We’ve all heard about gender inequality in tech. Women simply aren’t thriving in one of the most promising fields in the United States — and not for lack of talent. And here’s the truth: It’s not solely a problem for women. It’s a problem for men, too. In just five years, there will be a million unfilled computer science–related jobs in the United States, which according to our calculations could amount to a $500 billion opportunity cost. Tech companies are producing jobs three times faster than the U.S. is producing computer scientists. There are incredible opportunities here. We need women to help fill these jobs, and we need them now.
The reasons why women and people of color are not pursuing computer science jobs are complicated. I’ve thought a lot about this over the past 16 months, as I’ve directed my documentary on the subject, Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, and I believe there are four main reasons women don’t thrive in tech. Here they are:
First and foremost, this is a culture problem. There’s a stereotype of a software engineer based on media representation: mid-twenties, hoodie-clad dude who hacks strings of code while eating pizza and drinking Red Bull to the early hours of the morning. As with many stereotypes, this doesn’t paint the most appealing picture. It’s not the most aspirational image for a young women.
Few Role Models
This leads to another reason there’s a gender imbalance in tech: the lack of female role models. The adage “you cannot be what you cannot see” is true. Young girls and people of color have very few modern-day role models in tech. By featuring potential modern-day female role models, Advancing Women Engineers aims to fill this gap by presenting an outstanding woman making waves in engineering, no matter what her specialty, to an audience seriously lacking that inspiration.
At many universities, there’s a drop in female enrollment after entry-level science classes that should welcome all students, regardless of their prior knowledge of the subject. Instead, women entering their first-year classes too often suffer from negative ambient belonging or imposter syndrome based solely on the feedback they receive as females looking to study the field. Take, for example, AWE’s recent interview with Daniela Cortes. Daniela’s male classmates were so biased that they started a bet to guess how long she would last in the program. Her response? “Just watch me.”
As was the case with Daniela Cortes, the issue of pain, old-fashioned sexism still finds its way into the engineering fields in 2020. Sexism might not present itself as it did in the 1960’s “Mad Men” era; instead it is latent, subtle, but still present. It could be not being heard in a meeting or a classroom discussion. It’s the assumption that if you’re the woman in the meeting, you’re either the admin or you brought the coffee. It’s being interrupted, it’s not being given the chance to prove yourself.
What do women do about these challenges? Certain common solutions have surfaced time and time again: women should be more assertive; we should stop apologizing all the time. We should ask for raises and believe we are worthy of that raise. Younger women should find a sponsor – not just a mentor, but a true sponsor who will go to bat for their career.
Above all else, women need to support women. We often must work harder than men to prove our worth in the workplace, which means sometimes we don’t look up from our desks in order to reach out and support a coworker. Finally, we need male allies, because we need each other in the workplace. Teams that include women are more productive, have a higher collective IQ, and achieve more. Teams with women have a broader perspective that results in the creation of products to serve a greater breadth of humanity. Women offer diversity, and diversity drives innovation.
This article was written using Robin Hauser Reynolds’ TED Ideas article. To read more about her work, click here.