Why there aren't more women in technology and how to close the gap
Estimated Read Time: 6 minutes
With technology continuing to advance at a rapid pace, the IT sector offers plenty of opportunities for jobseekers looking for a rewarding and lucrative career. However, a quick glance at the state of the industry reveals a significant gender imbalance persists across the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields, demonstrating there are still underlying issues at play which deter women from entering and continuing work in these industries.
A study commissioned by The Women’s Foundation and supported through MTR Corporation backs this up from an education level, showing in Hong Kong currently:
- Female students not only start with a lower proportion of STEM-related electives, but they are more likely to drop STEM-related courses than male students later on.
- Female students tend to have lower self-efficacy and interest in STEM subjects than male students do.
- Even high-achieving female students in STEM are subject to gender biases that suggest only boys have the inborn talent to study STEM, especially Math, efficiently and effortlessly
So why aren’t there more women in technology? And what can IT organisations do to encourage jobseekers like you to join their ranks and thrive?
With International Women’s Day just around the corner, today we’ll dig deeper into the question of why there aren’t more women in technology, providing tech industry leaders and women interested in pursuing this career path tips and strategies on moving towards a more inclusive workplace where equality is the norm and more doors are opened to professional women in technology.
Gender bias and stereotypes
Gender bias and stereotypes are one of the main reasons as to why there aren’t more women in tech. Of the women who are working in technology in Singapore, many face a daily battle against persistent stereotypes and gender biases in a sector that has for too long been a male-dominated space.
Achieving gender equality in the workplace not only promotes equality, inclusion and acceptance, it is also linked to improved retention rates, enhanced organisational reputation, increased organisational performance and improved national productivity and economic growth.
A paper by the agency ‘Different genders, different lives’ further identified several biases and stereotypes that negatively impact women in technology. These included:
- Persistent stereotypes: Women who actively try to advance their careers may be viewed by male colleagues as being too assertive or aggressive, resulting in some women avoiding such salary expectations entirely.
- Family pressures: When women take time off work to raise children, it can hurt their long-term career prospects, given the high value placed by IT employers on accrued knowledge, skills and experience.
How to support women in tech
So what can be done to increase the number of women in technology? As Nicole Gorton, Director of Robert Half explains, change is required on many levels, but it must start from the top.
‘For organisations to develop an authentic attitude towards gender equality in technology, the leaders of the organisation must set the tone. There is a wealth of talent that is currently untapped, and the tech companies that realise this and welcome women to join them will have a definite advantage over those who fail to step up.’
It’s clear that improving the gender balance in the IT sector requires action on several fronts. The report, ‘The Promise of Diversity’ identified five key areas that workplaces can address now to support women in tech and instigate positive change for females in, or wanting to enter, the technology sector:
Leadership, culture and accountability
Senior company leadership must recognise that gender equality is a critical strategic business issue – not just a HR problem. Everyone in the management team must be accountable for delivering against gender equality KPIs.
Flexible work practices
Hong Kong work culture has changed significantly in the last few decades, particularly in the years since the Covid pandemic began. Parents are more likely to share caring responsibilities and employees expect better work-life balance. Today, technology allows us to work from virtually anywhere, and it’s important that both genders are encouraged to enjoy flexibility so they can contribute to their full potential.
Mentoring programs and sponsorship
This can be a powerful way to help women achieve success in their IT career. Whereas mentoring primarily focuses on psychological support, sponsorship can be an effective strategy for fast-tracking the careers of high-performers.
Targets vs. quotas
It is suggested to have gender equality targets that are ‘tailored and monitored on an individual company basis appropriate to the circumstances, culture and environment.’ They are preferable to hard quotas, which can result in some women being regarded unfavourably because they are perceived as being unfairly advantaged.
Employers must break the stereotypes of the average IT person being ‘nerdy’, antisocial and quintessentially male – the type of image that deters many women from pursuing IT careers. A good way to do this is to identify successful women in leadership and use them as role models.
Advice to women – from our experts
One of Robert Half Hong Kong’s most senior technology recruitment leader reflects why there aren’t more women in tech and the why it is essential to close the gender diversity gap on the field.
Melissa Lau, Director of Technology and Financial Services at Robert Half with more than 15 years’ experience in the recruitment industry says:
“From gender socialization at a young age where males were encouraged to take IT related subjects in school, to women not having female role models in the IT sector and thus not being given enough information on what working in the IT sector involves, these factors contributed to a historically male dominated industry.
As a result, it may have made females uncomfortable to step into the field at all.
Of course there is also an element of choice and the fact that maybe women may have just preferred other type of degrees vs tech degrees.
The good news is, I believe the industry has begun to realize the benefits of diversity. In the last 6-8 years you can see schools, tech firms, companies take different initiatives to educate, inform and attract women into the technology field. Hopefully, we see an increase in the number of women entering the industry moving forward!”
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If you’re looking for a role in technology, the Robert Half team can help. Contact us to find your ideal fit today!