Surprise, surprise: lack of female role models and gender bias among key barriers facing women in tech, survey finds

- March 7, 2017 3 MIN READ

Ahead of International Women’s Day tomorrow, global IT association ISACA has released a survey looking at the barriers facing women in tech, with a lack of female mentors, a lack of female role models, and gender bias in the workplace cited as the three biggest issues.

Coming after a torrid few weeks, with new reports emerging recently of the harassment faced by female employees at Uber and other tech companies, the survey findings will surely not come as much of a surprise – at least not for women (or anyone who’s ever seen the results of just about any other survey on this topic); just eight percent of the 500 women surveyed by ISACA stated they had never come across gender bias in the workplace.

While it has sometimes felt like the tide may have been shifting over the last year or so, with more programs and initiatives launching to encourage more women into tech and boost those in it, 87 percent of survey respondents stated they are concerned about the number of women in the sector.

Among the primary reasons for the underrepresentation of women in tech was the fact that tech leaders or role models are largely male, with 33 percent of respondents highlighting this as a key factor; this in turn leads to the perception that IT is a male-dominated field and, as the saying goes, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. Almost 80 percent of the women surveyed reported having a direct supervisor who is male.

Then there’s the issue of work/life balance and lack of flexible working options afforded to women, while 14 percent of respondents also believe there’s a problem with the pipeline, stating that educational institutions do not encourage girls to pursue tech careers.

The leaky pipeline was highlighted in a recent report from PwC, which surveyed 2,000 A-Level and university students in the UK and found that just 27 percent of female students said they would consider a career in technology, with only three percent saying it is their first choice. Furthermore, only 16 percent of the females surveyed stated that they had had a career in tech suggested to them, compared to 33 percent of males.

Jon Andrews, PwC head of technology and investments, said, “Getting more females into technology doesn’t just make smart business sense, it means that organisations can develop and deliver emerging technology solutions based on a broader range of perspectives that are fit for their entire customer base.”

For those in tech, pay disparity is, of course, also a problem. The ISACA survey found that 43 percent of respondents saw their male colleagues being paid more “without reason”, with just 23 percent stating that men and women are compensated based on merit.

Krysten McCabe, director in the assurance and advisory management program at The Home Depot and former board director of ISACA, said, “The first step to encouraging more women to pursue a career in technology is educating current technology leaders that gender diversity in the workforce is valuable and important.

“One of the things that I have noticed through my interactions with leaders in the male-dominated technology field is that these leaders believe their teams perform as successfully with or without females as a part of them. That is incorrect thinking.”

The figures to dispute this thinking are out there: First Round Capital in 2015 published a report on 300 of its portfolio companies and their almost 600 founders that found teams with at least one female founder performed 63 percent better than those with all-male teams in terms of increase in company valuation since the firm made its investment.

McKinsey too reported in 2015 that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to financially outperform those in the bottom quartile.

Another factor here is ethnic diversity; the same McKinsey report found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to financially outperform those in the bottom quartile.

The issue of ethnic diversity is an interesting one. The statistics may still be awful, but with the ‘women in tech’ issue now essentially a part of mainstream conversation in the tech community, there is an argument to be made that when we talk about boosting numbers, those who benefit most are white women, as white men in leadership positions being told to hire women will first look to hire from the same socio-economic or cultural backgrounds as their own.

This argument was highlighted today by Aubrey Blanche, global head of diversity and inclusion at Atlassian, who argued in Recode that white women in tech must do more to “harness their privilege to help create diversity”.

“[T]he truth is that focusing on ‘women’ as a category is reductionist and counterproductive, and overlooks an important fact: White women have privileges not afforded to their sisters of colour that significantly impact their ability to get hired, thrive while there and rise in the ranks in greater numbers,” Blanche wrote.

Image source: Ghada Sleiman.