Addressing Gender Bias in Tech

More women than ever before are getting degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. But this isn’t to say we’ve leveled the playing field. In fact, the numbers show that the gender bias remains intact.

In terms of women in leadership, women in tech overall, and discrepancies between men and women in pay, a gender gap persists with sexist implications. Women aren’t being proportionally represented in the industry and are therefore failing to gain the advantages that their male counterparts are benefitting from. In turn, the industry sufferers from a lack of perspective.

But why does gender bias persist? And how can tech companies address and eliminate this bias?

It all starts with understanding.

 

UNDERSTANDING THE GENDER GAP

As you’d imagine, women make up almost half of the workforce in the U.S at 47%. This makes sense, as this statistic is almost proportional to the rate of men and women while also accounting for the number of women who choose the extremely difficult job of at-home childcare. Inexplicably, however, only 25% of tech jobs are filled by women.

This statistic only gets more uncomfortable when considering ethnicity. Hispanic women, for example, fill a mere 1% of tech roles. So why the discrepancy? After all, aren’t more women getting STEM degrees?

They are, and almost catching up to men in many STEM fields. However, computer science and engineering – two thriving areas of employment in the tech world – still fail to attract women at the rates they attract men. Women’s share of bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering topped out at 21%, according to National Science Foundation data. In the computer sciences, the share of women getting bachelor’s degrees has actually fallen to 19%.

Then, there’s the pay gap. When Dice analyzed three year’s worth of salary data among tech workers, they found striking differences. In some states, women made as much as $15,000 less per year than their male counterparts.

On top of all the other concerns they have to deal with, women see statistics like these and are discouraged from fighting for less in a male-dominated field. Reporting higher rates of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and feeling a need to prove themselves, the prejudiced culture shown broadly in tech industry data reflects a gender bias.

For this unfortunate reality to change, companies need to understand the gaps and address the problems.

 

HOW COMPANIES CAN ADDRESS THE GENDER BIAS IN TECH

Fortunately, progress can be made with focused efforts towards changing the culture. Tech companies have to start by understanding and recognizing the problem, which should be as simple as taking a look at the data. Then, they can begin to alter their own processes to make for a more equitable and desirable working environment for women.

Here are some of the strategies tech organizations can make use of now to mitigate gender bias in the workplace.

1) Broaden candidate outreach

This requires thinking outside the box. Rather than all the usual channels – LinkedIn, recruitment platforms, university rounds – explore new methods of finding talent and gathering interest. From TikTok to high schools, you can find new means of reaching women of all demographics and creating an interest in tech subjects.

In your recruitment strategies, you can even reach out to passive candidates already employed but open to new possibilities. Additionally, upgrading your branding and expanding your social media efforts can help attract new talent.

However, without a culture that combats existing gender discrimination, your recruitment efforts won’t get far.

2) Restructure recruiting language and imagery

Did you know that many job listings feature language that often acts to discourage female candidates?

This language – whether intentionally used or not – has a real effect on the opportunities women will seek out. Words like “assertive,” “strong,” or “competitive” play into what is perceived as gendered qualifications. Since studies have found that women will typically only apply to jobs they are 100% qualified for (versus 60% for men), gendered language alienates potential female candidates.

Restructure your recruiting language and use diverse imagery in your job marketing. As a result, you’ll demonstrate a more equitable tech culture.

3) Clarify and standardize evaluation criteria

A lack of clear criteria in employee evaluations often leads to bias whether the evaluator is aware of that bias or not. Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Lab conducted studies that showed that women were often given vague feedback that fell along gendered lines focused on communication skills and critique of aggressiveness. Meanwhile, men were criticized for “softness.”

Employee evaluations with little structure leave employees open to gendered biases. To avoid this, tech companies should provide standardized criteria that focus directly on specific performance data.

4) Build transparent pay structures and promotion eligibility metrics

How many of us have seen a coworker rise above us despite working our hardest to obtain a promotion? Unclear metrics for earning promotions and raises all but guarantee employee burnout and can perpetuate gender bias.

Instead, companies should maintain the highest level of transparency in both their pay structures and their decision-making process when it comes to promotions. This builds accountability into the process, forcing tech executives to examine their own biases where they occur.

5) Create a culture of empathy and employee engagement

Finally, a culture of empathy and engagement is another great way to mitigate gender bias. This means a tech organization that structures the worth of employee input into its core values. And while not every employee will want to speak at every meeting, it’s essential that their work is recognized and that they are given opportunities to share their opinions.

Tech companies should give every employee a chance to speak and be heard, with clear and accountable guidelines for resolving conflict that might occur. With empathetic workplaces, women and men alike can feel more valued and confident.

 

Getting Ahead in a Male-Dominated Field

While these strategies can all help tech companies address the gender bias that is unfortunately common in the field, women still face plenty of obstacles in getting ahead in this male-dominated industry. To climb a company’s ladder, explore mentorship and networking opportunities with other women in tech and seek out challenges and recognition.

You deserve to be valued. Find a tech company that shows this, which will be an easier task if organizations follow the strategies listed here. From broad candidate outreach to an empathetic company culture, gender bias can be addressed across the industry. Let’s all play a role in making that happen.

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Written by Ainsley Lawrence

July 21, 2021

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