The tech industry is a dynamic sector that encompasses a wide range of businesses and innovations, from software and app development to artificial intelligence and robotics. With its rapid growth, building a more diverse and equal industry has become more complex but more important than ever before.
Traditionally, the tech world has been a male-dominated space and this has resulted in a significant gender gap across different tech fields. While much progress has been made in recent years, there is still an obvious disparity. Today, women make up less than a third of the world’s workforce in technology-related fields. The recent tech layoffs have also been devastating, with the research indicating that 69.2% of those laid off were women.
In the panel, ‘Championing Women in Tech’ at Tech Week 2023, General Assembly brought together an inspiring group of women from all over the world to discuss more on closing the gender gap and advocating for women in the tech space.
Moderated by Ruby Pryoy, Lead UX Researcher at Grab, the panel included:
- Lily Okamoto, Freelance Product Coach
- Stephanie Brown, Global Head of Brand at Inuit
- Yolanda Lee, Founder & CEO of Uncommon
- Vida Asrina Dhulst, Head of Design at Endeavour Group
Gender discrimination is still very real
It is reported by Women in Tech Network that “many women in STEM careers are more likely to leave within the first years compared with those who aren’t in a STEM-related job.” Retention is also a clear issue as women continue to face significant obstacles in pursuing careers in tech, including pay gaps, lack of representation in leadership positions, and even harassment and gender discrimination.
Even for our panel of strong women with established tech careers, the divide is still something they experience day-to-day.
“When we were in a meeting with clients, and with some vendors, I noticed sometimes that the vendors will direct questions, and ask for approval from other males rather than females in the meeting,” Dhulst explained when describing her own experiences with gender discrimination at workplaces. “It’s almost that unconscious bias that they’re seeking for an agreement from male fellows.”
Coming from an advertising background, Brown also experienced discrimination in ways that were small but sharp.
“I had contributed so much of my work to a pitch,” Brown said. “I collaborated with the right people, and did all the right things, and for some reason, I wasn’t going to be invited to the pitch. I asked why, and they said that they needed the senior people in the room, and I realised they were all men.”
While she was invited to the pitch, a male colleague dropped a remark that it was because they needed a woman in the room.
“I wish I could go back in time and say something because it was in front of other people,” Brown said. “There were other women that were hearing it too.”
These testimonials are extremely telling of how there is a lot more that can be done to help women feel more empowered and confident in the workplace. Lee highlighted that these seemingly ‘small’ incidents can “lead to how [a woman’s] performance is perceived” which can become detrimental for a woman’s career in the long run.
Gender equality Is equity for everyone
Removing the bias and promoting equal career opportunities remains the number one reason why advocating for women is so important.
“The possibilities are unlimited [when we embrace gender equality],” said Dhulst, when asked about positive gains from a more gender-equal industry. “People consider tech roles as male jobs, even though we need more females in the tech world. But, it is starting to get more attention. Like even the fact that we have this panel talking about women in tech or even kids [of all genders] learning how to code and all of these types of exposure. Hopefully, it will be very normal, and recognised that the tech industry is just another field for everyone.”
It was also refreshing to hear from the panelists that advocating for gender equality is something that far extends beyond just empowerment for women.
“I really believe that female liberation is male liberation. When you look at the systems in the workplace, we also put men in a box in terms of how they need to behave and how they can’t necessarily show the full spectrum of emotions,” Lee explained. “Nowadays, true equality is to be able to embrace both [men and women] in the workplace.”
Achieving gender equity in tech is part of a much larger movement for a more diverse, empathetic, and inclusive world for everyone.
Small, actionable steps to combat workplace discrimination
When asked about steps women can take to actively advocate for themselves or other female colleagues, the panelists were able to share practical ways on how to do so.
“It’s tricky when I think about how [taking action] can impact my own career in that company.” Okamoto suggested that it’s about assessing the organisation’s culture and being willing to take the risk to start a dialogue.
“I think speaking up in a public channel is definitely a risk, but this way, more people could jump in to bring life to the conversation,” Okamoto explained.
Building on this, Lee added that everyone could be a better ally through learning more about individuals or diverse groups.
“I would say that there’s a lot we can do to support underrepresented people, whether that’s women or other underrepresented groups,” Lee said. “… if you notice that someone has been interrupted in a meeting, then you can be that person to kind of bring it back and let them know they’re not alone. I think that these small steps really matter.”
Brown outlined the measures taken by her company, Inuit, to drive equality. This included doing a complete refresh of job postings and removing any biases in the description.
“If you feel like you’re powerless to make organizational change, start having a dialogue with people that might be able to,” Brown said. “I think a lot of HR and other leaders will find that so powerful, and it might be just a question on how we can strip out more of the bias out of our job descriptions. And it might just turn a light bulb on.”
Indeed, having the courage to take that one small step could result in a ripple-effect that may potentially bring about systemic change for women in tech.
Advice for all women looking to be in tech
“When you can’t find the role model that you are looking for, be the one,” Okamoto declared as she described how hard it was to find representation in the large tech companies she worked at.
The other panelists shared similar sentiments with Dhulst raising the importance of self-belief.
“Embrace yourself fully,” Dhulst said. “Everyone will make mistakes. Everyone has a perception of you, but at the end of the day keep pushing through, it has to start with you. You believe in yourself, then others will do, too. If you don’t, then, there’s no way.”
Brown supported this by encouraging women to be bold in showcasing your worth and fighting for it.
“Ask for the salary that is one below the one that makes you laugh,” Brown said. “So if it was 100K that was making you laugh. Then, right under it — just ask for that.”
It is important to continuously address the existing gender gap in tech and provide equal opportunities for women. Conversations through various mediums and platforms — just like this panel — have to continue so employers can foster an environment that is safe, inclusive, and diverse for all workers.
GA is committed to championing gender diversity and inclusion at all levels. Our Break the Glass Tuition discount aims to present opportunities to underrepresented groups pursuing software engineering, data analytics, and data science careers.