Equality is essential for women in tech to thrive

Sarah Lewis, Women in Tech Ambassador and Director of Field Marketing at Ivanti, looks at the challenges facing women currently working in the industry and how we will all benefit from diversity improvements.
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Sarah Lewis ivanti

With a workforce made up of only 17% women according to the Chartered Institute for IT’s 2017 Diversity Report, the IT industry evidently needs to be doing a lot more to balance the gender divide. It is promising, however, that we are seeing some movement across the industry with many programmes being set up to get more women of all ages excited by technology and IT.

A good example of this is companies sending female representatives to schools to engage with children and teach them programming. Volunteer-led organisations like Code Club run after school sessions, which further excites them. Initiatives like these, which are driven by volunteers, and campaigns from businesses and the public sector, are slowly helping to improve the numbers.

It would seem that things are on the right track and that it should only be a matter of time before we as an industry start to benefit from the fruits of our collective labour, however there is still a lot more to do.

We are often quick to bemoan the lack of women working in the industry, but at the same time conditions are not always ideal for those already working in tech. Findings from our recent Ivanti Women in Tech report identified several key challenges and difficulties facing women in the industry.

A few of the problems identified are inherent due to the dearth of women in technology – a lack of female role models and diversity within a company are identified by 43% and 32% of respondents respectively – and one would imagine that as more women are integrated into the industry those figures should improve.

However, the greatest challenge identified by respondents was not to do with a lack of women in the industry, but in the way they are treated; namely being taken seriously in the workplace.

The feeling of disrespect that women feel can start from the very moment that they decide to apply for a job working in the IT industry, with recruitment drives often being more strongly targeted at men than women.

This can come down to the use of language, overall processes, and even recruitment posts on social media. Our study also found that women already working in the technology workplace often feel disrespected. In fact, 63 per cent of respondents believe that gender perceptions stop them from being taken seriously.

Between that and anecdotal examples we hear about at networking events, it is clear that a lack of respect because of gender is a big barrier for some women.

Lack of equality can also hold women back in terms of progression in the industry, with a male-dominated culture often providing more opportunities for men.

One such example that garnered a significant amount of media attention is of former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao who, while working with Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, was reported to have said that she saw female junior partners getting passed over for promotions in favour of their less-experienced male counterparts.

Because of this culture, along with experiences of harassment from a co-worker, Pao filed a $16 million lawsuit against the company. During the trial, Pao was accused of both being ‘too quiet’ and ‘too aggressive’, not being a ‘team player’ and having ‘sharp elbows’.

The manner in which Pao was presented is a textbook example of many of the kinds of gender perceptions that result in women feeling disrespected.

In workplace situations where women are faced with these challenges, there exists something of a dilemma. The first option is to stay in your current workplace, stay true to yourself, call out the people who aren’t taking you seriously and encourage decision makers to take a stronger stance on the treatment of women in the workplace. This can be difficult for a variety of reasons, especially if this kind of behaviour has been cultivated over several years, and anybody who tries to change things could be wrongly seen as something of a bad apple if they are challenging the status quo of a ‘boys’ club’ office environment.

Alternatively, the other option is to find a new role at a different organisation that has a more positive attitude towards female empowerment and does more to discourage any negative perceptions of women who might have to work differently, for example if they require flexible working so that they can balance their career and a family. That can be equally as challenging as fighting the status quo because finding a new job can be tough and it can be difficult to find a forward-thinking organisation that supports diversity simply by reading a job description.

For those seeking to do the latter, attending female-focused professional networking events, along with utilising websites like Glassdoor, are both great ways of finding companies in IT that work in a positive way for women by taking advantage of word-of-mouth.

Regardless of your role, industry and gender, you will want to feel respected and valued in your professional environment. Based on the findings of our Ivanti Women in Tech report, unfortunately, this is not the case for a large number of women working in IT.

While getting more women into the industry is an understandable focus of many Women in Tech initiatives, the entire industry will benefit by also paying greater attention to those who are already working within it.

Sarah Lewis is Women in Tech Ambassador and Director of Field Marketing at Ivanti.

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