Women in Technology: Benefits and Challenges of Those in the Industry

Are you a woman considering a career in tech? Dive in with us as we explore the disadvantages and advantages of being one of the few women in technology.

woman touching futuristic screen

It can be an arduous journey trying to navigate male dominated industries as a woman. When it comes to equity in the workplaces, many industries have a long way to go and the world of tech is no different. In fact, when it comes to the five leading tech companies of the world which includes Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, women only account for 34.4% of the workforce. If you’re looking at just Australia, only 28% of the IT workforce is female, just 1 in 4 graduates are women and there’s still a 19% gender pay gap in the Information Media and Telecommunications Industry. Which means there’s a huge inequality for women in technology.

According to the most recent Women in Tech Survey Report of 2019, the five main things that would encourage women to pursue a career in technology are inclusivity, opportunities to progress, flexibility in working policies, equal pay and mentorship. This poll of 500 women in technology from around the globe revealed some alarming statistics, such as how 53.8% of women felt like they weren’t taken seriously due to their gender and that 27.1% of women felt like the ‘glass ceiling’ is the worst it’s ever been. Difficulty in breaking the ‘glass ceiling’ is a term used to describe an unacknowledged barrier that blocks the next step in the industry progression ladder, an experience that affects women and other minorities.

So, this begs the question – why are there so few women in technology?

What are the potential benefits and challenges of those who are in the field? If you’re reading this, you’re most likely a woman who has some interest in the field of technology. Perhaps you have even chosen a degree in it. First off, congratulations, it’s because of women like you that this industry will continue to evolve forward into improved equity. Or maybe you’re just passionate about equality and want to increase your awareness on the topic, or you’re simply just curious. Whichever the reason, it can be disheartening to hear such odds stacked against women, throughout history it has always been like that but they’ve also, always found a way to pave the way for change.

Woman with arms crossed in an office

The Gender Pay Gap

There are some who may say this a myth and that it doesn’t exist. Maybe even some who think that we’ve achieved equality in the workplace. But numbers don’t lie. If you look at Silicon Valley, the world’s epicentre for tech, statistics reveal that median male salary is 61% more than that of the female median. US$90,353 versus US$56,120 to be exact. With another 56% of women in tech leaving employers mid-career at a turnover rate that doubles men and only 3% of women choosing this as a first-choice career, statistically at our current rate it will take until 2133 to close the gender pay gap completely.

Why is this the case? Well, there’s a multitude of reasons. Issues such as sexism in the workplace and lack of mobility can deter women from pursuing careers in the field which makes sense. Why would you choose a field that has a higher chance of stagnant growth, intense workload with the potential for not as much reward compared to your male equivalents when you go for a career path that offers the opposite? This could explain why roles held by women in computing have declined by 11% between 1991 to 2018.

When it’s reported that 63% of women in technology receive a lower salary offer than men when starting at the same company, even in the same roles – you can understand why there’s so much frustration and difficulty for women to pursue and stay in this industry.

Societal Issues

The low women in tech is a huge problem. There are engrained, toxic stereotypes and generalisations about women that are difficult to break. Especially if there’s not enough of them in there trying to change the environment. Criticism and scrutiny is often much more intense. If a woman fails it can be viewed as a justification for why women shouldn’t be in leadership roles. Issues such as mansplaining or men making backhanded compliments such as ‘you’re pretty for a software developer’ or ‘I didn’t expect you to be able to keep up with the rest of the boys’ are extremely damaging.

It makes women feel like they’re facing a constant uphill battle where they have to work harder than anybody just to be accepted. It doesn’t exactly cultivate a healthy work and life balance. An interesting study of Github users revealed that the code written by women was accepted 78.6% of the time which was 4% higher than men. But the catch was that the programmer’s gender was kept a secret. This provides quite a bit of insight into how the perception of women also serves as a barrier in career progression within tech.

It can be a double-edged sword. Lack of confidence due to sexist experiences in the workplace can hold women back but then by being too confident and assertive, it can be perceived as aggressive. On top of that, the discrimination and lack of support for women who want to plan a family, are pregnant or want maternity leave can serve as a deterrent.

Woman wearing a Virtual Reality headset

Women Are Wanted

Whilst the statistics are terrifying, it’s important to remember that there are global initiatives being undertaken to improve the current climate for women in tech and STEM. Most companies do actually want to hire women to improve their diversity and equality. Women can bring a new perspective, range of skills and experience that are increasingly becoming more valued in the industry – they’ve already faced significant adversity simply by choosing this career path, amongst many others.

For Fortune’s 500 companies that had a minimum of three female directors, these companies saw a return of invested capital increase by at least 66% and a return on sales increase by 42%. Companies are also introducing more programs such as Google’s ‘Women in Techmakers’ which offers 100 full scholarships just for women. There are heaps of opportunities for women to upskill through boot camps such as those offered by General Assembly. You can even code online for free!

The benefit programs for women are also improving. Companies like Nike and Google are offering an on-site child care centre which is something that only 7% of companies are doing despite it being a pretty smart strategy to keep women in their roles and returning back to work after maternity leave. Netflix offers unlimited paid parental leave for a whole year following birth and Slack is about 4.2% short of having a 50% female workforce. Now it’s time for more companies to follow suit!

Support Networks

Whilst there may be only one woman at the table, at least there are comrades of thousands females who want to see you succeed. In Australia, there are online tech support groups such as Girls in Tech and Women in Tech that aim to celebrate, inspire and provide training. You will realise quite quickly that tech goes much further than coding and programming. It can include anything from game design to sex tech to cybersecurity. It’s also a fantastic way to network, meet people and find mentors in the industry.

You need to find your role models, find the women in tech you resonate most with and really inspires you. Follow them on social media and expand your knowledge through books and podcasts. You’ll find plenty of uplifting stories where everyday women just like you overcame struggles and obstacles they didn’t deserve.  Take Susan Wojciki for example. She is one of the most recognisable women in technology and she took a leap of faith that people would have thought was crazy at the time. After purchasing Youtube in 2006 and acting as its CEO ever since, she has directed its growth into an annual revenue of US$15 billion.

Do your part and support female-led companies and start-ups. Whether that be by contributing to crowdfunding, raising awareness on your socials or buying their product. Be an active ally and participate where you can in the field because whilst you may not see the change you would like to see in your lifetime, ultimately it’s about creating a better environment for future women. Take comfort in knowing that the struggles you may be experiencing now is making the lives of future generations easier. Even just being a female student in a tech degree makes a difference.

Remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint! If you are studying a degree in tech or have a tech start-up we would love to hear your story here at The Switch!