Figuring It Out: Addressing Practices That Impact Women in Technology
The Women’s March, New Tech Northwest’s annual “Women in Tech” event, and International Women’s Day are just a few of the recent events prompting important conversations around inequality in the tech industry. These discussions, while breakthroughs in many regards, are still just the beginning of real change. I’ve gathered a number of ideas for what we can and should do next to make the tech industry more diverse and inclusive, starting right here in Seattle.
Assessing our current situation
Women have consistently been paid less than their male counterparts and research shows that over time the number of women working in tech has decreased, taking an especially sharp plunge since the 1980s. In Seattle specifically, there is a 30 percent wage gap between men and women in the field of technology, according to a 2016 survey by Comparably.
Issues faced by women in the tech field are not just financial. As recent headlines have made all too clear, women confront sexual harassment; impostor syndrome; the stigmatization of being viewed as weaker or too emotional; judgement based on the way they dress or their shape; and resentment and discrimination for taking maternity leave or even just being a parent.
Those issues aside, companies are leaving money on the table by not embracing women and diversity in tech: Programs developed to embrace diversity and inclusion have shown significant ROI (PDF).
What’s at work here?
Before businesses begin to tackle this issue, they need to first acknowledge what contributes to these issues:
- Blind spots: Men are less likely to think there is an issue with gender equity in the workplace than women. The perception gap is alive and well!
- Culture fit and meritocracy: The words “culture fit” must be destroyed! Here lies the “good ol’ boy” mentality. We hire people who share the same visible and invisible characteristics that we hold near and dear to our own identities. A majority of the hiring managers in technology are not women. Nepotism is an adversary of diversity and perpetuator of discrimination.
- Intersectional discrimination: It needs to be stated that all women face discrimination in tech, not just white women. But Black, Native American, Latina, Asian, and transgender women often experience discrimination in extreme disproportion in the field.
Companies need to do a thorough assessment of their HR policies, especially regarding sexual harassment, intersectional differences, parental leave, and unconscious bias.
- Sexual harassment: Uber and Tesla have made terrible examples of themselves on the issue of sexual harassment, and other companies should learn from their mistakes. Every sexual harassment complaint needs to be taken seriously. Companies should provide company-wide Title IX training, and make use of resources such as SHRM.org and Inspired Learning, as well as other local organizations.
- Parental leave: Data now shows that parental leave has an impact on the gender wage gap. For women who are parents, incorporate a flex schedule so they have work-life balance.
- Unconscious bias: Workplaces and educational institutions (public and private) need to offer more courses on unconscious bias. The coursework should include unconscious bias training, assessing and defining diversity and inclusion, equity versus equality and its presence in a workplace, and mentoring and sponsoring people from historically stigmatized backgrounds. Companies like the one I founded, Diverse City LLC, as well as Equity Matters, and Henderworks all specialize in this curriculum.
- Recruitment and Pipeline: Research shows that diversity of thought—including women and people from different backgrounds—improves innovation and equity. To increase the proportion of women in your workforce, you must work on recruiting them, and growing the pipeline. Partner with companies and organizations that have a direct pipeline to qualified women in tech including: Technology Access Foundation, Ada Developers Academy, Floodgate Academy, Girls Who Code, and Chik Tech. In recruiting for technology careers, recruiters themselves need to be aware of the biases that impact the presence of women entering into the workplace. Companies like SM Diversity can help.
- Mentorships and sponsorships: As the saying goes, “A mentor speaks to you and a sponsor speaks for you.” We need both mentors and sponsors to support women in the workplace. Establish annual professional development plans, regularly scheduled progress check-ins, and give your employees a budget for continuing their education while working.
One underlying issue we should acknowledge in our liberal city is that inequity still exists. It is not a single problem with a single solution. The recommendations here are just the beginning. It is time to get to work.