We all know there’s a gender gap in tech, especially in leadership positions. I’ve felt this in the workplace, often being the only woman in a technical role. Despite this, the companies I worked at implemented changes that made me feel more comfortable and supported as a woman in tech. Here’s what they did.
Why there are fewer women in tech
The difference between women and men in the technology industry is not a recent thing that companies are trying “to fix”.
Education, especially at the college level, is considered one of the big barriers to the gender gap in tech. While girls perform on par with or better than boys in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects at school, far fewer women choose STEM subjects at university as patriarchal notions of STEM as a field for men persist. This translates to fewer women choosing STEM careers.
Fewer women in tech also makes tech a less attractive industry to women, creating a self-perpetuating cycle. Discrimination, lack of representation in leadership positions, a male-oriented work environment and salary gap are additional reasons women aren’t attracted to the tech industry.
I’ve been working in tech for eight years. During this time, I’ve had the opportunity to work in places where companies decided to actively bridge the gender gap in tech. Here are some examples.
Job offers for women only
I worked in a company where the tech team consisted of 25 people, and only three of them were women. To address this imbalance, HR only offered tech jobs to women.
How you write the job ad matters
Research shows that women don’t apply for jobs where they think they don’t fit the requirements 100%.
Previously, women candidates the company reached out to declined to start the interview process because they thought they didn’t meet 100% of the requirements. I also did this when job searching. The job description has a list of required skills, and as someone who doesn’t meet them all, applying feels like an inevitable failure. So, it seems best to avoid failure—and applying—altogether. However, often required skills are desired and not essential skills that the company gives you time to learn.
To attract women to the role, HR changed the job description to show that the company is inclusive and is actively trying to improve gender diversity through employment equity: ”Diversity is only possible with opportunities, and we understand affirmative vacancies as policies for the inclusion of people who are underrepresented in the job market".
The job advert was written in a less intimidating way where all the requirements weren’t essential—some were listed as desirable. And candidates who didn’t meet all the criteria were encouraged to apply: “If you don’t meet all the criteria, but you do believe that this is the right position for you, we kindly invite you to apply anyway or get in touch”.
Here are some great resources around writing job descriptions in ways that encourage women to apply:
“Career jumps” for women in the company
Computer science careers don’t attract a lot of women, but it’s not due to lack of skill. The majority of the time we’re not encouraged to consider these areas when studying because they’re considered a “men’s field”. Because there isn’t significant representation for women in an industry that also has a dominant “bro-culture”, it can be hard to find women with a tech background, experience or education.
So, instead of only trying to find women with a tech background, experience and education, why not look at the ones that are already in the company and are curious or just waiting for an opportunity to jump into the tech world? That’s what one of the companies I worked at did. They paid for training for women wanting to switch to tech careers in the same company. Women from marketing, sales and customer service switched roles to developer. It was an amazing initiative!
Make women engineers more visible to girls
The lack of women in high-level tech positions is because we have fewer women in the industry. How we do solve this early on? To encourage girls in school and university to pursue STEM education and careers, it’s important that they see women in tech who are doing well. By seeing women in technical roles and in leadership positions, they’re able to see that the industry is for them too.
One way to do this is to arrange speaking events in high schools and colleges with women developers as the main speakers. I did not have that in the beginning of my career, but I had the opportunity to represent the company that I worked at in a college to talk about my routine and why I chose the tech area. This was a great initiative driven by the company because it really motivated some of the girls, and it’s something I wish I had.
Hire more women tech interns
A college tech internship is an opportunity to see what it’s like being a real developer and what a tech career entails.
As an intern you don’t necessarily need a tech background or experience, which reduces the barrier to entry for these roles. Combined with the initiative to offer roles to women only, internships expose young women to tech and can help them become more passionate about the area.
I had the opportunity to mentor an intern when I was a mid-level developer in a company in Brazil. After some weeks mentoring her I realised that I became a reference developer since I was the only woman in the team before her.
My mentee initially only felt comfortable discussing questions with me instead of the tech lead. Through our interactions she gained confidence and could share her ideas and questions with everyone. Eventually, she became a permanent part of the team after seeing that she wasn’t alone on the team and would have the support of another woman.
As her only woman mentor, it motivated me to study more, help her with daily activities and recommend interesting articles about fundamental development concepts to her. I improved a lot of some of my soft skills and became more confident because I felt I was not “alone” in the team. It can be tough being the only woman on the team can be tough because you feel unheard and you are treated without credibility, even with many years of experience.
As a woman in tech, it’s difficult because you feel like you have to prove yourself to your male colleagues, so you need to work harder, not “seem like a woman”, and also need to champion gender equality in your team. But knowing that your company has your back and is actively trying to bridge the gender gap makes you feel less alone.
- Why Is There Still a Gender Gap in Tech?
- The Gender Gap is Hurting the Tech Industry: It’s Time to #BreaktheBias Now
- The gender gap for women in technology
- Women only apply for jobs when 100% qualified. Fact or fake news?
- Are Women Too Timid When They Job Search?
- 10 Ways Tech Companies Can Recruit More Women
- How to Recruit more Women: improve your Job Postings
- 10 initiatives for women in tech
- 5 Signs of a Bro Culture
- ‘Bro culture’ and why it’s still an issue
- Job description female friendly