There’s a history of gender inequality in the workforce, and the tech industry is no exception. Here are four ways to help address it.
I often think about the difficulty one of my idols faced on the way to becoming the first female employee of a male-dominated industrial engineering company. Despite her capabilities, the company had refused to hire her because she was a woman. Although that kind of obvious discrimination is illegal today, the gender gap persists, ranging from subtle to obvious, in every industry. The tech industry is no exception.
Gender bias often keeps women from entering or staying in the tech industry. We can see how women with same expertise as their male counterparts are still offered lower salaries or lesser opportunities. We see how a woman or a person of minority gender in a leadership position is not taken seriously for their abilities. We are aware of the premium put on how presentable we are, how good we look, how “cool” we can be. Change in the perspectives toward all genders—but particularly women in tech—and a drive to create culture of inclusion can play huge role in reducing and closing the gender gap.
Like any other needed change, the effort to close gender gap starts at home. As parents, guardians, friends, and teachers, we need to acknowledge that technology, programming, and electronics can be as interesting to a little girl as they are to a little boy. Likewise, they might not be interesting to a little boy at all. The ideas and assumptions around what it means to be “like a girl” or “like a boy” need to change. And for a change to happen, we need to teach our children how important it is to be a person, without creating a gender bias in their pliable minds.
The bias that starts in childhood extends into the workplace. For example, a pregnant woman, working at an engineering job that she loves, might be told to take a back seat on a project or assumed to only want short-term tasks. But of course, parenting joys and pressures are borne by men and women alike, making such assumptions often incorrect.
When people with varied home, community, and educational backgrounds come together to become a team, building a work environment that caters to inclusion and belongingness is key.
As a Marvel movies fan, I often think of one of my favorite quotes from those movies. “One can achieve anything once they realize they are part of something bigger.” That film quote is directly applicable to the “inclusion” aspect of our work environment. When someone mentions inclusion and diversity, many of us immediately think of it as HR’s responsibility. However, like security, inclusion thrives or dies from within the teams itself, thus making it everyone’s responsibility.
Irrespective of gender, each of us searches for the feeling of belongingness in the workplace. At times, we all find a work family with our own team. I often got to experience that sense of belonging in my teams. That feeling has enabled me to actively do better work, share ideas, and grow. The culture of inclusion in my team is a huge factor behind bringing together people with disparate levels of experience, backgrounds, and ideas, and getting them to work towards the same goal.
The movement toward change might start small, maybe even within just one team. But it can move on to bring about the change in the whole company. It can be as simple as becoming a good listener to your teammate, no matter what their gender is or how many years of experience they have. It’s about exploring and extending your personal ability to care about people, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. It’s about honestly conveying an important piece of professional feedback, so that the person receiving it can improve and contribute better. It’s about seeing individuals for who they are, without any assumptions or filters about gender or race or orientation. And it’s about trying your best to belong and including others.
It can take a while to educate individuals in a company and turn that tiny ripple into an ocean wave. In such cases, I find it’s best to lead by example. Self-motivated teams within a company can take up a proactive initiative to address gender bias. It might be that a person’s actions are performed without any intention of gender bias but are construed as such. It is key, in such scenarios, that the teams provide feedback to that person and make them aware of the feeling of bias.
Finally, it all comes down to how companies can avoid, address, and work towards removing gender bias. It’s a not an easy problem to solve. But it helps to look at gender bias from the minority perspective when finding ways to close the gender gap in a company.
I became a big fan of #HeForShe movement, when it started in 2014. The movement believes that gender inequality isn’t just a women’s issue, it’s a human rights issue. It’s a movement for all genders to stand in solidarity with women to create a bold and united force for gender equality.
Many of us have had allies who were not women. From a father who taught me how to fix my own bike and follow my own interests, to a husband who took a sabbatical so that I could commit to the job I love, I have been fortunate to have my share of #HeForShe support at home.
At work, having male colleagues and managers as allies for women teammates makes a huge impact on creating that gender balance. Often, terms like “feminism” and “sexism” are used only for and about women. In order to have gender balance, it’s important to understand that men can also be feminists and can take a strong stand against sexism. Cultivating such supporters is key to becoming successful with the balancing act for gender equality.
During International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, as a tech community, let’s take that simple step further to include all genders alike in a team. Let’s recognize a person working hard to grow in this industry and lend them a mentoring hand, irrespective of how they identify themselves. Let’s be a role model to other industries by creating a gender-balanced work environments. Happy International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month 2021.
If you’re interested in learning more about navigating gender diversity and women empowerment in the workforce, you can watch our two on-demand webinars featuring a panel of women from Synopsys: