Fighting Gender Discrimination in The High-Tech World

New research suggests that tech-savvy women might face gender discrimination in jobs at high-tech firms, partly due to mismanaged projects.

It shows gender discrimination is still as prevalent in the UK as it was 20 years ago, and comes as International Women’s Day will be celebrated this week on March 8, for the 103rd year.

The book “The Recruitment, Retention and Advancement of Technical Women: Breaking Barriers to Cultural Change in Corporations” by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit organization focusing on the role of women at high-tech firms.

More than a Quarter of Women Have Experienced Some Form of Gender Discrimination in the Workplace, a New Study Shows

Tech firms typically rely on a “hero mindset” to save poorly organised runaway coding projects. As a result, employees with family responsibilities (generally considered to be women) are left out, the report said.

The Research Also Suggests out of 1,500 Office Workers in the Uk, 26% of Women Felt That Having Children Held Them Back in Their Career

The research also suggests that there is evidence of bias against women in recruitment and job assignment in places where high-tech corporate cultures thrive on this “hero mindset” that “rewards a ‘last minute’ crunch where 24/7 work becomes necessary to ‘save’ a project.” However, these environments fail to acknowledge family responsibilities and flexibility needs, the report said.

This fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants workday culture represents a pattern that’s grown mainly because an organization poorly defines project management and requirements.

For example, Silicon Valley’s sometimes frantic fire-fighting pace and in-your-face communication style produces many technical cultures that often “leave women feeling isolated and crushed,” notes the report.

The study also reflects what 59 senior business and tech managers — both men and women from companies like Cisco, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Google, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Symantec — shared during a closed forum  organized by the Anita Borg Institute. According to the report, it’s common in the high-tech world to find the modern equivalent of the “good old boys network” that tends to hire “people who are like them.”

Technical women these days are “still a rarity,” said Dr. Carolyn Simard, author of the report. She added that in the United States, women earn just 18 percent of computer science degrees in college. That figure is sharply down from the 37 percent observed in 1985. Yet technical demand is still expected to grow as much as 32 percent by 2018.

The Institute published a second report titled “Senior Technical Women: A Profile of Success,” which surveyed approximately 1,800 participants from seven unidentified high-tech firms in Silicon Valley.

It found that women now hold about four percent of the senior-level technical positions at high-tech firms and an estimated one-quarter of all tech jobs. On higher levels, women are more likely to end up in a managerial position compared to men (36.9 percent of women compared to 19 percent of men), who are more likely to hold “individual contributor positions” in technical coding jobs.

The second study also found that men and women in technical jobs value most of the same attributes for success, such as being analytical, questioning, risk-taking, collaborative, entrepreneurial, assertive, working long hours and being sociable.

Far more often than men, women generally have “primary responsibility for the household,” the study showed. However, senior-level tech women are much more likely to have a partner who holds primary responsibility for the household and children (23.5 percent of partnered senior women) compared to entry or mid-level women (13.4 percent). Senior-level tech women are also more likely than their male counterparts to forego a partner and children because they believe they might hinder their careers.

To improve work-life balance and stop any perceived gender bias against women in the high-tech world, the Anita Borg Institute is pushing a few ideas that will generate debate and controversy.

The Equality Act 2010 Makes It Unlawful for an Employer to Discriminate Against Employees Because of Their Gender.

One recommendation suggests that because there is evidence that women are eliminated in the hiring process at the resume review level, companies might consider “that all women candidates should at least get an interview.”

With backing from firms like HP, Google, Facebook, Intel and Intuit, the Anita Borg Institute even suggested that it might be possible to create a software tool designed to weed out any unconscious bias against hiring or promoting women in the tech world.

This “software tool for detecting bias” was proposed at the Institute’s forum. It can use language recognition to zero in on everything from performance evaluations to letters of recommendation that exhibit gender bias. An online tool like this can be found at Harvard’s Project Implicit.

“We envision building on such research to create a system where specific language can be fed and analyzed for the existence of bias,” the report said. “Using machine learning and text analysis methods would help organizations and individuals address the existence of bias before the damaging language is formally used in recommendations or evaluations.”

Additionally, the software would be a “high-impact diagnostic tool for calibrating organizations with regard to hiring and promotion decisions.”