The Role Of Women In Information Technology
We can do IT!
We entered the times when girls, who grew up mostly in the modern belief that there are no strict men/women professions, are slowly entering the labour market. Yet, there still is a vast disproportion between men and women working in IT-related fields. If computer science is no longer considered to be better left for men, why is it that women are still underrepresented in technological companies?
Women have marked their ground on many fields, but in technology, and especially in IT, they are still a minority. According to the US National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) women make 57% of the total workforce in the USA, but only 25% in the computing workforce. The gap is significant. Another study, performed by PEW Research Center, shows that although employment in computer occupations in the US has grown 338% since 1990, the percentage of women performing those professions has gone down 7 percentage points. Despite the overall growth of gender-diversity in the companies, the IT sector is way behind.
Does women underrepresentation in IT companies mean they are worse employees? Of course not! A 2016 research has shown that the acceptance rate of female contributors versus male in the open source community is higher, however only if they are not identified as women (i.e anonymous contributors). It shows that women can be as competent programmers as men, but still there is a gender bias in the field of computer science. Men are considered to be more competent and reliable, especially in technological fields. This gender bias is not always conscious, and since there are not many women in the tech industry to serve as the example, it is hard to eradicate it. The problem of lack of women in IT companies is not only caused by bias during recruitment - there are simply less women graduating from computer sciences. Young girls do not feel they can succeed in IT, as they are already underrepresented in the field and the cycle continues.
Acknowledging that women are the minority in the IT world, despite being equally qualified employees is the first step to change. The second is to understand why it is important for companies to work towards gender equality and employing more women in programming, software development, artificial intelligence and so on.
Studies have shown that gender-diverse teams can increase sales and overall performance in the company. On top of that, having women in the workspace elevates job satisfaction and decreases the risk of burnout. Why? Men and women are different - although we may possess similar skills and be equally qualified for a job, we are going to have a different perspective on some issues. A gender-diverse workplace means wider perspective, which leads to innovation. It is best summed up by the author of “the Difference” - Scott Page: “If people think alike, then no matter how smart they are they most likely will get stuck at the same locally optimal solutions. Finding new and better solutions, innovating, requires thinking differently. That is why diversity powers innovation.” Tech companies create products for both men and women, so it only seems natural both genders are involved in the design process leading to a better reflection of the customers. Another aspect is team dynamics - women tend to be better at bringing people together and merging opinions and proposals, which speeds up the decision making process and brings more complex solutions.
Smart women need to feel empowered. From a young age, through university years and first internships they need to feel that they have the same rights and opportunities to start a career in computer sciences as their male friends. It is also the role of the companies to create equal opportunities and a friendly work environment for both men and women. Companies should commit to creating a friendly environment open for both genders. It is not enough to interview and hire more women, as retention of women in the IT is another common problem. It was reported that 56% of women in IT leave their work within the first 5 years, due to stereotypes, questions of legitimacy, isolation, access, masculine organizational climate, and work‐life balance. Creating more opportunities for employment as well as career development will result in more female role models and therefore more interest among girls in IT-related subjects.
The world is moving forward, more women are employed in management and other executive positions. With the tech world being as innovative and fast paced as it is, can it still stay behind?