Women in technology: where my ladies at?
Gender equality is a tough topic for me to write about. As someone who has always been a little offended by special treatment, it’s been tough to explore how to create gender equality in the technology industry without feeling like I'm suggesting pampering or catering to female applicants. In researching for this article, I even found a few improvements that both myself and Integrity can make to avoid playing into gender stereotypes in today's technology landscape.
Before we start, I think it's important to address the obvious. Men and women think differently, communicate differently and work differently - and there's nothing wrong with that. But if we're ever going to see each gender's talents equally represented in technology, we're going to have to make an effort to introduce sustainable diversity. In no way does that stop with just women or just technology, but it's somewhere that I feel comfortable starting.
All of that said, let's explore women in technology: why there should be more of them, why there aren't and some suggestions on how we can get more.
Why do we need women in technology?
Let's start from the beginning. Why does it even matter if women are represented in the technology industry? I mean, we’re already getting the job done, aren't we?
If you’re one who subscribes to an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” ideology like the one above, then I guess you haven't heard of how America's first moon landing came about.
Diversity in any industry introduces a variety of skills, knowledge and thought processes that allow teams of different backgrounds to solve problems in more creative ways. And if you don't think that continuous advancement is important, especially in technology, see my previous paragraph.
Once you achieve gender diversity in your organization, you will open up your hiring pool to a world of opportunities. This is just another way diversity lends itself to continuous improvement.
Why aren't there already a ton of women in tech?
In my research, several themes seemed to pop up as to why there is a lack of women in the technology field. The most widespread is that females simply haven’t been as exposed to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields as men have in the past.
When personal computers first started popping up in homes across the country, it was an era when women were expected to work as secretaries unless they were staying home with their children. Understandably for the time, technology was marketed toward little boys, while girls got the dolls and little plastic kitchens. In turn, our society has steeped males in technology and science from a young age while our females are forced to play catch up.
A lot of us are familiar with the GoldieBlox commercial that repurposes a Beastie Boys song to expose common female stereotypes, all while a team of young girls reinvent their toys into what’s known as a Rube Goldberg machine. As demonstrated in this commercial and several since it, there is a new trend in marketing STEM programs and products not just to boys but also to girls. But it isn't enough. Advertising and movies have created a culture that is obsessed with the idea that women should focus on beauty, fitting in and taking care of family affairs. These ingrained ideals make it hard for females to enter a workforce where they not only feel out of place but they might feel downright unwelcome.
Which brings me to another major reason we don’t see as many women in technology - language. The way a company conveys itself is one of the first things a possible applicant will scrutinize. When its language is interpreted as male-centric and unwelcoming, a female engineer may be discouraged in applying.
According to this Twitter questionnaire, women generally respond negatively to masculine pronouns, the use of titles such as “ninja” and “cowboy” and language that focuses on competition rather than collaboration and learning. This is definitely language that I myself have used while writing on behalf of Integrity. Women respondents also expressed a disdain for descriptors such as “do it all” that they felt meant employees are expected to overwork for underpay and generally shied away from job descriptions with a long list of requirements and years of experience necessary. Respondents disliked being asked questions that they felt were gender-specific, such as their marital and family status; but they did want to discuss benefits, parental leave, vacation time and healthcare.
How do we get, and retain, women in technology?
Whatever you do, absolutely do not change your standards thinking that you will attract more female applicants. Lower standards will not attract more female applicants; they will only attract under-qualified applicants.
What you should definitely do is adjust your language according to the aforementioned guidelines. Your job descriptions shouldn't cater to one gender or the other - they should cater to the person who you think will best fit the role. Be welcoming without being condescending and be prepared to talk about the concrete aspects of the job, not just the foosball table. (This is another one I'm totally guilty of doing at Integrity. Whoops.)
Improve your company’s overall retention rate by introducing some new policies that apply to everyone. Invent programs that foster inclusion and help employees work together as a team, despite their role or gender. Invite success and squash discrimination from the leadership team all the way down to the internship team. Recognize that your employees do have personal lives and help them to balance their careers with it.
You can also take a cue from Etsy, which successfully increased their number of female engineers by providing need-based scholarships for women who attended an engineering school that they sponsor. In doing so, they were able to improve the overall program by balancing the number of females and males in each class. And, better yet, once the program was complete, Etsy had a pool of well trained engineers to hire from, thus negating their risk of turnover and cost of placement for junior engineers.
If you are truly looking to be disruptive in the technology industry, you must embrace continuous improvement. You will have to make a concerted effort to add diversity to your team. It won’t just happen over night, and it won’t just happen on accident. But, over time, your reputation as a proponent of diversity will have qualified technologists banging down your door to work with a leader in the tech industry.
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