The socially constructed archetype of the technology industry employee needs to be dissolved, along with the removal of the stigma surrounding women in the technology industry, in order for the gender disparity to be eliminated.
There are two objectives that I am going to be focusing on with this blog post. First, I am going to try to discover the root of gender discrimination in the technology sector. Second, I am going to try to develop a solution to the problem, and if that is not possible at least figure out how to move the industry in the right direction.
There is a deeply entrenched male culture in the technology sector. One of the theories that I stumbled upon to explain the disparity in males holding tech jobs at technology companies (for example, at Google women only fill 17 percent of the software engineering, database analysis, and other technology based jobs) was described as the ‘Geek Bro Culture,’ which credits the disparity to traditionally nerdy activities, hobbies like comic books, video games, and the technology sector. This mentality encourages the treatment of women as sexual objects, regularly exposes them to inappropriate behavior, and causes them to miss out on promotions that they would have received if they were men. Since boys typically grow up playing computer games they would more likely be interested in computer games and technology causing them to dominate the technology industry. The proportion of males versus females that take the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam acts as further evidence that the gender problem in technology starts at an early age. Out of the 30,000 students that took the exam, less than 6,000 of these students were female. There seems to be a socially constructed persona of a technology industry employee, which is constantly reaffirmed in practice, primarily socially awkward white males who love computers. Women would then have to be constantly combating this culture, trying to demonstrate that although they do not fit this persona they are equally qualified to do this work.
Some people claim that the lack of promotions and job placement for women is warranted because men lead better and therefore do these jobs better. However, the statistics suggest the exact opposite really. Companies with the highest proportion of women board directors actually outperform those with the lowest proportion of women board directors. Economic reason would lead us to believe that this alone would be enough to change the tech industry. If companies want to succeed and outperform their counterparts in order to remain competitive, diversifying their workplace would one of the ways to do that. This alone does not seem to be enough to drive significant change, as the proportion of women in technological based roles at tech companies has been declining over the past 25 years according the U.S. Census.
So, what can be done regarding gender discrimination in the workplace?
One practice undertaken by Harvey Mudd College has been very successful thus far resulting in 40% of its computer science students being women. They split their introductory computer science course into three separate courses. The goal was not overwhelm students by having to compete against students who have been coding since elementary school, which are typically males. Making women feel more comfortable with technology and computer science when they are young seems to be a good approach to fixing the issue since gender disparity starts at an early age. This could remove the deeply entrenched idea in our society that technology and technology based work is more suited for men.
Another approach to the problem is Girls in Tech’s “Raise Awareness” campaign: companies work on practical measures to make the work environment more welcoming to women along with women learning how to effectively ask for a raise. The company could do this with negotiation workshops as well as other policy changes. One of the important aspects of this campaign is that companies that join the movement will be published on the campaign’s website and other media outlets. As more women are made aware that companies in the tech industry are trying to address the problem they would most likely feel more comfortable pursuing this industry, which I feel will help fix the gender gap.