The Key to More Women in Technology? MEN.
I’ve read much, and listened to many debate the reasons why we don’t see more women in the technology field. The solution is likely multivariate, yet I feel there is one key theme that isn’t getting the attention it should. Namely, men need to take responsibility to create a culture of inclusion for women in the tech space. Whenever the topic comes up, we tend to ask the women in the group to respond to how we can “fix” things, leaving the men out of the dialog. Or maybe I should say, letting the men off the hook.
I didn’t intend to pick up the crusade of getting more women in critical roles in technology, it occurred out of common sense and necessity. It is less important how I came to believe passionately about this issue, it is more important that I actively support it. Anyone taking a pragmatic approach to hiring the best and brightest will realize that we are missing a large part of the population if women remain under-represented. I’ve come to believe and champion many initiatives to get young women interested in math, science, and computers. Beginning at an early age helps to foster interest and ease the societal barriers that prevent more girls from taking science related classes. Ultimately, we all need women’s brains, talents, and creativity in the technology field. Simply put, your product or service deserves the best talent, regardless of the gender.
Numerous publicized reports show a significant gap in degrees earned for computer science and the expected unfulfilled demand for jobs requiring these skills. Many of these studies show the declining trend in women entering into formal education for computer and other science degrees. Salaries for these positions tend to be some of the most lucrative, and the future is bright for those that choose to design and implement the technology of the future. We all need to do whatever we can to make sure we’re giving women an equal shot at creating technology and not just being consumers of it.
Men need to create a climate where sexism, dismissiveness, and prejudices are not tolerated. More than this, male leaders need to be active and engage in creating a culture of inclusion and participation. While many companies have a women’s network, and even though the majority of topics apply to all people, I bet they lack significant male participation. The next time you hear there is a meeting of the women’s network, attend and participate in the dialog about what you can do. Employing more women in technology is responsibility we all have.
I wrote those four previous paragraphs on July 20, 2014. That brief article appeared initially in the Washington Post, in the Capital Business section. More than seven years have elapsed and yet the goal of equal opportunity and equal pay remains unresolved. I can only conclude that the reason is fear. Those privileged to hold power and control have such a shallow conviction of their own abilities that they are threatened by allowing others to compete for their "spot".
The facts show that it isn't a gap in aptitude, nor is it a pipeline problem. Women don't lack the drive or desire to hold these positions. It isn't a lack of self confidence. Women aren't slower to learn a programming language or craft elegant code.
They simply aren't hired, they aren't invested in, they are not given the opportunities that their male counterparts are. They are targets of sexism and harassment. Women are expected to "know their place" and conform to toxic atmospheres of bro-culture. They are "erased from critical design decisions". They are spoken over or dismissed — if they are even invited to the forum of discussion. Their ideas are stolen, plagiarized, or relegated to the backlog. Women bare the sole responsibility of the burden of proof if they stand up to poor treatment. Too often they simple leave the company, leave the industry — frustrated, discouraged, and disappointed.
My earlier call to action was not enough, we must do more and demand more from companies. Women's networking groups within a company are great, yet are meaningless if equal pay is not achieved, promotions are at an imbalance, or a company's leadership has a paltry 20% women representation.
We must combat the deep-seated fear that men in leadership positions hold, those who feel so threatened that they affect the hiring process negatively, underinvest in skill development, and populate performance reviews with sexist, biased, loaded language. We need to adjust hiring practices to hire for potential, which better recognizes women candidates who have not been given the opportunity to gain experience. In technology, like many other fields, people can learn skills while on the job. Aptitude and attitude matter far more in the long run, than an often over exaggerated resume ever will.
The truth is, not only are these fears petty and unfounded, there are more open roles in technology than we have candidates for, meaning there is plenty of room to include more women. Rather than wasting energy trying to protect this artificial male technology dominance, these same men would find that their solutions improve, their products are better, their own skills accelerate at a more rapid pace, if only they could embrace the passion, creativity, and talents of these women engineers and leaders — and get over their own fear.