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Why Aren’t There (Still) More Women of Colour and White Women in Tech?

...And Why We Need to Rethink "Women in Tech"

A few weeks ago, I was delighted to find out that I had been nominated in the prestigious UK’s Top 50 Most Influential Women in Tech awards longlist. Computer Weekly runs the annual scheme, and each year the website and digital magazine asks the tech sector to name those females it believes have earned the sought-after top 50 places. The longlist was first made public in 2017, with more than 160 nominations, growing to 430 in 2020. The scheme as a whole has been running since 2012, when only 25 women were featured. Computer Weekly also aims to make sure that, each year, nominations are as inclusive and diverse as possible.

Less Than 1 in 5 Tech Workers are Women

Awards like this are extremely important in shining a light on the gender inequalities that remain in the technology sector. Especially at the senior level, women are not working in the UK’s tech sector in the numbers they should be. UK government figures show that, in 2019, there were 180,000 women in professional IT jobs, while the year before the figure was 181,500, so numbers have even dipped slightly, following years of consistent growth. Meanwhile, the number of male tech roles leapt by 60,000 posts between 2018 and 2019, meaning the percentage of the workforce that was female dropped from 17.4% to 16.4% during this time.

The Gender Pay Gap in Tech is Greater Than the UK Average

Equally, the 2019 Ivanti Women in Tech survey, which spoke to 800 women, found nearly half (46%) indicated the industry must narrow the gender pay gap if more female workers are to be encouraged into the industry. Towards the end of last year, it was revealed that, in UK tech firms, the gender pay gap persists, with women taking home just 79p for every pound their male counterparts earn. (Since 2017, all UK firms with 250 or more staff have had to report pay gap figures every financial year.) That means a disparity of 21.5%, greater than the 17.9% difference that’s seen across all UK employment sectors. And the pay gap lingers despite digital roles typically attracting higher salaries than the national average. In 2018, salaries grew 2.4%, more than the average of 2.2% seen across all UK industries, yet the pay difference remains.

According to Wired, in terms of major Tech firms, the gender gap based on average hourly earnings, in 2019 was follows:

  • Facebook – 11.9%, with women also earning 43% less in bonuses

  • Microsoft – median difference of 7.9%, 13% in bonuses, 22% in top pay quartile are female

  • Google – median pay gap of 20%, 30% in bonus pay, just under a quarter (24%) of staff in highest-paid quartile are female

  • IBM – median pay gap fell 14.6% to 11.7% in 2019

  • Apple – Women earned 85p for every £1 earned by a man, while 85% received a bonus compared with 93% of their male colleagues and those bonuses were typically 42% lower

Women in Technology receive Vague Feedback

Researchers at Stanford University point out to one reason why there are so few women in leadership roles in technology: the vague feedback that women tend to receive over their careers; by analysing performance reviews from 3 large tech companies, the research uncovered some big differences in the feedback given to men versus women. Women were less likely than men to receive specific feedback tied to outcomes; this was true both for praise and constructive feedback; by contrast, men were offered a clearer picture of what they were doing well, how their performance was impacting the business and what they needed to do to get promoted.

The study also found other gender differences in performance reviews, specifically in language. When women were praised they were twice as likely to receive feedback on team contributions versus individual accomplishments which could hold them back during performance calibration and promotion discussions.

Women were also described as "supportive", "collaborative", "helpful" twice as often as men and received 76% of the references of being too aggressive. Men’s reviews include words like "drive", "transform", "innovate", "tackle" twice as often as women.

Let’s face it: the language used to describe men represents highly valued traits in many industries. The language used to describe women is subjective and difficult to interpret. Another research shows that suggestions for improvement for women focused on personality, emotions and tone, those given to men were more concrete, direct and actionable. These dynamics can disadvantage women at promotion times. Without specific documented accomplishment, it is hard to promote someone.

When unconscious bias comes into performance appraisals and feedback, it can lead to inaccuracy and unfair treatment based on age, gender, race, ability, religion, appearance, sexual orientation and other traits. Members of all under-represented groups may struggle to obtain constructive, actionable feedback, meaning they will have a harder time improving their performance and advancing in their careers. Giving them constructive, actionable feedback based on company's outcome keeps them from moving into visible roles. Do your part, remember to give everyone equitable feedback!

Women of Colour Face Specific Obstacles in Pursuing Tech Careers

Less than 10 percent of all tech professionals are women of colour according to NPower, a large nonprofit tech training program in the USA, which released a two-year study.

According to the study, women of colour reported more incidents of stereotypes or discrimination in the workplace (28 percent of female graduates compared to 9 percent men). 35 percent of women of colour were more likely to be assigned administrative tasks like note taking in a meeting compared to 29 percent of males.

According to Susanne Tedrick, author of 'Women of Color in Tech', some of the challenges that women of colour face when seeking a career in tech, include bias in recruiting, lack of sponsorship and mentorship, not having diverse and inclusive environments; however, Susanne points out that it is a larger conversation that includes economic, social and cultural barriers; some women of colour may not have the support in their own communities, some may not have access to educational institutions, some may not have the money to attend certain programmes so it is important to talk about the entire context of the pipeline to get an accurate example of those barbers. Susanne highlights that women of colour have particular barriers in tech because in that sector, there is so much that needs to be learnt and if women of colour don't have access to the resources they need early on, it can be more difficult to have a career in tech. Susanne highlights the importance for women of colour to build a network because it will get tough and they will need to rely on their network to get through those tough times. According to Susanne, there are stereotypes that most careers in tech involve software engineering or coding but there is so much diversity of roles in the tech industry and depending on individual's interests and passion, women of colour can pursue other roles in the technology sector beyond coding.

The Pandemic Disproportionately Impacts Women in Tech

The current coronavirus crisis is also having a disproportionately negative impact on female workers in the sector, who are more likely to lose their jobs, bear the brunt of childcare and feel under pressure to be productive than male colleagues. That’s according to software review firm TrustRadius, which surveyed more than 700 tech professionals in the US for its second yearly Women in Tech report in March 2020 before publishing an update in the light of the coronavirus and how it has affected female IT staff.

There’s no reason to believe that female employees in the sector won’t be feeling the same way on this side of the Atlantic. While I’m thrilled with the Computer Weekly Women in Tech award longlisting, so much work still needs to be done before we achieve anything approaching genuine equality in the tech industry.

So What should be Done?

The deep and systematic inequalities women face in the workplace, particularly in the technology sector, are still alive and very real. Unless leaders take significant responsibility and action to address the systematic obstacles faced by women in the sector, nothing will change. There are many things CEOs and top leadership teams can do, from setting goals tied to monetary compensation, to implementing sponsorship programmes, to setting up Employee Resources Groups, to supporting women-led organisations and vendors, to partnering with specialised gender diversity consultants. However, the main factor in changing the status quo is leadership buy-in and commitment at a personal level, as many studies have demonstrated that leaders must now move from cheap talk to meaningful action. Women can also build their own network by attending meetups, networking events and other conferences, using linkedin and attending virtual networking events. Women should investigate what career path might be relevant for them in tech as we need many more women of colour and white women in tech to address a lot of the issues that will be coming up in the technology industry.

At Inspired Human, we specialise in helping startups and larger Tech companies achieve more gender diversity through diversity and inclusion training and programmes. You can book your complimentary 60 minutes diversity consultation today:;

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