Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Women are leaving tech and management is responsible

Suitcases at Dereham Station, Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/leshaines123/8019214719)

In the past year, we’ve seen a message getting repeated over and over, women technologists don’t feel welcome and safe in the tech industry and are leaving in droves due to hostile working conditions.

And then recently this: I almost left Tech Today, Here’s why.

It’s disgraceful. I am disgusted, as a colleague, as a mentor of several women, as a parent of a 13 year old daughter who is interested in STEM, as a human being. This needs to change.

I am not innocent either.

Management is responsible

As managers, when any member of our team mistreats women in our org, we are responsible.

We set the tone, culture, and values for the company. We say what behaviors are acceptable and allowed. We either act or turn away when those values are violated.

Many companies look the other way and may issue a minor slap on the wrist for violations. If we do that, make no bones about it, we are perpetuating the problem.

How to stop Gender bias

This article has some great advice on steps that we can take within our organizations to help promote a healthy environment for women.

Don’t be exclusive

Giving your attention and time to those who look like you in terms of age, gender, race or academia reinforces unconscious bias.

One way to address this is to reach out to women technologists inside and outside of your organization to see if they can help find more diverse talent. This post also has 10 great tips for how to recruit more women.

In short, diversity attracts diversity.

Develop a core value system

This value system should focus on fair treatment and respect for others. A basic human right, but one that we can often forget or overlook in the heat and pressure of daily life.

Upper management should ensure these values pervade the entire organization. This includes having diversity training, particularly for managers. Beyond that, the values should be broadcast loud and clear, including externally, on the website, marketing, etc.

A lot of the horror stories, such as the ones I have linked to earlier, seem to stem from lack of an established value system. Establishing such a value system means there should be accountability and a system to address when these values are not adhered to. One way to do this is to establish a Diversity and Inclusion group within the org. The group consists of champions for the values who spread awareness and propagate the positive culture. In my current org, this is something we are getting off the ground.

Change your lens.

Try using an unconscious bias lens when considering job promotions or how you interact in teams. We all are biased to some extent, but consciously becoming aware of it and taking action to address it will benefit us all. Don’t be that person excluding others in a meeting; recognize your unconscious actions and don’t let them hold you or others back.

This is something we all can do regardless of our role. Once we aware that biases exist, we can be mindful of them within ourselves and take proactive action. The first step to changing the status quo is awareness.

Let’s take an example of unconscious bias. You might have a team member who mentions she is leaving early due to her family. Unconsciously you might translate that to thinking she’s not committed to the team. Now imagine it is a man who mentions he’s leaving to coach his little league team. Would you perceive it the same way? Unconscious bias might lead you to react differently.

Here are some different ways to gain awareness and change your perspective.

  • Be objective. Easy to say, hard to do. Consciously try to be aware of your own biases. It does make a difference.
  • Talk to women and hear their stories. Don’t pass judgment, just listen and learn.
  • Read, as there is an abundance of literature on the topic.
  • Attend workshops and training.
  • Get involved with organizations that are working for change. This will have a double benefit of helping to increase your awareness and also helping to actually make a difference.

How to stop mistreatment of women

Previously, I mentioned the importance of accountability. This is key in order to actually bring change. Misogyny should not be tolerated. Managers cannot look the other way when the company values are breached. Managers should not be excused for their team or for their own violations. Make sure there is a system in place for reporting violations. Make sure punitive action is taken when necessary. We need to take a hard stand.

Read the articles I mentioned at the beginning of this post, look at the stories of abuse and discrimination. If this is happening in your organization, make it stop.

Management can stop women technologists from leaving

The situation for women technologists is dire and unacceptable, and many are leaving the tech industry. Management is responsible and we can make a difference. Be part of the solution. Join me and commit to making a change.

Getting involved with The National Center for Women and Technology is one great place to start. Supporting Organizations like Jewelbots, Women who Code, and Girl Develop It is another. Whatever you do, don’t sit idly by. Be an ally for change.

What thoughts do you have on how to change the status quo? What’s worked in your organization. Please share in the comments.

Special thanks to Rachel Appel,, Sara Chipps, Cate Huston, Kim Maida and Donna Malayeri for taking the time to review and advise on this post.