Climbing the career ladder is difficult for anyone. However, did you know that in tech, even fewer women succeed?
The tech industry has always been one step ahead when it comes to innovation. However, there’s one thing the sector seems to lag behind: gender diversity. As of 2022, women hold just 26.7% of IT-related jobs, while just 38% of women with a computer science degree actually end up working in their field. From education to employment, being a woman in the IT industry comes with many challenges, including pay gaps, lack of representation, workplace gender bias and unequal growth opportunities.
It's no secret that women in IT do not have the most conducive environments to thrive. Although studies have repeatedly shown that businesses benefit from more diverse leadership, female CEOs and executives are still very much the exception in tech. Today, women hold less than 20% of all leadership positions in technology. More specifically, only 19% of women hold tech senior vice president roles, while less than 15% of female IT professionals make it to CEOs.
Even though progress is being made to improve gender imbalances, there is still a long way to go to achieve equal opportunities and representation in leadership roles for women in IT. The good news is that there are many things we can do to support female tech workers to climb the ladder and encourage more women to pursue careers in this diverse and rewarding industry.
In the first part of this article, we'll discuss why the tech industry needs more female leaders and why women remain underrepresented in leadership roles.
Don’t miss out on Women in IT (Part 2): Creating a Future for Female Tech Leaders to find out how women can navigate their way up the corporate ladder and what organisations can do to support them.
Why Does Tech Need More Women in Leadership Roles
A comprehensive study by Gallup revealed that organisations with a gender-diverse workforce perform significantly better than those dominated by one gender. And this is only one of the many reasons why the IT industry – and the world – needs more women in leadership roles.
Women Leaders Are Good for Business
There is a growing body of evidence – supported by research and organisations across the globe – that having a more diverse workforce, including an equitable gender balance in leadership, makes for a better business. Diverse teams are more innovative and perform better than single-gender teams. This is because they share different experiences, viewpoints, ideas and market insights, ultimately leading to better problem-solving and decision-making.
Hence, just adding one woman to the management team can be the catalyst for improving a company's productivity and overall performance. With more women in leadership roles, fresh perspectives and significant improvements are more likely to occur - from better serving a diverse customer base to improving skills in areas where women excel, like attention to detail and emotional intelligence.
Women Understand Women’s Needs
Women make up more than 70% of all consumer purchasing decisions worldwide, and the global female consumer market is worth more than the consumer markets of China and India combined. Yet, only 15% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are female. This just doesn’t seem right. When you are a player in a $20 trillion market, having women who understand female users’ or consumers' needs and desires in critical leadership roles is no longer just a nice thing to have – it’s essential.
Women Attract Diverse Talent
The value of having women leaders also extends to attracting more diverse and skilled candidates. Companies with a substantial percentage of female leadership are perceived as ones that understand all of their employees' needs and are more likely to win and retain top IT talent. This aspect of workplace diversity is becoming increasingly important today, as many large economies – including tech – are facing talent shortages.
Women Are More Effective Leaders
The myth of men being the best natural leaders is just that – a myth. In all business sectors, examples of successful women outperforming their male colleagues abound, and recent data from Harvard Business Review presents even more compelling evidence that this bias is incorrect and unwarranted.
According to the research, women are perceived to be slightly more effective than men at every hierarchical level and in every functional area of the organisation – including the traditional male bastions of IT, operations, and legal. The research also found that women executives scored higher than men in most leadership skills, such as taking the initiative, acting with resilience, practising self-development, driving for results, and displaying high integrity and honesty.
Women Are Better at Engaging Employees
As a result of the different roles they have to play throughout their life, women tend to be more empathic than men. Empathy, women's greater superpower, enables female managers to naturally tune in to their team's emotional needs, be better listeners, communicate more effectively, and be more open-minded to diverse points of view.
Communication is also considered one of women's most significant abilities. Due to their enhanced communication skills, female managers excel at collaboration, engaging in meaningful and constructive dialogues, and creating stronger team bonds. Empathy and communication abilities allow female leaders to influence and engage others more effectively while enhancing the working environment for their teams.
Women Are Better Leaders During a Crisis
When it comes to the careers of women tech leaders, there’s a phenomenon referred to as the “glass cliff”. This phenomenon describes the idea that when a company is in trouble, a female leader is put in charge to save it. But why are women handed the reins when times are tough?
According to a recent Harvard Business Review research, women tend to perform better in a crisis, demonstrating competencies that are considered crucial during an emergency, as well as vast interpersonal skills. Moreover, female leaders are more aware of their team's fears and concerns during a crisis, express more interest in their employees' well-being than their male counterparts and showcase more confidence in their plans.
Women Leaders Can Help Bridge Gender Imbalances and Pay Gaps
Despite decades of development, gender imbalances and wage gaps still exist in organisations and workplaces. Clearly, the unconscious bias that women don't belong in senior-level positions plays a significant role in preserving these inequalities. One possible and practical answer to closing the gender gaps is offering women more IT leadership positions.
From a position of power, women could better support other women in their workplaces by ensuring equal opportunities and fair salaries for all. Additionally, they can act as role models, encouraging other women to enter their field, as well as mentors, supporting their female colleagues to develop their careers further and thrive.
The Current State of Things – What Is Holding Women Back?
Living in a biased world, women are often forced to endure a journey filled with countless stumbling blocks. Unfortunately, the tech industry is no exception. Especially for the women in the sector that aspire to reach the top, the challenges they face on their way up the ladder are many – ranging from unconscious biases and notoriously gender inequality to the absence of role models and limited opportunities for career advancement.
1. Gender Gaps in STEM Degrees
The gender gap in technology starts at school and carries on through every stage of a girl's and a woman's lives. Females aren't considering technology careers because they are not given enough information on what working in the sector involves and because no one is putting it forward as an option for them. Below are some interesting findings from a PwC study with over 2,000 A-Level and university students:
2. Lack of Mentors
Mentoring plays a vital role in supporting employees to advance their careers across all sectors. Still, there is something about the nature of technology that makes access to mentoring programmes even more critical – especially for female professionals. As women are the minority in a male-dominated industry, they're more likely to experience imposter syndrome, fear of failure, or lack of self-confidence. Therefore, apart from the technical guidance, women can particularly benefit from mentoring as a means to build that confidence, enhance their skills, and set achievable career goals.
3. Lack of Female Role Models in the Field
Female role models are an incredibly effective way to encourage future generations to choose an IT career and inspire other women in the sector to advance their careers. The effect of role models is based on the concept of “seeing is believing” Interestingly, this works at multiple levels. When women see other women in senior tech and managerial positions, they find it easier to imagine themselves in those roles and are more likely to put themselves forward. In addition, when they see women in leadership positions, they are more likely to speak up for themselves and build confidence in their industry.
Unfortunately, the lack of female role models in the IT field today is discouraging for women, and it is also reinforcing the perception that a technology career isn’t for them.
4. Women's Representation in Big Tech is Decreasing
While the tech industry struggles to attract more women, retention of those who enter the field has also been an issue. The percentage of women in all IT-related careers has, in fact, decreased over the last two years by 2.1%. Based on reasons cited by women who left the industry, biases, lack of opportunities, weak management support, discrimination and harassment in the workplace are the most common reasons that lead them to leave their tech jobs.
5. Leadership Position Gaps – Unequal Opportunities
While there is evidence of progress, the numbers show that women still have a small share of tech leadership jobs. When it comes to climbing the corporate ladder, fewer women are able to do so, and it seems like the higher the job position, the fewer opportunities there are for women. The gender gap for women is even more pronounced when it comes to funding and entrepreneurship opportunities.
6. The Gender Pay Gap
Women are not only underrepresented in tech but also making less than their male counterparts, and this gender pay gap is evident regardless of education. The salary discrepancy between men and women is closely associated with the gender opportunity gap. When men and women begin their careers from the ground up, the former are often given more opportunities that could lead to higher-paying leadership positions.
7. Gender Bias and Workplace Culture Issues
There are many factors that contribute to the dearth of women at senior levels, but unconscious bias might be the most significant. People have long believed that women do not aspire to the highest ranks of an organisation or that they lack the skills to be effective leaders. These kinds of stereotypes are not only shaping hiring and promotion decisions, but they are also discouraging women from advancing their careers in IT. And stereotypes die slowly.
Unfortunately, apart from keeping the number of women in key positions low, unconscious bias is also behind other gender inequality issues, such as unequal salaries and opportunities, gender discrimination and even workplace harassment.
8. Lack of Female Visibility
In the tech world, the "bro culture" still dominates the landscape, and unspoken expectations about how women should behave often lead them to stay "invisible" in the workplace. Many female IT professionals report that they feel expected to keep quiet, passive and humble – in contrast to the loud, bold and promotion-encouraged men – in order to fit a role.
Additionally, women are often tasked with "invisible work", such as daily tasks of no great importance, which often goes unseen and unrecognised by others. Hence, it's even more challenging for women in the industry to prove themselves and their abilities to get promoted.
9. Insecurity and Lack of Confidence
There are many obstacles in the IT field that may drive women to feel more insecure when attempting to reach the upper part of the corporate hierarchy. The lack of female role models and the astonishingly low number of women leading the tech industry alone are enough reasons to prompt women to settle in their positions and develop a fear of climbing the ladder. Furthermore, women often lack confidence in navigating a male-dominated workplace and have difficulty balancing work and personal lives, discouraging them from pursuing positions with greater visibility and responsibility.
10. The "Broken Rung"
Did you know that the biggest obstacle keeping women from advancing in their careers is the first step from entry-level positions to manager? In other words, the “broken rung”.
The term “broken rung” was coined following a five-year study by McKinsey & LeanIn.Org, which showed that women in entry-level jobs were less likely to be promoted to the first level of managerial positions. According to the data gathered from 590 companies, for every 100 men hired and promoted to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired. As a result, more women are getting stuck at the entry level.
But this early inequality also has a long-term impact on the talent pipeline: Since men significantly outnumber women at the manager level, a small percentage of women are left to be hired or promoted to senior managers, and the number of women decreases at every subsequent level. So, even if the promotion rates would improve for women at senior levels, they could never catch up with men. Simply put, a broken rung constantly constrains women's progress at the top of the ladder.
So what can we do to change this narrative?
How to Get More Women Leaders in Tech
Evidently, women make highly competent IT leaders, and what is holding them back is not a lack of capability but a shortage of opportunities. While there are still systematic problems to solve when it comes to gender parity in tech leadership, change is possible, and it starts with action.
Whether you’re a woman in tech or an IT leader who wants to diversify your team, don’t miss out on Women in IT (Part 2): Creating a Future for Female Tech Leaders to find out how you can navigate your way up the ladder and/or how you can support other women in your industry to advance their careers.
Did you know that a more diverse and inclusive approach to recruitment is the first step towards achieving a more equitable future in tech?
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