Breaking Stereotypes of Women In Tech
The perception that gender plays a key role preventing women from joining the tech field is misleading. Research shows an increase in the number of women in technology in “developing countries”, while numbers of Western women in tech have been stagnant or declining.
According to a 2010 Stanford University publication, Malaysian women make up 50-60% of the tech workforce with many holding mid and upper level management positions. It turns out, Malaysian men did not perceive indoor jobs to be masculine, making computing and programming more “women-friendly” professions!
In India, 451 Research found a rapid growth in the percentage of women in IT over the past 10 years. They reported 34% of Indian women in tech workforce with the majority being under the age of 30 years. NASSCOM's Women and IT Scorecard stated 46.8% of postgraduates in tech were women in year 2014-2015 in India alone, compared to 24% in the US and 16%-18% in UK and Northern Ireland during the same time period. India is now almost at 50:50 gender parity rate in STEM graduates.
The high percentage of women in tech in East European countries such as Bulgaria (30.28%), Romania (26.30%) and Lithuania (24.93%) goes back to communist rules mandating women have jobs in addition to raising children (Women In Tech by Country). As a result, women were more inclined to STEM professions that guaranteed safe financial security, as oppose to humanities which were much riskier professions.
Developed countries, such as the US and UK, need to learn from the successes of developing countries and apply appropriate measures to close gaps. In my opinion, the success is attributed to three main reasons:
First, leaders in developing countries have come to realize that healthy economies required the participation of the entire population (men and women). And because they were lagging, they made a commitment to move rapidly to close the gap and make their mark in the global market.
Second, women in suppressed countries have been starving for opportunities. Once they saw a slit in the door (provided by their governments), they ran to push that door wide open, spread their wings and fly. After all, they have been waiting to prove their worth and take their role in society.
Third, it is a mindset. We need to disconnect muscularity from technology. The technical profession has no gender attached to it.
Organizations wanting to close the gender gap must not treat it as a numbers game! But rather, address the culture they embrace. The short video below demonstrates challenges women face in the workplace: How Did Tech Become So Male-Dominated?
Organizations need to take women seriously, making sure to involve them in key projects and meetings, have their ideas heard, and expose them to stakeholders and external networks. Women need to be given mentors, access to leadership development and most importantly, equal career growth opportunities.
Furthermore, organizations need to pay attention to issues important to women such as:
- Flex-hour/work from home policies
- Return from maternity policy (India has a 24-week maternity leave in the private sector)
- Daycare facilities
- Child support benefits
Finally, lets breakdown stereotypes! Do not assume all women want the same things, do not box them in one category. But rather, treat each as an individual with her own unique needs, values and career aspirations. If in doubt, simply ask. They will tell you.