The State of Women in Tech
Women represent untapped potential when it comes to fields like IT and cybersecurity — but how should businesses go about bringing women in and convincing them to stay?
As we discussed in our previous article, the tech industry has been experiencing a serious skills shortage for years — one that is only growing in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. As companies clamber to find new employees to fill their vacant positions, a large group of untapped potential remains: women. While gender equality has become an increasingly popular buzzword in recent years, fields like cybersecurity and IT have seen relatively little growth when it comes to female participation.
Today, women make up less than 30% of the workforce within the tech industry, and represent an even smaller portion (11%) of senior leadership positions. The position gap between men and women in tech also contributes to a relative pay gap, as women often find themselves in lower-level positions compared to their male counterparts. While many of the challenges women face in the field are structural by nature, there are some issues that individual companies can confront in order to reach into the underutilized pool of female talent.
The Challenges of Attaining Gender Equality in Tech
The problems of the gender gap in technical fields do not begin and end with individual companies. Much of the issue is tied to general societal expectations surrounding the role of women — both professionally and personally. These gender perceptions impact everything from the number of female students who study STEM subjects at school (64% as compared to 83% of male students), to the number of women who go on to study STEM subjects in college (30% of women compared to 52% of men), to the number of women who eventually enter and rise through the ranks of STEM industries, including IT and cybersecurity.
Unfortunately, many of these gender perceptions have been internalized by both men and women. That internalization leads to either conscious or unconscious biases that impact many womens’ ability to thrive within technical fields. In fact, research has demonstrated that women in male-dominated fields still tend to have fewer progression opportunities and have less focus placed on their career advancement by their employer as compared to men in the field. This lack of opportunity is one of the major reasons that women in tech have a significantly higher attrition rate than men.
Another major problem confronting many women in tech is the lack of female role models and mentors for them to turn to, both in the field and within their own companies. In the IT and cybersecurity world, women often come into spaces where they must combat existing perceptions of women in tech — in addition to facing all the regular challenges that accompany starting a new job. Having female support systems to turn to during this time can be a critical way to empower women in technical fields and help them build the confidence necessary to succeed in a male-dominated workplace.
Promoting Inclusion in the Workplace
Combating gender inequality in IT and cybersecurity is no easy task, but there are some key steps that businesses can take to make the women they hire feel welcome and valued so that they stay with the company — and in the industry.
- Begin with quality recruiting: Organizations may be dissuading female candidates from applying to jobs without even realizing it. With every job opening, they should think about the language they use — for example, opting for gender-neutral language over male pronouns — and engage in a thorough hiring process that looks to bring in a more diverse pool of applicants.
- Commit from the top: To reduce the problems of gender bias in the workplace, it is critical that unbiased behavior is modeled from the top down. Company leaders should take time to educate themselves about the nuances of gender issues within the industry so they can respond to pushback from employees or other stakeholders that may be disinclined to invite or promote women within the company.
- Promote flexible or part-time work where possible: Offering flexible work options can help attract a more diverse pool of applicants, especially because women often are assigned a number of other roles by society that can take up a large portion of their days. Businesses should not only work to offer these flexible options, they should also make sure that this work is not considered to be less important, and that it does not become a barrier to upward mobility within the organization.
Diversity Promotes Good Business
Hiring women and other underrepresented groups in technical fields is about more than fulfilling a societal obligation — diversity can have a major positive impact on businesses. Not only can it help combat the skills shortage by expanding the candidate pool, it can also drive innovation and growth by integrating a breadth of perspectives into the business. Such perspectives can help businesses make decisions informed by balanced views. Furthermore, by investing in female talent today, the industry will soon become a more welcoming environment with more female role models to usher the next generation in. In other words, investing in some talent begets more talent down the road.
That being said, there’s no simple solution for resolving the gender challenges within technical fields. However, if individual companies take steps to bring women into their company and challenge the gender perceptions within their own spaces, we can move toward more diverse and equitable industries.
Here at Turn-key Technologies, Inc. (TTI), we hope to continue to promote and engage in topics related to gender equality in IT and cybersecurity. As part of these efforts, we’d like to formally encourage women to apply to our open Network Engineer position. We know that the tech world still has a long way to go when it comes to gender equality, but we hope to make meaningful steps that promote change in the industry. We look forward to seeing your applications!
By Craig Badrick