Why is 57 percent of the U.S. workforce made up of women and yet they only hold 26 percent of tech-related positions? Why do only 56 percent of Silicon Valley start-ups have one woman in an executive position, while only 40 percent have one woman in their board of directors? Looks like a whole lot of numbers thrown right into the face, but surprisingly the most misleading yet common answer to all of these questions is that there are not enough diversity promoting initiatives in place to encourage women to take up tech roles. Do women really need such initiatives in the first place? There are clearly more women graduating with tech degrees than being hired – and the problem is much more deep-rooted than the superficial explanation being tossed around.
It is no secret that the building of this ‘tech-gap’ starts right when a girl is born. Our early years are pivotal in shaping our views of the world and our place in it. Children as young as six start developing cognitive abilities to infer the different types of jobs men and women should do. Their views are shaped by myriad factors including and not limited to their parents, teachers and even the toys that they play with. Parents and teachers unknowingly establish certain stereotypes that widen the gap. It is high time we evaluate the way we raise our girls. Boys are pushed to take risks and be brave, while girls have to play the soft, pretty and creative roles. Girls are made to feel like they have to be perfect at everything they do – so much so that they see getting anything other than an A on a science exam as bad. These trivial stereotyping instances build up and drill the female mind into believing that they are emotional, creative and neat beings, so they should naturally only pursue careers which require these skills. Valuing females’ opinions right from a very young age is extremely important too. I have myself been in situations where asking too many questions as a kid led to me being nicknamed a ‘question mark’. The same behaviour of ‘asking too many questions’ was considered normal for my male peers. We need to encourage young girls to embrace being imperfect, and just put themselves out there more. We need to tell them that creativity and STEM(science, technology, engineering, and math) are not mutually exclusive, instead they complement each other really well.
The fact that there aren’t enough women role models in tech doesn’t help either. We all constantly seek inspiration from the people around us and the content we consume every day. When female teenagers do not see enough women around them pursuing tech careers, it is easy for them to form notions about how women do not fit in tech. It is hard to be what we cannot see. On the other hand, when young girls see women around them flourishing in their STEM careers, it spurs their ambitions. It makes them feel that they can be those women too, that they can defy the stereotypes around them too.
The gap is so structural that it presents itself at every stage in a woman’s career. When women actually manage to defy all the obstacles along the way, and take up tech positions, they still have to go through a whole lot of gender bias in their workplace environment. Be it through performance reviews, rewards, or pay, women are always the ones to be treated in a less than fair manner. They experience a barrier that prevents them from reaching upper-level roles in leadership and management. Not only that, the bias is evident in the recruiting process too. Everything from job descriptions to interview questions contain gender bias. Although we are aware that there is a very apparent bias presenting itself in our faulty practices, not much is being done to rectify this bias. We need to promote a culture of meritocracy, where women do not have to constantly explain that they know what they are doing.
Lastly, nerdifying STEM is something that needs to stop too. The more geeky tendencies we attach to STEM, the more we end up portraying it as a male-suited field. Tech and engineering roles are presented as too mentally demanding, exhausting and less satisfying. Women do not see how such jobs would fit their responsibilities and roles of running a house and being a wife and a mother at some point in their careers. Tech companies need to demonstrate that they will do everything in their capacity to support their female employees who choose to have a family. Women in tech need to feel valued and cared for. They deserve to be equally respected and cherished as their male counterparts.
We are at an important juncture for women in tech – we must prove to the coming generations that women belong in this field more than anyone else, and that there is not a single reason to doubt this statement.