September 18th, 2017 by Carolyn Fortuna
Misogyny in the tech world has been in the news constantly over the last six months. According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, women accounted for only 25% of all “professional computing technology” jobs in 2015. Meanwhile, that same year, women held 57% of all professional occupations in the country. An expose in The Atlantic revealed that women are not only hired in tech in lower numbers than men are — they also leave tech at more than twice the rate men do. The cultural climate within the technology sector not only hinders women — it also sets up significant and often shatterproof barriers to women.
In tech companies across geographic regions, women report the same phenomena: Awkward silences when they approach a group of all-male colleagues. Asked to fetch coffee or take notes. Told that intimate time could make that magical startup funding happen. Called “emotional” when raising tech concerns.
How can women beat back misogyny in the tech world? It does take being exceptional in many areas. Here are some hints — from the very women who are immersed in the tech world.
1. Get Thee a Thorough Education and Become a Tech Problem-Solver
Breaking the cycle of misogyny in the tech world begins with building a solid educational resume. Social scientist Pierre Bourdieu called this “academic capital” — a process by which education opens doors. And for women in tech, that education should be multi-faceted: Working through the necessary degrees, internships, and courses. Publishing in peer-reviewed journals that contribute to the tech thought community. Applying for and receiving research grants. Delivering breakthrough papers at academic conferences.
Yes, having a far-reaching educational background is only a starting point, but it’s often a necessary one. Look at Meg Whitman, CEO and President, HP, as an example of someone who entered the tech field with robust educational credentials. Top of her high school class. Graduated from Princeton with a degree in economics. Earned her MBA from Harvard. From there, she’s held stints with Procter & Gamble (P&G), Hasbro, Disney, and others.
Today’s positions in the computer and IT field are projected to increase at the faster-than-average rate of 12% through 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And it won’t be just top tier schools that will provide an educational background for women who want to break through misogyny in the tech world. Earning industry certifications is a great way to gain and showcase your IT experience before getting hired— even veterans accrue these certifications to stay current with technological advances. All kinds of educational experiences can equip women to show the passion, hunger, and hands-on knowledge that are necessary to problem-solve in the tech world. Whitman, whose responsibilities include overseeing HP’s software and business services, drew on her educational and career experiences to help HP manage its cost structure, expand margins, and save for investment in what was needed to fix the company’s downward spiral.
“Problems are good, as long as you solve them quickly. Run to the fire; don’t hide from it.” —Meg Whitman
2. Experience as a Strategy to Mitigate Misogyny in the Tech World
In our grandparents’ era, most people were hired into and spent their entire careers at one company. The advent of new technologies in the past 30 years has altered those typical career paths enormously. Tech companies have sprung up, thrived or collapsed, or been absorbed by bigger, more established enterprises. Patty McCord, former chief talent officer for Netflix, says that job hoppers achieve more — especially if they switch jobs every three to four years when their learning curve flattens. That has meant that career variability and change are now the norm, and, so, it’s been a lot harder for women in tech to demonstrate dependability, determination, and adaptation to a team.
Even somebody like Susan Wojcicki, who was hired as Google’s 16th employee in 1999, advocated for Google’s $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube in 2006, and became YouTube’s CEO in 2014, has “time and time again” felt the slights that come with questions about women’s place in the tech world. She is adamant that the language of discrimination can take many different forms, some “outright, some whispered quietly,” but none are acceptable or productive. She stands behind the power and potential of the tech industry when women are an integral part of its workforce.
“As someone who’s been lucky to have a great career in tech, I know how creative and fulfilling a career in this industry can be for women. And I want to make sure we continue to recruit and retain great female hires. As we work to improve our company cultures, I hope next year we hear a different story in Silicon Valley, one about greater diversity making the tech industry even stronger and more innovative.” —Susan Wojcicki
3. Be an Elite Expert — Inside and Outside the Tech Workplace
When females bring a combination of individualized education and focused, specific job experience to the tech world, expertise is sure to follow. Computer hardware engineer. Data scientist. Analytics manager. Software architect. Product manager. Women who can offer an employer a competitive edge when pitching an idea to a potential client are much less likely to be overlooked.
Having elite expertise supplants gender bias, even in the tech world, as expertise is a magnet — everybody wants face time with you as an expert. They’re hoping that one small spark of your genius will rub off. Or maybe there’s an opening on your newest and much sought-after team. Elite expertise supplants misogyny in the tech world because of a primal human drive toward group protection and safety. People want to be by your side because good things happen on your tech team.
That’s the case with Dr. Christina Lampe-Onnerud, founder and CEO of Cadenza Innovation. She’s one of the pre-eminent battery experts in the world, and she’s assembled a team that is designing a ground-breaking battery pack architecture for global Tier 1 partners. A corporate strategist with extensive experience in building technology-based businesses from inception to rapid revenue growth, Lampe-Onnerud is widely acknowledged in the global energy storage industry for innovative and technologically pioneering work. She is a highly analytical leader who attracts and grows high-performance teams. And her team likes being with her as part of a power revolution — a lot.
“I am probably too understated as a company and a person, but we stick together. At Cadenza, we have created a kind of King Arthur’s Table. We are saying that we know batteries. If they say, it needs this, we say, but the battery data says that, so let’s define the problem… If we are able to launch our battery architecture successfully, we will have been able to apply 20 years of lessons learned. We will see our battery innovations come to very large players. If you’re interested in climate change, you can do great things.” —Christina Lampe-Onnerud
In our next installment of this series about ways that women can thrive in the tech world, we’ll look at ways to work from within to gain allies as well as through sole proprietorship.