Why aren’t there more women in technology? According to The New York Times, “Women account for just 6 percent of chief executives at the top 100 tech companies,” and “they create only 8 percent of venture-backed startups.” There are myths behind the lack of women in tech that have the real-world effect of discouraging women from entering the tech workplace.
This myth may be the most obvious, and simplistic, and yet it’s still a pervasive notion that there are certain professions that “naturally skew heavily male or female.” This reasoning is being used to explain why there are fewer women in technical fields. While this myth may seem obviously untrue, the belief that women lack the interest for a career in tech is still widely held.
Myth #2: You need to code to work in tech. Padnos goes on to note that another myth is that “[women] can’t enter the technology field without an engineering degree.” The emphasis on coding is a barrier to entry for many women who have backgrounds in other fields.
A survey conducted in 2008 of 652 U.S.-born CEOs and heads of product engineering at 502 technologies companies showed that “only 37% held degrees in engineering or computer technology, and just 2% held them in mathematics.” While this “coding myth” may prove a barrier to anyone who wishes to work in tech, it may be more so for women. The implicit “boys’ club” of coding, exemplified in full by “brogrammer” culture, furthers the notion that tech jobs are inherently “macho” and male dominated.
Coding is seen as an entree to the boys’ club, suggesting a woman can join the boys’ tech club by learning to code, but still excludes women who have backgrounds in other fields. Furthermore, the very nature of “brogramming” is inherently exclusive, whether or not a woman learns to code.
Myth #3: Tech workplaces are a meritocracy. Another myth is that tech proves an equal opportunity space, where those who rise to the top do so out of pure merit. As NPR pointed out, “One of the most prevalent defenses against claims of gender bias and sexism in the tech industry is that Silicon Valley is a meritocracy, where the smartest, most skilled engineers and best ideas rise to the top.”
This myth ignores the painfully obvious fact that the majority of the executive-level positions in the tech space are held by men. It denies other factors that go into the rise of a tech worker, such as the “role of personal connections, wealth, background, gender, race, or education in an individual’s success.” The myth, then, is that there is no barrier to entry for women in tech, they only need to rely on hard work and intelligence.
Myth #4: Don’t be “pushy.” Ambitious women are seen as “pushy” while men with equal drive and aspirations are rewarded and respected. This double standard occurs in all fields, and tends to increase in positions of leadership.
Although our focus is on women in tech, I’ll point to the recent firing of Jill Abramson from the New York Times. One possible reason behind her firing being discussed is she discovered her [male] predecessor was making more money than she was, and approached “top brass” about it. As the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta puts it, this “may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was ‘pushy,’ a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect.”
A man in her position who demanded equal pay would have been seen as justified, not pushy. Women in power, including women in the male-dominated tech space, cannot advocate for themselves in the same way men can without fear of being labeled as “pushy.” In the case of Jill Abramson, it cost her her job.
These myths persist in such a way that they’ve assimilated as truths. They discourage women from entering tech and advocating for themselves once they get there. While these myths aren’t based in fact, their effect in the tech workspace is all too real.
Perhaps the biggest myth of all is that it is a disadvantage to be a woman in technology. This is not only false, but the opposite is true. Diversity brings value to the workplace. Women in tech need to realize that they have a wealth of skills and knowledge to offer. These myths may have real-world repercussions, but they can be overcome. Women and men can work together to abolish these myths and create a healthy and thriving workplace. Through education and awareness, we can make these myths a distant memory.