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Gender Balance in Tech – Hope for the Future

Posted by Claire Pickhardt on August 16, 2019 4 min read

As a woman in tech, I rarely discuss my work with other women in my social spheres. This is by choice, as I grow weary of hearing the same phrase over and over: “I could never do what you do.”

Despite my protests, it seems as though the women in my life have no interest in learning more about computer science, programming, or being a developer. As a person who performs this work every day, I have little doubt that my friends and family could not only learn to program as I have, but would excel at it.

What is it that keeps them from taking the leap? Or even dipping their toe just a little bit? My sense is it’s a combination of things. Fear of the unknown for sure. Likely some lingering misconceptions about computing as a career option for women. Many women I know were brought up before the Internet age, before there was a computer in every household much less in the palm of every hand. This was a time when telecommunications, software design, and programming were fields seemingly reserved for men – once again leaving us women on the outside looking in.

We might be on to something.

In a 2015 study conducted at the University of Washington,[1] researchers determined the presence of gendered stereotypes surrounding computer science courses for high school-aged students that led to a disparity in the gender of the students who enroll.

“Computer scientists are stereotyped in contemporary American society as male, technologically oriented, and socially awkward. Other stereotypes about the culture of computer science include a perception that it requires ‘brilliance.’”[2]

The stereotype also suggests that the field of computer science can seem isolating. Being stuck behind a computer screen all day with little personal interaction, or sitting in a predominantly male classroom, can inhibit collaboration among peers. Such an environment causes women to feel as though they do not belong. Many choose to not continue with their computer science program, or to not enroll in the first place, due to feelings of low self-esteem or to avoid the risk of judgment from their male peers.

My experience in previous workplaces supports the glaringly obvious prevalence of these stereotypes. As a woman in tech, I have felt inadequate. Reluctant to ask for help. Isolated and unable to complete my assigned tasks. I have felt as though I do not belong...   – Claire Pickhardt

My experience in previous workplaces supports the glaringly obvious prevalence of these stereotypes. As a woman in tech, I have felt inadequate. Reluctant to ask for help. Isolated and unable to complete my assigned tasks. I have felt as though I do not belong, despite the fact that I have earned positions in much the same way as my male counterparts.

When I graduated college, I convinced myself that I did not want a job developing or coding, instead applying for positions as a technical writer or in technology sales. I knew I loved technology and computers, but felt that I would not succeed due to past experiences of sexism and feelings of isolation.

Cue ITX.

When I arrived at ITX, I was incredibly nervous due to past experiences. Nervous that the people I worked with would not take me seriously. Nervous that my work would be ridiculed. Nervous that I would not belong.

However, the women technologists at ITX resolved my “belonging” concern without really trying. They solved it without even overtly acknowledging the issue in the first place. Within my first couple of months at ITX, some of my “women in tech” colleagues started a company chat in the name of boosting morale and creating a place for women to share experiences and connect with one another. In group chats and occasional calls, ITX’s women in tech from all around the globe became familiar with one another and created a support system that directly counteracted any potential feelings of isolation, any sense of not belonging, and any feelings of being the minority in our field.

Even in predominantly male teams, the women expressed that they were listened to and respected as team members, rather than just as a “token female,” which is a trope that many of us made references to in our calls. In fact, when I asked one of my female coworkers if she felt respected at ITX, her response was, “Actually, ITX is the place I feel most listened to out of all my jobs for the last 15 years.”

When I asked one of my female coworkers if she felt respected at ITX, her response was, “Actually, ITX is the place I feel most listened to out of all my jobs for the last 15 years.”   – Claire Pickhardt

While it is wonderful that the women of ITX created this open, comfortable space to converse with one another, the rest of the organization has always felt like a safe space to me, a junior female developer who has been here for less than 2 years. Our culture at ITX is one of inclusion, regardless of gender (in reality, regardless of membership in any underrepresented class), and it permeates into the lives of its employees. I see this routinely during the workday, at meetings and conferences, and at company-sponsored events.

My co-workers and I feel a warm sense of family, especially when our work relationships evolve into friendships and we choose to spend time with each other outside of normal business hours. At ITX, employees are people, regardless of gender, and are respected as such. It is extremely refreshing.

I can’t wait to discuss this with other women in my social spheres. At least there’s hope.

 

[1] Master, A., Cheryan, S., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2016). “Computing whether she belongs: Stereotypes undermine girls’ interest and sense of belonging in computer science.” Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(3), 424-437.

[2] Ibid., p. 424.




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