The turn of the millennium has seen an exponential rise in the field of technology which has shown no signs of decline, 18 years after. Opportunities are abundant, innovation is plenty making IT a preferred career choice for many. This brings us to an interesting question; A question that is not often asked. What is the role women play in technology today?
The field of IT has always been male dominant. From iconic figures like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to billionaire entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, the biggest contributions to technology have been from males. However, women are starting to play a bigger role in tech with many entering both regular and high-level positions in global firms. Ursula Burns, for example, has risen through the ranks to become the first African-American woman to become the CEO of Xerox, a Fortune 500 company. Ginni Rometty, another inspiration to women across the globe, was named the president and CEO of IBM in 2011. Adding to the tale of success there is Marisa Mayer, an exemplary coder role model who was the former president and CEO of Yahoo!.
While this shows that women can definitely leave their mark in the field, there is also a stark reality that is hidden behind these success stories. A study carried out by virtual event solutions company, Evia shows that even though women make up more than half the US workforce, they make up only 20 percent of the US tech jobs. Making matters even worse, studies also show that women tend to leave technology-related positions at a rate two times that of men, clearly pointing to an underlying problem that is giving rise to a gender gap within the sphere of Information Technology.
The problem of under-representation of women in IT is a complicated one. On one side there is the argument that the whole debate is moot; gender is irrelevant, as long as a person is capable of accomplishing and aligning themselves with a company’s business. It is not that companies discriminate based on gender, but rather the number of women with the required technical background is simply not enough to balance out the gender gap. This may very well be true as statistics show that the number of women taking up computer science for their higher education has decreased over time. But a lack of talent pool alone does not answer why women who are already in tech roles would leave their jobs at a rate much faster than men. Surveys point to possible reasons ranging from company environment to a lack of work-life balance which is especially true for women in development. Working long hours might not be an option for a woman while a man would be more tolerant of the same. What is overlooked in such a scenario is to have a work environment that is equally conducive for both genders. Also, while discrimination or sexism is not something most women experience in a work environment, there could still be an underlying condescension that could lead to a sense of isolation.
The need for gender diversity within technology is undisputed. The issue can be talked about, argued over or even fixed to an extent with many great initiatives happening now. Significant strides are being made by different movements placing an emphasis on how a balanced workforce could provide a positive impact on a company. There is also a call to fill the pipeline with more talented women. The argument here is to stop screaming at companies to hire more women and focus instead on encouraging women to pursue careers in Information Technology. Some of this may bring about changes in the short term while some has the opportunity to make the greatest impact in the long run. But the gender gap we see in technology could, in fact, be a much more deep-rooted problem that lies within the very society that we are brought up in. If this is the case, then there should be a shift in social norms and concepts that are reinforced to steer young girls away from technology while encouraging the same in boys. It is only then will we be capable of breaking down gender roles and reaching true gender parity in the field of Information Technology.