Gender equality isn’t a new fad. People have fought decades to get the right to education, vote, equality, and representation for women in the past centuries. However, we are far from actually achieving it. Even and especially in tech, women and their participation and contribution have been denied or overlooked. Every year we speak about bringing measures, opening discussion forums, and signing petitions, yet we are left wondering if it was all for deaf ears at the end of the day. By nature, technology is perceived as progressive, which unfortunately does not mirror when it comes to women’s voices in tech. Indeed we have more coding programs, STEM career options in the educational sector, still the statistics are appalling. The pressure and momentum for change are louder than ever; however, books do not see beyond white male domination in the tech sector, from Bill Gates to Edison. So, where are we failing?
Why it Matters?
Technology is the most powerful tool in the world. It shapes how we live our lives and enables us to create new businesses and solve problems at unparalleled speed. Unfortunately, this would not lead to the rounded development of a society. This is because of a lack of diverse leadership and voices. Most of the ‘experts’ will purport to issues like differences in labor market expectations, family/work balance, lack of ambition, interests, self-esteem, and self-confidence as the reasons behind broadening the gender gap. In reality, it is the stereotypes and how we continue to project a woman’s success. For instance, when husband-wife duo Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo won Nobel Prize for Economics in 2019 for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty (along with Michael Kremer), Indian dailies reported the news as ‘Abhijit Banerjee and his wife won the Nobel for Economics.’ This may not seem like a huge deal, but this is exactly how we start dismissing women of their contributions, including in tech.
Now, coming to biases that emanate either consciously or unconsciously about a gender’s talent, skills, and ability having irreversible effects on the society. From signing up at extra math summer camp classes to choosing AI as a career, from recruitment to performance evaluation and pay, the biases end up acting as a wrecking ball. What is even worse is when the biases that perpetuate in real life find their way to the software algorithm, hence having a terrifying power to jeopardize careers before they see the light. One cannot emphasize how gravely things can escalate once biases find a way to everyday technology. The Gender Social Norms Index report from the UN Development Program (UNDP) shows that about 99.81% of Pakistan’s people have at least one sexist bias against women. Qatar and Nigeria follow Pakistan with 99.73%. These figures loosely portray why we do not see many women tech experts or scientists from these nations.
Are Enrollments Enough?
Yes, we are encouraging more female students to take part in STEM, but if you look deep, this is not enough. A 2015 study by PWC in the UK highlights that females aren’t considering technology careers as they aren’t given enough information on what working in the sector involves and because no one is putting it forward as an option to them. Meanwhile, in many nations, females don’t have access to reliable internet connection or lab resources, or merely primary education, not due to poverty but patriarchy unwilling to invest in a girl child’s future. Additionally, it’s not enough for young women to gain competitive technical and soft skills. We also need to provide them with the support system, mentorship, and networks that will allow them to truly accelerate their careers—E.g. Women in Technology International (WITI).
Time to Invest
Then we have investors, as our bottleneck towards ensuring gender equality in tech. Morgan Stanley’s Sustainability and Global Quantitative Research teams had advised in their 2017 research paper that lack of women in technology companies isn’t just a question for academic research and industry debate; it should also be of interest to investors. This issue stems from the various beliefs like women may not be serious in Tech career later, merely because women are viewed as a submissive and non-leader figure in science and technology. Ironically, it has been observed that having a diverse tech team can better risk-adjusted performance, increased productivity, more incredible innovation, higher employee retention. All of these are critical factors for improving a tech company’s odds of staying competitive. A McKinsey report states that tech companies that respect diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Plus, tech companies’ recent public struggles on gender-related issues have demonstrated real, immediate costs resulting from a lack of inclusion and diversity. These comprise up of the lost stock value, lower market share, HR costs, and public relations costs, among others.
So, to surmise, the tech pipeline may be leaky when it comes to gender equality; now is the time to look beyond the basics. Find out the leak spots, broken parts, and loose fittings and take action of fixing them. We can no longer afford to take a back seat in the drive toward equality. Lastly, it is time; we treat our feminine peers are equals, and not just “Women in Tech.” Technology has no gender orientation, nor science, why should people who strive to bring a change not get equal opportunities.