It's fair to say that in terms of equality we, the people, have come a long way but I think what most people fail to realize is the actual length of the road. While efforts have been made to close the gap as it relates to gender and diversity, the tech industry is still behind. Even with successes there's a mighty long way to go, and that's why rally cries for equality and diversity are still being heard globally.
The call to action is loud and clear, and as recent as this past week, a rally was held in New York City for Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that aims to close the gender gap in technology. History has painted technology a man's world, an idea ferociously being challenged. Over the past few decades, the assumed roles women should/would/could play in tech have been defined and defined, but as is evident by Google's recent "memo" scandal from a former engineer, the struggle, sadly, is still real.
The question some will pose is why diversity is so important? If all qualified people happen to be male, what's the big deal? Well, the question of "qualification" is so riddled with biases itself that the question seems laughable, but let attempt to answer. Men and women are different, and while that is both factual and debatable depending on who you ask, in the workplace those differences should, and can be, celebrated and utilized for optimization.
Gender equality in any workplace inspires a broadening of thought and problem-solving. It deepens a company's well of resources, and it expands a business's customer base by mirroring its workforce with the market it caters to. Alicia Navarro, CEO of Skimlinks, believes the whole point of diversity is to gather minds that think differently. She states, "Too many people thinking, in the same way, leads to blind spots. By having different types of people working together on a problem, you are more likely to identify innovative approaches...".
Simply put, diversity breeds innovation and while that sounds logical, in the tech market women are still greatly under-represented. Judith Spitz, a former Verizon CIO, recently noted that of the STEM disciplines, tech has actually seen a decrease. She goes on to explain that low levels of employment for women in tech are exacerbated by lower levels of women in leadership roles. Typically women occupy the lowest levels, if they are there at all. Of the many reasons why this underrepresentation is a problem economic fairness is at the top.
"Currently the highest-paying tech job in the New York market is an application developer, and 80 percent of these jobs are held by men. The lowest paying job in the tech field is as a medical lab technician, and more than 60 percent of those jobs are held by a women," states Spitz. These percentages, however alarming, are accurate and may directly correlate to why there is a 50 percent regression rate of women with careers in STEM, according to the Harvard Business Review. When considering career advancement, why wouldn't a woman in tech choose to abandon ship when her chances for achieving a leadership role seem abysmal? Women have career aspirations equal to their male counterparts, and with stats exist like of the 41 Fortune 500 companies in the technology sector, only 5 have female CEOs, women received the message of their accession limitations loud and clear.
Further contributing to the gap may be the actual awareness, or admission, that a problem still exists. Yes, there is a greater presence of women in tech but being the only woman in a room at a young startup, or walking into a tech juggernaut and seeing the only woman in the joint sitting behind the receptionist's desk should be alarming; yet, it's still happening even while most businesses are on full diversity alert.
VC funding, rarely discussed as a potential culprit, is noted by June Sugiyama as a potential reason why women continue to be absent in tech fields. She names the closed loop of the heavily male dominated VC process in the tech community as an issue. "Male VCs invest in male-led startups, then end up on the boards of those startups, which grow into major male-led tech companies. To break the cycle of male-dominated tech companies, we need to also look at this male dominated VC cycle." She goes on to say that once the VC process is totally inclusive, diversification of investments that serve the other half of the population will follow and the presence of women will increase.
Stats show women make up about 50 percent of the professional workforce in the US and that number is dramatically decreased for the percentage of women who work in the tech field. There is a lot of attention on the huge disinterest from the younger female generation who want to be involved in technology. It's not that girls feel they are incapable of doing the work, but maybe the problem lies in a limited knowledge of exactly what the scope of that kind of work can be.
"Women tend to take (for whatever reason, be it cultural or biological, I don't know) to careers they perceive to be creative and people-oriented. So let's do a better job of showing the world how creative and people-oriented engineering jobs can be," explains Navarro. Appealing to the younger generation and showing them just how vast their experiences and contributions can be in tech, might spark more interest. If stats are to change, there has to be a hunger and thirst for women to participate.
Technology is literally taking over our world and the industry is incredibly attractive to both men and women, but we must ensure women want to take part. This is a goal both women and men working in technology should equally aspire to achieve. Creating job-shadowing programs at your company and volunteering to teach outside the classroom, are just a few ways inspire the next generation girls in tech.
Slowing down must not be the reaction to progress; in fact, perceived progress is precisely the time to dig in and charge ahead. That's where we are on this issue. Closing the gender diversity gap in tech is not a women's issue but an industry issue. In technology, diversity has seen a lot of progress but it continually needs addressing. Both within and outside of the workforce, diversity and productivity evolution are directly connected. It is necessary for advancement and its institution creates an incredible environment for productivity. What Navarro says sums it up, "I think all humans should strive to create opportunities that allow us to exercise our strengths, and to be self-aware and realistic of our own weaknesses or inabilities, and finding ways of working with others who balance those weaknesses, so together we can succeed."