Women in tech: opening pathways to equality
Women in tech face significantly more obstacles in their careers than men in tech do. Women make up just 27% of the tech workforce, and 50% of women in tech leave the industry before they reach the age of 35.
In Part 1 of this article, we spoke to Amanda Elam, CMO at Bloomreach, about things that could help improve the pipeline of women in tech and help sustain them in their careers. In Part 2, we heard of some specific policies at Bloomreach which are being deployed to equalize the workplace for women in tech.
Towards the end of Part 2, Amanda mentioned the layers of imposter syndrome that are frequently heaped onto women in tech, both from an external, socialization perspective of “women don’t do jobs like this” and from a perspective of women feeling uncomfortable to be their authentic selves while in an environment mostly filled with men. We asked her more about the origins of these “imposter” phenomena.
Women in tech: inequality dissected
Imposter syndrome’s a complicated issue, isn’t it? It goes all the way back to the problems we met with the pipeline. It’s that early divergence where boys are told “You can do this, and conquer the world,” and girls are very often not told anything like that. They’re told that’s not a pathway that’s open to them, and that’s not a space in which they belong. So if, as a woman, you’re in that space, imposter syndrome is imposed because nobody else thinks you should be there, because they’ve all been taught the same way.
Hanging with the boys.
Yeah, but it’s also grown to be more sneaky than that, too. The language has shifted, so now girls are told “You can do anything you want!”
And then when you do choose to do things like engineering and tech, there’s a weird reaction of “Oh, wow… fine.” Like “Ok… you can hang with the boys.”
And it’s like, “Wait, why is it that I can hang with the boys?” It’s still that surprise reaction that when you tell us we can do a thing, we actually go ahead and do the thing.
I can tell you from personal experience when I growing up, I was very strong-willed and had a very loud opinion. And the number of times that I was told that I was “bossy” – when no boys were labelled that way for being equally loud. My last name is Elam, I was called “the Elam boy.” It set me apart, and I “was not a normal girl.”
That led to a lot of insecurities that I had as I became a woman. So I think that it’s more that shock and surprise we get when we actually do the things that people are now at least encouraging girls to do. Society’s still shocked when girls act outside what we expect of them.
That moment of “Really? I can hang with the boys? Because that’s really not what you told me I was doing. You told me I could follow my own destiny, wherever that led me. But because I chose this, I’m just… hanging… with the boys?”
Right, exactly. That’s it. Why can’t I just be great as a woman in tech? Why is that not supposed to be a thing?
How do we deconstruct that? How do we bridge that gap of surprise and get to a place where the reaction is just “No, really, you absolutely can do this”?
It’s so tough. We’ve made progress with women in leadership. But if we stay at the pace we’re at, it’s going to take us more than a century to just achieve parity.
There’s a structural element of the male-female dynamic that we need to be appreciative of, and there are genuinely a lot of women whose preference is not to move forward in their careers in big ways. They want to stay home and they want to raise kids. And I think we need to societally allow for that. We need to say that’s acceptable, and that’s okay, and make that still an absolutely comfortable and acceptable and valuable choice.
The literal interpretation of a woman’s right to choose – but there should be support in place to make those choices economically and socially valid either way.
The complex equation.
For men as well, that’s another part of it – we’ve made these stereotypical gender roles, and instead, it needs to be an option to stay home. An option to be an engineer, an option to be this, that, or the other, and just de-gender identify the options collectively.
And we need to build structures in work that align with the natural tendencies of caregiving, and there are going to be people, men or women, who are the primary caregivers, so we need to make it really easy for them to have a job and be home.
Women in cyber part two
Then there are going to be people who aren’t the primary caregivers – but how do we hold them accountable for not taking advantage of the fact that they don’t have these huge things at home and make sure that they’re being treated in the same way, that we’re not oversubscribing or over-rewarding someone because they’re working a lot more hours. It’s a very tough balance to get right.
I don’t want to see my kids make the choice to become 90-hour week workers. I want them to have a great work-life balance, and hobbies, and enjoy life.
That’s something that hasn’t actually come up before. Assuming we achieve a world and a corporate structure where everyone has that sort of judgement-free ability to make the choices that work for them, where there’s the allowance for caregiving because that’s a natural part of being alive… how then do we readjust the grading of Person A, who worked 90 hours a week, and Person B, who didn’t because they were also in a caregiving role? It becomes very much more complicated than just gender equality, doesn’t it?
Yeah. Then it becomes about how we instill a fairer reward system that takes account of work-life balance and work-life pressures. How do we get away from a system that rewards people for what I would say is an unhealthy commitment to work?
In the final part of this article, we’ll delve into precisely that question – and try to evolve an answer that doesn’t involve the complete dismantling of capitalism.
25 September 2023
21 September 2023
20 September 2023