Women in Tech and Business: We Need to Band Together.
This past March, I was invited to be a part of, Janes Of Digital, a panel discussing topics on the many issues facing women in the industry of digital marketing and beyond. It was nice to have a safe, open, non-judgmental discussion.
Men and women from various companies and job experiences, diverse religions and cultures, and different regions of the USA, attended the panel discussion. One thing brought this wide-ranging group together: we were all there to celebrate the contributions of women in the tech world and to find ways we could, as a group, mitigate some of the concerns women raised.
We were glad to see men also participating in the discussion. When one attendee addressed a question about the men’s presence at the panel discussion, a gentleman responded “The question shouldn’t be why we (men) chose to come to an event like this, but where are all the other men and why aren’t they attending this tremendous event?”
And I wrote recently an article about the challenges I face as a woman entrepreneur and echoed those challenges in the panel. I don’t apologize for being successful in my field, and my success isn’t due to some innate female attribute that make me appropriate in this role.
Just earlier this year a Linkedin connection commented that maybe the reason there are some leading women in digital marketing specifically is because this niche deals widely with understanding people.
I cringed when I read that.
According to the author of the comment, “women” can understand people better. The comment seemed to echo a lot of what we used to (and still) hear about the appropriate paths that women should specialize in. It doesn’t fall short of what the Google Manifesto was claiming either.
We all know that women are highly capable of achieving whatever they put their minds to. But, does our world condition women to follow certain paths over others? And how much do women contribute to this conditioning.
There is onus on us.
Men have a lot of work to do, but we women do to. From just normal life experiences I can tell you that countless number of female friends feel many times that males are better suited, or more capable at certain jobs.
For instance, OB-GYNs, 9 out 10 of my female friends prefer a male because they are “just more skilled and talented.” 7 out of 10 of my female friends shame me about my worklife and business related travel because of the impact it has on my kids. 100% of females I have talked to think that women are poorer drivers than men. 100% of my female friends feels pressure to get married and start a family if she has surpassed 30 and has not yet. And the list goes on.
I did this sampling amongst a small group of friends (around 30), so certainly, there is no scientific conclusions that can be extracted. However, there are trends that can be noted.
Reflecting on my own experiences, many times striking a conversation with a male is easier than female at networking events. At business meetings, I have found it much easier to get respect and positive response from men over women.
So my question is why are we so harsh on ourselves? Why aren’t we helping each other more and banding together for greater success?
The societal conditioning that happens to men happens to women as well. And sometimes, we aren’t even aware of some of the prejudices we have against each other until we are faced with a situation where we come face to face with reality.
Societal impacts on the female psyche
Despite the fact that women have greater access to higher education and workplaces, they are still struggling and facing challenges to participate in certain fields traditionally ruled by men. The issue of sex-segregated professions is not off the table yet.
“Pink-collar jobs,” as the term was largely defined in Louise Kapp Howe’s book at the end of the 1970s, were recognized as best performed by women, for not demanding the physical strength associated to blue-collar tasks nor the skills associated to white-collar roles. These jobs included positions as elementary school teachers, nurses, librarians, telephone operators, shop assistants, secretaries. The Class in America Encyclopedia best defines it:
“Like blue-collar jobs, jobs at the pink-collar sector are viewed (often wrongly) as requiring less skill or education and of including less critical work. Pink-collar work is generally not manual labor and often requires little physical strength, and thus, it is sometimes seen as not hard.”
With the 1970s long gone, it’s hard to believe these stereotypes still exist and are held by educated individuals, not excluding very often, women. A survey conducted between Jan-Feb 2017 brings disappointing and strikingly discouraging results.
This might sound as an overestimation but the stats don’t lie.
The chart below shows the percentage of citizens who think that women are less capable than men in performing certain tasks.
In the workplace, women face the extra challenge of proving themselves because ultimately many co-workers consider women to be less capable than men when it comes to performance. This prejudice shapes people’s perception and behavior towards their female counterparts and consequently affects women’s performances.
Studies have documented the huge effect stereotypes have on performance. Stereotypes bring about a phenomenon called ‘stereotype threat,’ which is a constant fear of confirming a negative stereotype within a certain group.
Numerous studies by long-time researchers have shown as well that stereotypes not only shape men’s perceptions about women but they also have a bad effect on how women see themselves and ultimately generate fear, lack of faith and self-confidence, and make them believe that some workplaces are male bastions.
Gender biases and female stereotypes play together to negatively affect decision-making processes career-wise. Both early encouragement and the choosing of a career get shaped by these biases and stereotypes. Hiring and promotion processes on workplaces also get affected, which explains the low rates of women in the tech industry.
Stereotypes and biases condition, in a way or another, women to follow certain jobs and neglect other opportunities.
How Do These Challenges Affect Women in Various Sectors?
The United Nations released a report on women’s current position compare to men in education and the job market.
The number of women to graduate in science, engineering, manufacturing, construction, agriculture, and services are drastically lower than those of men. Especially in the field of engineering, where, on average, out of 20 women only one graduates compared to one out of five among men graduates as demonstrated by the figure below.
It gets worse. When it comes to the gender gap in labor force participation, only 50% of women are working, if not less, compared to 77% of men. This gap gets even larger in certain fields and other parts of the world. Women are also significantly paid less and they earn only between 70 to 90% of what men are paid.
As the image shows, over the past 50 years, women have paved their ways into many domains and professions dominated by men, in record numbers.
The percentage of women working in biological science grew from 28% to over 50%; they became the majority in the field, through an increase of 23 percentage points. Chemistry and material science saw an increase of 31 percentage points, with women reaching 39% of the workforce. Still, they haven’t accomplished the same in engineering; as only 12% of engineers are women.
In the technology world, gender inequality tends to be severe and highly obvious. According to a diversity record released by google on its labor force, the rate of women working in the tech sector was only 17%. This ratio proved to be disappointing especially for a workplace that has been always regarded as a diverse one.
Another disturbing figure in this record was the number of female leaders in Google tech sector. Only 21% of women holds substantial positions in the firm, out of 30% which is the overall percentage of women working in the whole company.
We all know now how much the manifesto echoes what is happening at Google and across tech sectors. Google is not the only high-tech company failing in diversity and gender equality in this industry. At world’s most powerful companies women hold minor positions.
According to a study conducted between the years 1995–2014, on the number of female CEO’s in Fortune 500 companies, the results were again discouraging because they didn’t reveal much progress over the past two decades; only 26 females were at the top of these company in 2014.
Despite the increasing numbers of women entrepreneurs over the past decade or so, which is impressive, the participation of women in tech field has been always dominated by negative signals.
This can be attributed to the already listed factors and linked to the matter that women are not given enough space or trust to reach their full potentials in this field.
Conditioning happens at a young age
Women of course aren’t impacted by those only after they reach the workforce. This “conditioning” starts at a very young age, and very often with our own families. It’s something society is breathing down our throats at all stages of our lives, and we are continuously fighting the tide. Many give in, because it’s simply not easy to keep fighting.
The way we raise our girls, educate, compliment , and challenge them; ultimately shapes their perceptions of what they can and cannot do. And the majority of people echo how society conditions them (and how they were raised). Which is why, almost 100 years after women suffrage we still face issues. And it’s why 40+ years later, society tends to hold similar views to women’s abilities as opposed to men.
But change is happening.
With education and providing opportunities for young girls, there is hope that this notion that women are better suited for specific jobs, and this “conditioning” can be mitigated.
There are also amazing groups dedicated to raising awareness and working with female leaders, entrepreneurs, tech experts, and more. Janes of Digital, Code-like-a-girl, womenintech on snapchat, to name a few.
As a female entrepreneur in a sector ruled by male majority, it is never easy to work or to be acknowledged in a world where men dominate. Most of women entrepreneurs are still facing several challenges in this industry.
As culture and the economy feed off each other, there are plenty of solutions that could be implemented to change set of mentalities and overcome these challenges. A good start would be sharing women’s accomplishments in this industry and get more females in the technology and business fields by supporting one another.
Another fundamental change, which probably will have a tremendous effect on how people perceive women, is through getting more women voices at the table of policy change within government and companies. The women voice can help with cultivating more diversity and insights throughout the organization.
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