March 8 is International Women’s Day.
This means your social media feeds have probably been rife with inspiring quotes, stock photos of women laughing in the board room, clipart of women from different backgrounds holding hands, and profiles of “powerful women in tech” — many of which will feature the hashtag #BreakTheBias. However, the unfortunate reality is that no amount of feel-good female “empowerment” will be enough to fix the fundamental gender inequality in tech.
In 2020, the World Economic Forum estimated it would take 100 years to close the “global gender gap”. Only a year later, they revised that estimate to 136 years – mostly due to setbacks experienced by women during COVID 19.
Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director and Head of the WEF’s Centre for the New Economy and Society wrote: “The Covid-19 pandemic has raised new barriers to building inclusive and prosperous economies and societies. Pre-existing gender gaps have amplified the crisis asymmetrically between men and women”.
Data shows that women are greatly under-represented in technology.
As you’ll see from the infographic below, women are greatly under-represented in tech as compared to the global workforce, and that representation has actually decreased since 2020. It’s also important to acknowledge that the complex intersection of gender and racial discrimination have led white women to be overrepresented compared with women of color: 14% of US women are Black, but Black women account for only 1.7% of women in tech.
The gender imbalance in tech makes it very common for female tech workers to be outnumbered by men in their workplaces; nearly three-quarters of women in tech reported being outnumbered by men 2:1, and more than a quarter said they were outnumbered 5:1. And the gender imbalance only gets worse the farther up the ladder you go.
(How does iQmetrix’s gender balance stack up against the wider tech sector? While we still have work to do, 39.7% of all roles at iQmetrix are held by women and our current leadership — those with Vice President titles and above — is 50% women.)
These imbalances and other “leaks in the pipeline” don’t just happen naturally. Rather:
Hiring discrimination and harassment are common for women in tech.
Women in tech routinely experience hiring discrimination. Once hired, they are paid an average of $15,000 less than their male counterparts. And once on the job, it’s extremely common for the male-dominated culture of tech to create workplace environments hostile to women — nearly three quarters of women in tech report having experiences with “bro culture” that made them feel excluded, unsafe, or uncomfortable.
As such, it’s not surprising that three quarters of women in tech report having experienced gender bias or discrimination—an increase of 24% since 2019.
One likely reason for that sharp increase?
Women have disproportionately suffered the impacts of the pandemic and recent tech layoffs.
The past three years have been hard for everybody, but they’ve been hardest for women. Women were twice as likely to be affected by the layoffs and furloughs that happened at the beginning of the pandemic. Additionally, lack of supports for working parents during the pandemic caused nearly a million working mothers to exit the workforce. And even after the end of lockdowns and social distancing, women continue to be disproportionately affected by layoffs.
When laid out, the numbers seem pretty stark, but unfortunately…
Men in tech don’t see these issues with the same level of seriousness as women.
Nearly two-thirds of men in tech don’t think their company has a diversity problem. Less than half of women agree, and only a third have seen their companies make any effort to close the gender gap. Men also have a rosier view of progress — in that many men think things are getting better while most women do not.
Given this mismatch in perception, it shouldn’t be surprising that two-thirds of women in tech don’t trust that their employer would handle allegations of harassment appropriately.
A necessary coda: true equality requires equality for people of all genders and backgrounds.
The research that is currently available only tells part of the story. Nearly every study into gender equity in tech breaks down their results according to only men and women (including our own, although we’re working toward changing that). This means there is virtually no research being done into the experiences of non-binary tech workers, which is a huge problem as Gen Z continues to age and enter the workforce—5% of adults younger than 30 identify their gender as different to the one assigned to them at birth.
It’s also very uncommon for these gender equity studies to examine how experiences of gender discrimination overlap and are magnified by experiences of racial discrimination — which is also endemic in tech.
All of which goes to show that there’s no quick fix to #BreakTheBias. The reality of gender inequality in tech is complex and multi-layered, and companies looking to improve their record on gender equity need to address all aspects of discrimination happening in their organization.