The tech industry is among the top industries for women to work in. However, even in areas that have seen immense progress in equality for all genders, there is still room for improvement.
In the U.S., only 25 percent of computing-related jobs are held by women and 50 percent of women in IT reported gender discrimination in the workplace. Working in a heavily male-dominated industry has given me many opportunities to engage my male counterparts in discussions about gender equality in the workplace. I have discovered that the issues that women face on a daily basis often go unseen by men.
It is for this reason that having constructive and honest conversations about equality and inclusivity for all genders is of the utmost importance. And while these conversations can be difficult, if everyone is willing to listen and respond with an open mind, real, long-lasting solutions can be implemented.
The changing role of women in tech
The pandemic has magnified many societal issues, including gender inequality. Historically, women have been seen as transient hires due to factors like pregnancy and the archaic notion that women should be homemakers.
As more women were tasked with leaving their jobs to take care of family members who contracted COVID-19, the tech industry saw a significant decline in women employees. Many tech-inclined women turned to freelancing as a means of making a living while working from home. In fact, 75 percent of full-time freelancers now make just as much as they did when employed before the pandemic.
As we enter the next stage of the pandemic and some employers consider returning to offices or instituting hybrid work models, more women are choosing to continue to work from home instead of returning to non-inclusive or toxic work environments. Many employers are now keen to give employees more of an opportunity to work remotely, so we could see offices that are even less gender-balanced than they are now. A poll of over 2,000 businesses concluded that nearly three quarters of mothers want to work from home at least one day a week even after the pandemic is over, versus only around half of fathers.
Male allyship in male-dominated environments
Believe it or not, male allies hold the keys to the success of gender equality efforts and conversations, especially in male-dominated environments. The boys’ club culture is a reality for at least 55 percent of women working in tech. Men who find themselves in the boys’ club can actively practice their allyship by starting conversations about gender equality among their male peers, inviting women into the fold, and making an effort to call themselves out on their own biased thoughts and actions.
With only 19 percent of the women working in fin-tech holding C-level positions, for instance, there is plenty of room for male leadership to make more space for women’s voices to be heard and talents to be recognized. Male leaders need to be educated on women’s issues, especially those that affect women who work at their company, and this all starts with the hiring process. Job postings should feature inclusive language and should be proofread for masculine-coded language and replaced.
Ultimately, the simplest way to ensure that inclusivity is at the heart of an organization’s goals is to hire people who fall outside the traditional straight, cisgender, white male demographic. The next best thing is for male leadership to empower women in the workplace by having their backs when discriminatory language is used whether or not someone of another gender is present, and offering them mentorship or sponsorship and opportunities to advance their careers.
Questions to start conversations about gender equality
In order to start productive conversations about gender equality, I use the following questions crafted by Julie Kratz to get everyone involved and on the same page.
What will our organization look like if our gender equality goals are met?
What are we missing out on by not maximizing the talents of all genders in the workplace?
What do we see that tells us that we have opportunities to improve on gender equality?
When have we gotten it right as an organization?
What’s one thing that we can do as an organization to advance gender equality?
When having tough conversations based on these questions, it's important to keep in mind the positives, such as the fact that the conversations are happening, that there are people who are willing to have these talks, and the fact that the seeds of real change are planted with every conversation that is had.
Of course, there will always be some degree of debate. But as long as all who are involved come into the conversation with an open mind and inclusivity as their goal, then barriers are likely to be broken.
Read more: What Is a Male Feminist, Anyway?
Creating a workplace environment that is diverse and inclusive greatly enhances a company’s ability to innovate and respond to challenges. A diverse team made up of all genders and many ethnicities brings differing viewpoints and ideas to the table that an otherwise homogenous group may not have had access to alone.
Men who are willing to stand up to common business and social norms that inherently block women and other marginalized groups from achieving higher positions and better opportunities are vital to the success of equality conversations. Because male allies are the key to creating a more diversified environment, it’s important that conversations about equality are focused on inclusivity instead of “us” vs “them” mentality.