With women making up about 15 percent of the tech industry, tech-dominated areas like Silicon Valley can feel intimidating to women on the periphery. Sadly, that figure is only decreasing.
There are many factors that explain this unfortunate imbalance. For instance, many women lack confidence, while others avoid the issue altogether.
Although males play a dominant role in shaping the tech industry, women were found to have surpassed men in Internet usage as early as the year 2000. So the responsibility for fixing Silicon Valley’s gender problem falls on both sexes in equal measure.
Here are five practices that can help men and women become champions of diversity in tech:
1. Be conscious of underlying biases.
Even if you don’t think you have gender biases, there may be some assumptions or behaviors you engage in subconsciously. For example, research shows that men are more likely to invest in other men than women who make the same pitches.
Try to notice these tendencies, and correct them before they become prohibitive to the women around you. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to spread awareness to your team. Educate them on acceptable workplace behaviors, using anonymous or real-world anecdotes of women’s experiences.
Women also need to be cognizant of social nuances and do their due diligence to strike down these biases. When I first arrived at Google, I sat down with every engineer and product manager to gain as much technical expertise as I could. My ability to talk shop in the workplace became an invaluable leveler of the playing field.
2. Actively encourage female colleagues and aspiring professionals.
In the early stages of my career, I was lucky to receive help and advice from many successful Silicon Valley dwellers who took the time to advise and support me through my business ventures.
Collaboration like this doesn’t happen without men actively seeking to form strong business relationships with women -- and women doing the same. Active encouragement can come in many forms, including helping women take advantage of networking opportunities, make introductions and form mutual mentorships.
3. Make it a priority to diversify staff.
One of the simplest ways men and women can restore equality in Silicon Valley is by making an effort to hire women. You don’t have to tear up applications from men or hire women who aren’t cut out for the job. But by making a concerted effort to prioritize diversity when hiring and reaching out to women’s organizations, you can dramatically help women gain a firmer foothold in the industry.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance.
Fear of failure or appearing weak can make anyone, including women, reluctant to seek help. It’s understandable to want to develop a thick skin and an independent attitude in an unbalanced culture, but not asking for help or explanations will only widen this disparity.
Some of the most valuable advisers I’ve met have been men with experience in Silicon Valley. They’ve gone above and beyond in introducing me to others who could help me tackle any challenges that I’m facing or they foresee. Don’t feel intimidated to reach out to accomplished men or women; they want to help others succeed. But make sure you always find ways to help them in return.
Men who aren’t sure how to support the women around them should also feel empowered to ask how they can help. It’s the only way to make real progress.
5. Share your love of tech.
Men and women in tech share one common denominator: their love for the industry and passion to make a difference. Both sexes can help each other by focusing on this common passion, offering training in particular skills or programs, helping others acclimate to the tech culture and just geeking out together.
But the most important way men and women can work together to correct the industry’s disparity is to persevere. There should be no “battle of the sexes” when we’re all on the same side. We must work hard to solve the problem, actively engage with solutions and never give up to restore the imbalance that’s plagued Silicon Valley for far too long.