International Women’s Day – Sexism in IT

  • March 9, 2020

Having just celebrated International Women’s Day yesterday, it’s time to focus on the state of gender equality in the UK tech industry. And, the truth is, that though there may have been definite progress over the last 20 years, the picture still pretty bleak:

Only 17% of technology roles are filled by women.

Take a look around your department. Really take a look. If your workplace reflects the current statistics, only 1 in 6 tech specialists in the UK are female, according to WomenInTech. Only 1 in 10 IT leaders are female, too. So female representation in tech is pretty dismal, and worse, although those stats represent progress, that progress has stalled over the last decade when compared to the first of this millennium.

Discrimination in tech careers is still prevalent

In a study conducted by CWjobs last year in July 2019, it revealed that women in IT are still subjected to what they refer to as a “staggering” level of sexism and sexist comments from co-workers and managers.

There are some stand-out clangers revealed in this study, including more than 60% of women have been told their achievements are “not bad, for a girl”. 60% of women have been asked if they are moody because they are on their period, and 47% have been told they will leave their careers to “go off and have babies”. “You’re too pretty to work in this job” is the stinging backhanded ‘compliment’ that half of women surveyed claimed to have received.

Half of the women surveyed said they had been told, or it had been implied, that their gender would hold them back in their career. 1 in 3 women had experienced being told they had only achieved a position as a result of positive discrimination, to improve diversity statistics within an organisation.

These facts are embarrassing.

That highly qualified, educated, skilled professionals are reduced to the sum of their facial features or body parts in a professional environment in this day and age is beyond unacceptable.

CWjobs teamed up with comedian Fern Brady to devise office-appropriate comebacks to common sexist comments from male co-workers, including encouraging women to remind their male counterparts of some facts of life: When told that female brains are not as naturally logical or technical as the male variety, they should retort that women “live longer than men so have more time to learn”.

CWJobs also advise women to call out sexism when it happens, though are understanding of how that might not always be practicable. If you are the victim of sexism, no matter how “mild” or “harmless” it may appear, you are encouraged to at least broach the subject with HR so that improvements can be made. Many men will be shocked to understand that calling a female colleague “love” simply isn’t the done thing anymore.

Though we are wary of avoiding the term ‘not all men’, it is encouraging that the majority of male tech professionals do not align with these outdated, sexist views or behaviours and want gender parity and an end to this sexist office ‘banter’.

It isn’t all doom and gloom for women in tech

Even though there is a clear disparity between the numbers of women and men employed in tech roles, at least the gender pay gap in the tech industry is one of the smallest. Big businesses are also eager to close the gap even further.

One of the prevailing reasons behind this positive turn is the ongoing skills gap ramping up the value of tech skills and experience, regardless of the gender of the individual those skills are attached to. A qualified, skilled, experienced developer is basically like gold dust to corporations, irrespective of their chromosomes or childbearing potential.

With the skills shortage not set to end any time soon, the only way is up for women in tech. Many organisations now champion ‘unconscious bias training’ for tech employees who may not realise they do actually hold a deeply ingrained prejudice that prevents them from valuing or seeing the contributions of female workers in tech as equal. Even if they feel they are consciously not behaving with prejudice or actively believe in equality, those unconscious inherent biases can influence behaviour and decisions without awareness.

The latest New Year’s Honours list showcased a strong presence from women in tech, many of whom were featured in Computer Weekly’s 50 Most Influential Women in Tech 2019. The list included Sharon White, former chief executive of Ofcom, who was made a dame.

Another notable entry was Sheila Flavell, Group Chief Operating Officer for FDM , who was listed under the Commanders of the Order of the British Empire for services to gender equality in IT and graduate and returners employment. Flavell is passionate about supporting women to excel in tech roles and sits on the main board of TechUK and Women in Tech Council.

Women have a bright future in technology careers

Currently, only 7% of those taking on a computer science A-level are female, and only half of girls who study technology-related subjects at school go on to work in a job within the same field.

The emergence and growth of NotForProfit schemes like DigitalHer is introducing school-age girls to female role models who have excelled in technology careers, encouraging uptake of STEM-related school subjects and sparking interest and passion for science and technology early on.

The organisation, which started in Manchester, ran a roadshow across Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs in 2019. In addition to bringing their message that “If she can see it, she can be it” to 1,200 young women, they also upskilled 200 educators from more than 100 schools and created 10 work experience opportunities. This translated to almost 500 hours of industry experience for budding female technologists, and throughout the campaign 68,000 employer interactions were established.

There are absolutely huge opportunities for women joining the IT industry, as more organisations orchestrate a cultural shift which incorporates stamping out casual, everyday sexism and appreciating the value of women’s contributions in tech. Work begins at foundation level to spark interest and confidence in school-age girls that they are what the technology industry needs for high-performance and continued growth.

To find out more about where your career in IT could take you, we would love to have a discussion about your goals and current opportunities. Contact our experienced team of recruiters today to find out more.

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