I’m a man and in 2015 I tried to find out what it’s like being a woman in tech.
Gender roles in tech have been under the spotlight more than ever with articles ranging from sexual assault to the emotional effect this issue can have. According to The New Yorker men hold sixty to seventy percent of jobs at the major tech firms, including Google, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter. With the number of women in high profile roles even more sparse.
Notwithstanding rock stars like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, senior leadership is even more overwhelmingly male.
One of the most interesting articles I read while researching this piece was the story of a female computer science major who documented the sexism she encountered in tech over a period of time. I found it remarkable the number of times the conversations would occur without any knowledge or acknowledgement the things being said were sexist. Is the culture in tech really at the point where men no longer realize that they are demeaning a woman who is just as, if not more capable; the following extract from Coligado’s article is a perfect example:
When a boy — let’s call him Rush (like Rush Limbaugh) — heard my friend had interned at Facebook, his mouth dropped. “Wow! Facebook! You must be really smart!” He then turned to me and asked the exact same question:What did you do this summer?
Except when I responded the same — “Facebook” — I got a completely different response. “Oh… well then I should have applied for that internship.”
I was floored. What did he mean by that? Why would he react so differently? I didn’t even know Rush well, so what about me could possibly make my internship at Facebook suddenly seem like a giveaway, a charity case?
Following this incident and while still at Stanford, Coligado goes on to give further examples, this time from within the industry itself. Such as married co-workers openly ‘flirting’ with her in the office and more subtle occurrences like “the guys were praised more on their progress although I was pushing the same amount of code.”
The downside of the digital revolution is isolation.
The sad truth is that women only account for thirty to forty percent of digital workforce, with some companies having as few as one woman coding within the development team if any at all… the downside of the digital revolution is isolation and for women this is painfully clear.
As Byrne points out, “many of the problems I encountered in my tech career were due to the cluelessness of my teammates rather than any malice on their part”, in the research I have done this appears true on more occasions than not. It appears as if men within tech see women as some mythical creature that they could scare away if they treated her the same, or they are intimidated and usure of how due to the historical lack of women within the industry... the latter is more likely.
There are some guys that just have issues with women in their team due to some archaic principles they believe to still be true like the “subordinate who did everything possible to undermine my (Byrne) authority because he hated working for a woman”, but there have also been cases that i’ve read about where guys have thought it is okay to flirt or be suggestive within the office. One such situations involved a coworker leaving an unsolicited, romantically charged gift on a woman’s desk, another talks of middle-aged co-workers using GChat to send her pickup lines when at the office.
Coligado also praises the wonderful female (and male) engineers, entrepreneurs and executives that have helped her during her time in the industry and continue to do so.
Despite the blatant sexism within the industry there are many strong women in tech with outstanding careers, such as Marissa Mayer, and with organizations such as Girls Who Code I expect this number will continue to increase.
Marissa Mayer has upgraded content — including hiring journalists Katie Couric and Matt Bai — and pursued an aggressive acquisition strategy aimed at boosting mobile revenues.
The reason I have used Marissa Mayer as an example is due to the outstanding work she has done at Yahoo since taking over as CEO in 2012 and although her views on the gender issues in tech are sometimes difficult to measure, stating that “ There are probably industries where gender is more of an issue” but also that she “hopes that the wild growth in technology in her lifetime means more girls going into tech.”
Mayer is just one example, with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg been named the most powerful woman in technology on the Forbes’ Power Women list for the fourth consecutive year and a further six Silicon Valley executives making it into the top 25 on the Power Women list there may be a shift underway to finally begin breaking down the gender barriers in tech.
Sandberg, the first woman to serve on Facebook’s board, is known for being an outspoken activist when it comes to women in tech and in society as a whole, becoming a household name with one of the most popular TED Talks, that delves into the reasons why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions and offering some powerful and inspiring advice to women looking to advance their careers, it’s definitely worth a watch.