New Layers of Gender Inequity Surface in Tech Sector, Research Finds

Don Tennant
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Third-Quarter IT Reality Check – Budgets, Hiring, Trends

In a post last week, I wrote about Lisa Falzone, co-founder and CEO of Revel Systems, who made the point that women need to be more willing to at least try to venture out the way she did, and the way her male counterparts do. She’s right, of course. But according to a newly released report from Catalyst, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of opportunities for women in the workplace, making that effort in the technology space may be even more challenging than many women might imagine.

The report, “High Potentials in Tech-Intensive Industries: The Gender Divide in Business Roles,” spotlights research findings that women can expect to find a culture that is especially unwelcoming, whether they pursue careers on the tech side or the business side in technology-intensive industries.

“STEM companies face a serious talent drain as women take their skills elsewhere,” said Deborah Gillis, president and CEO of Catalyst. “But these organizations also have a remarkable opportunity to turn things around by focusing on how they can make all their talent—men and women alike—feel equally valued.”

The report found that women are less likely than men to enter tech-intensive industries, and more likely to leave once they join:  

  • Only 18 percent of women opted for a business role in a tech-intensive industry immediately following their MBA, compared to 24 percent of men.
  • Fifty-three percent of women who started out in a business role in a tech-intensive industry post-MBA left to take a position in another industry, compared to 31 percent of men.

Another key finding was that women are outsiders, and on unequal footing, from day one:

  • Despite having the same education as their male counterparts, women in business roles in tech-intensive industries were more likely than men to start in entry-level positions (women, 55 percent; men, 39 percent) and to be paid less.
  • Of those who took their first post-MBA job in a business role in a tech-intensive industry, men were more than three times as likely (83 percent) as women (27 percent) to say they felt similar to most people at work.

High potentials who took their first post-MBA job in a business role in a tech-intensive industry were significantly more likely to work on a team with 10 percent or fewer women than those in other industries (tech-intensive industries, 21 percent; other industries, 16 percent).

Also of note, the research found that women in business roles in tech-intensive industries have lower aspirations, due to a lack of role models and vague evaluation criteria:

  • High potentials were significantly less likely to have a female supervisor than those working in other industries (tech-intensive industries, 15 percent; other industries, 21 percent).
  • Women in tech-intensive industries were significantly less likely than women in other industries to say that their supervisors clearly showed them how their work would be evaluated (tech-intensive industries, 42 percent; other industries, 55 percent).
  • Women in their first post-MBA job were less likely than men to aspire to the senior executive/CEO levels (women, 84 percent; men, 97 percent).

According to Catalyst, by addressing these barriers, tech-intensive companies can transform their cultures, become an employer of choice for women, and thereby gain a competitive advantage. Catalyst offers the following suggestion as a means of accomplishing that:

  • Start men and women at equal levels and pay.
  • Evaluate company culture: Is hostile behavior toward women tolerated? Do events outside of the office exclude women? Consider how the organization can make women feel valued and included.
  • Recruit senior male executives to sponsor up-and-coming women.
  • Make performance standards crystal clear.
  • Provide a flexible work environment.

A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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