From a young age, I had strong support from my family, especially my parents, to enter the technology sector. However, not every girl or woman has the same empowering forces behind her. With the US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicating that women represent only about 25% of those employed in computer and mathematical occupations, it is important to champion the technology successes and STEM interests of women and girls not only on International Girls in ICT Day, but every day.
From a cultural perspective, the stereotype that feeds into the idea that Asians are good at math and science played into my pursuing an engineering career path. Growing up in an Asian household, the choices for a career that my siblings and I had were either medicine, engineering or finance related. Those were considered the best careers – the most understood and supported by my immigrant parents.
Although the path topursuing technology was straightforward for me, women often must prove themselves in this field, whether in university or the workplace. In my experience, I have seen that in the hiring process, it seems women are sometimes judged based on their experience and ability to do the job, and men are judged based on their potential to do the job. If we do earn the role, gender bias transcends in the work itself. I know women, myself included, perceive the need to excel or exceed requirements to prove our worth in the workplace.
This workplace pressure can lead to loneliness or at least the feeling of being alone. It is a Catch-22. Because there are not enough women in technology careers, the workplace is very male dominated and that can lead to feeling like an outsider. Because other women may hesitate to join a work culture like this, the gender gap persists.
Although every woman has her own unique thoughts and challenges regarding gender bias, below are my three tips to promote women’s success in the technology space.
Question gender stereotypes from an early age
If we look at gender inequality on a micro level, it actually starts at a very early stage of development. Adults tend to give male children building blocks, while giving girls dolls. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it does set up a notion that girls are not expected to build things and solve problems as needed by most science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, careers. Let’s start by eliminating a “girl section” and “boy section” in toy stores. We all should be concerned about which gender stereotypes we are projecting onto our youth.
Celebrate the big and small victories women achieve
As the nation applauds Vice President Kamala Harris, the country’s first Black-Asian woman vice president, we need to translate that excitement to the extraordinary achievements of women in the technology sector. There are countless examples of women breaking the glass ceiling in the technology and cybersecurity space, even though women only account for 34% of the STEM field and 17% in ICT. As an industry, we need to start celebrating the smaller victories and stop waiting for the “one big one.” This could mean celebrating when your company announces a new woman CEO or maybe the beginning of a scholarship program that specifically supports women, backed by your organization.
Recruit and retain in a meaningful way
The technology industry needs to diversify the workforce, which means that it needs to actively recruit more women. However, how can we welcome women to technology businesses if they can’t even imagine themselves at the company? We must make it a priority to send more women, who work in the field, to recruitment events and actively share their stories in promotional material. These efforts will showcase that this success is attainable for women. Additional support includes ongoing mentorship to women at all levels of technology workplaces – whether that be through internships and co-ops or full-time jobs.
Women making it in the technology workforce is certainly an accomplishment, but the work does not stop there. Women and any individual that supports gender equality must always be vigilant and shine a light on discrimination. As a community of technology professionals, we must evaluate situations – such as not getting that promotion or job – against our inherent “discrimination radars.” And to further ensure a positive workspace, it is important to champion your own success as a woman, as well as the successes of your female colleagues to further empower women in technology. This empowerment may be a simple “job well done” or something even bigger like the implementation of new support programs. At my own workplace, there are women employee resource groups to provide such support, which also involve many colleagues participating in events sponsored by organizations like the Society of Women Engineers.
We all grew up hearing phrases like “math is too hard” or “Eww, yuck, physics.” None of it is true. Yes, we may not have a passion for every aspect of STEM, but I encourage women of all ages to explore what they like, stick to their guns and rise above their hesitations in order to pursue their passions despite the stereotypes that still exist today.