After nearly two decades, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting dozens of highly-qualified leaders in technology. Many of the brightest minds I’ve had the pleasure to know have been women.
In fact, successful women present in every aspect of the industry, from development and design to management and leadership. Yet… another thing that I can’t fail to notice is how few of these women are featured in news headlines and tech pages.
According to recent reports, just 20% of the women in leading tech roles are ever featured by news creators and publications. 72% of those surveyed explained that they are outnumbered by men during business meetings and events by ratios as high as 5 to 1. That’s simply absurd, given that women perform at the same level in the same jobs, and provide the same value to each company as their male counterparts.
These women also frequently report feeling discouraged from discussing their achievements within their professional sphere or promoting their expertise in the workplace. The general consensus I hear is that women in tech are often relegated to roles in which they have limited real autonomy or decision-making power. Instead, they’re reliant on project directions and opinions promoted by male colleagues and directors.
Why is that? Why are we still explaining that tech has a representation problem twenty years into my own career? And, crucially, why aren’t more companies prioritizing gender parity as a general rule?
Gender Inequity in STEM: The Scale of the Problem
Why are women still struggling to gain recognition and agency in tech? Let’s crunch some of the numbers.
One commonly cited issue is that STEM sector careers remain predominantly male-dominated in terms of the workforce. Women represent 39% of graduates in core STEM subjects. Also, they account for just 28% of hires among tech companies in the US. While that’s better than in the past, it still shows a substantial gender gap.
Aside from this, women tend to leave tech jobs at a much higher rate than their male counterparts. 50% of women in STEM positions switched to other fields after about a decade. This trend was in stark contrast with the attrition rate of women in non-STEM industries (which is around 20%).
- Research indicates that aptitude and job enthusiasm aren’t keeping women in STEM careers
- A majority of women in tech jobs view gender bias as the greatest hurdle to their professional growth in the industry.
- Without steady STEM outreach at the educational level, many female students are discouraged from pursuing careers in these fields.
This is a problem that, in turn, impacts business as well. Information from DataProt.Net suggests that women leave the tech industry at a 45% higher rate than men, citing lack of opportunity and advancement. The resulting turnover costs tech companies about $16 billion per year.
These stats paint a relatively dark picture of the gender parity situation in tech. To put it bluntly, statistics like these are embarrassing for any industry. It’s especially bad for a sector that lauds itself as the most future-forward workforce on the planet, though.
3 Steps to Raise the Visibility of Women in Tech
Increasing visibility and recognition of women in tech roles can accomplish much more than helping the women in question advance. It reinforces the idea that women have a place in the tech space. Insisting on this point will, over time, help to shift the culture of the industry.
But, that raises the fundamental question: how?
One issue I briefly touched on above is that women tend not to feel encouraged to promote themselves in male-dominated industries. This needs to stop, though; women have just as much skin in the game as their male coworkers and managers.
Here are a few steps that female workers in the tech space can take to prepare themselves for this challenge:
1. Knock Out Certifications
One of the things I encourage my employees to do is to frequently seek out and tackle any and all certifications relevant to their respective roles. Technical certifications are solid gold proof that one has the skills and know-how required to consistently meet and exceed employer requirements and expectations.
Each certification that you earn should be displayed on your LinkedIn profile, via your email signature, and on your business cards. Anywhere you would be expected to present an “official professional version” of yourself. Your certifications should be up front, loud and proud.
2. Networks are Crucial
This one might seem like a no-brainer, given that everyone in tech tends to have a LinkedIn profile. Nonetheless, ask yourself: how many of the people in your network know you well enough to recommend you for a service? This is where you should do some serious legwork.
Have you helped a recent client through a tough spot? Ask them to write a recommendation for you. Were you integral in a coworker’s development? Ask them to recommend you. Did your manager give you an excellent yearly review? You see where I’m going with this.
Your professional network shouldn’t only represent people in your field or the people you connect with randomly online. Look within your own company for the accolades you deserve, then leverage them to open new opportunities for yourself.
I am a huge proponent of mentorship in the tech landscape, and for all of the reasons I listed above. In a nutshell, a mentor is someone who has knowledge and skills to share with those in need of guidance.
At my company, I strongly encourage my employees to actively seek out and participate in mentorships at every level of employee development. This can be a symbiotic relationship in many ways. The mentee gets invaluable inside knowledge, while the act of inspiring the next generation of talent can lead to greater success and happiness for the mentor. This also benefits the industry at large.
My advice to women in tech is to ask your HR representative and direct managers about your interest in attaining or providing mentorship. You can present this plainly as a means to improve power dynamics and employee relations in your company. Responsible leadership should be open to the idea and happy to try something new.
Don’t Give Up
Whatever happens, if women are to succeed in smashing the proverbial ‘glass ceiling’ in tech, it won’t be because anyone handed it to us.
One might say women are forced to earn harder, prove more, and present better than their male counterparts to get ahead in business. There are signs that things are changing, but unfortunately, that impression still holds true for many women in tech today.
Therefore, it’s up to us to remind our industry that they bear a pressing responsibility to provide us with equal visibility and opportunities in our field. Whatever happens, don’t ever stop reminding yourself — and your employer — that you’re worth it.