It’s no secret that tech has become a male-dominated industry. The press has discussed at length the gender discrimination prevalent throughout the tech sector, resulting in everything from pay inequities to sexual harassment. Study upon study has shown that women with the same educational backgrounds and experience levels as their male counterparts aren’t receiving the same opportunities for pay raises, projects, or promotions.
While some in tech point back to education for failing to engage and prepare women for roles in the industry, Bloomberg’s Sarah McBride explained that the smaller number of female computer science graduates isn’t to blame and that the industry makes too much of its “pipeline problem.”
“In fact, many tech offices can seem less accommodating to female workers, especially with frequent reports of harassment and sexism. This may deter women from applying even for less technical roles or leadership positions,” McBride says. “Merely getting more women to study software provides no guarantee that the graduates will seek careers in technology or stay in those jobs if they find them.”
The statistics surrounding women in the tech sector can be demoralizing, but this public “flogging” of bad behavior brings the darkness into the light so it can be changed — not so it can remain.
Working Their Way Up — or In
The strongest deterrents to the prevailing atmosphere in places like Silicon Valley are, of course, companies that strive to welcome women and women who find success despite the odds. As more examples become well-known, they’ll begin to feel mainstream — and dilute the impact of the bad apples that came before.
Christina Kline worked her way from an intern to a developer at JVZoo, an online software affiliate marketing solution. She said her work as an intern gave her insight into the business logic of how JVZoo was run and enabled her to create small features, mainly for the administrative side of the site, to help facilitate everyday tasks. Although the development team at the affiliate program was all men, she wanted to earn a spot on it.
“I fell in love with making small adjustments to existing websites,” Kline said. “The more I worked with them, the more intrigued I became with the way code in general works.” She enjoyed working with a team to put pieces of code together, and she viewed the shift from her college’s own predominantly male computer science program as a challenge. Her impact on the affiliate network’s team has been felt: JVZoo is pioneering career paths for women in tech and now boasts a development team that’s one-third women.
Sande Chen entered the video game fray at a significant disadvantage: As Gamasutra reports, men represent 95 percent of the video game industry and make about $15,000 more than women on average. She transferred her film school knowledge to the gaming industry, believing the arena left a lot of room for creative screenwriting. While there weren’t many opportunities available, she focused on teaching through speaking, writing a book, and starting a nonprofit to help other women join the industry. And she had the bona fides to back her up: She was architect of the 1999 Independent Games Festival winner, an MMO Hall of Fame inductee, and creator of the 2007 PC RPG of the Year, for which she scored a Writers Guild of America Award nomination in video game writing.
Her take on the industry’s “big, invisible sign that tells women to stay out:” “I had to be really persistent and keep at my goal. There were times when I felt like I was clawing my way up. To know that so many people cherish a game that’s occupied my life for months, that is success to me.”
What Tech Companies Can Do
Those are examples of women who have managed to hang tough and make an impact on their industries or companies. What can leaders do to meet them halfway and welcome women to tech?
1. Make success look achievable. While forcing women into the limelight can make them seem more like an anomaly than part of the mainstream, highlighting how women have found success in a particular company can make both the opportunity and the company feel accessible. Great recruiting revolves around showing people what’s possible, so highlighting possible career paths, common trajectories, and available training and professional development can not only get women in the door, but can also make them feel they have the ability to grow.
2. Create a mentor program. Both women and men should mentor fledging women contributors. While women can reflect their reality and experiences, helping other women climb the ropes, male mentors offer benefits as well — including ensuring that mentors don’t simply help those who resemble them make progress at the company. Mentors can help women in tech navigate tricky situations, explore opportunities, and develop their skills so they can make a greater impact on the company as a whole.
3. Make tech opportunities visible. A company’s best engineer may not even know she has the natural talent to become one. Because so many programs and workplaces divert money and attention toward men in tech, women who have an aptitude for tasks like programming or analysis may not realize what those roles entail or how they could contribute. By hosting lunch-and-learns or department profiles at company wide meetings — or simply introducing opportunities during one-on-one meetings — companies can ensure that women know their options and can opt in to learn more.
While the tech world hasn’t been entirely welcoming to women, the tide is set to turn. Women and companies that partner together can not only make a real impact on their businesses’ bottom lines, but they can also influence the industry — and change the conversation.