girls usually play with dolls and social role based games. Which leads to a higher chance of ending up in careers related to social work; for instance, nursing, teaching or creative industries like marketing.
What do we get as a result? According to a Guardian survey, 73% of respondents believe that the IT sector is sexist, and more than half claims that women are paid less than their male colleagues. That might be one of the causes influencing 45% of women to leave the industry within their first year. High pressure and discrimination at the workplace make women refuse to continue their career in the tech field.
But why do we need women in tech positions?
Recent researches show that gender diversity in the company brings higher profits. Also, it increases creative decision effectiveness, which also leads to higher income. And yet, it is always beneficial for the business to have a different perspective on the same matter.
For instance, telecommunication company Vodafone started a new strategy to attract more women to their tech-related positions. The company changed their job ads to fit correct gender bias. They changed the content of their ads, and surprisingly, in the first three months, women employment rates increased by 7% within the company.
So, how can we change the situation and better represent females in the IT sector?
Everything starts with small steps at the very beginning of the child’s life. If society changed its attitude when teaching children, and gave a chance for everyone to reach their goals despite the gender, it would send a message to the girls that they can work wherever they want and be as good as their male colleagues. Parents, teachers, and guardians shouldn’t give children different opportunities based on gender.
In the further stage, universities and tech companies should condemn all kinds of gender discrimination. Moreover, educational institutions should hire more female mentors, therefore, young females could relate to the industry more, also be better represented. This would show that existing stereotypes are toxic to the working environment and that women are needed the same as men to improve the whole sector.
We can already see a lot of associations which work towards improving women employment in the tech sector and creating a safe space to enter the industry. Some examples of these initiatives:
Anita Borg Institute — this organization encourages women to seek jobs in tech-related fields, and make the positive impact of technologies on women;
Girls in Tech — this non-profit organization works towards empowering women who are fascinated about technology;
Girls who code — this movement encourages and educates women of all races and ethnicities to learn tech-related skills, and later work in the field;
Women who Tech — this organization brings talented women from all over the world to seek tech jobs.
Times are changing, and many social, technological, and political victories are taking place. Humankind has never moved this fast. However, some areas need to be improved, one of these is gender equality. It is unfortunate that society still has to fight over this issue, yet, it can’t be solved until both genders are treated equally and their work rated without preferences. The tech world is not an exception, and as one of the most challenging fields for women, it has a long way to go. But the world is constantly moving, and hopefully, in the early future we will close this topic and appreciate the work people do rather than discriminate part of it because of gender inequality.