Tech & Work

Closing the IT gender gap

Women developers are greatly outnumbered by their male counterparts, which can make their professional lives tough on several levels. Here's a look at some strategies for coping with the challenges facing women in the IT industry.


By Shelley Doll

In today's market, finding the perfect position is hard—especially for the less than 10 percent of developers who happen to be female. As with any male-dominated industry, there are social, economic, and political hardships encountered by this minority. Learning to overcome the gender gap is crucial—and the first step may be recognizing that one exists.

Less-than-equal opportunity
Four years ago, while working with a consulting firm in Minneapolis, I was sent to a client's site in Detroit. As is common practice with many firms, my nameless resume was sent, along with several others, for the client to select a candidate. Mine was chosen. Once I arrived at the client's office, however, and was announced, I waited nearly 20 minutes for my contact to arrive. Thinking nothing of this at the time, I was greeted by my contact, only for him to tell me that the job had been cancelled. I was to return to Minneapolis. A couple of weeks later, while chatting with the sales manager for this client, I was told that the client had been angry because my firm had sent them a "little girl" to perform the work. I had been replaced by a male counterpart who completed the job. After this assignment, it was weeks before I was actually placed in a technical capacity. My assignments in the interim consisted mostly of presales support and product training.

This is the most egregious case of "Good-Ol’-Boy Syndrome" I have encountered, and it planted a seed of awareness. I had always felt that my talent and expertise were enough to earn the respect of those I worked with, but the disillusionment that came with this particular experience brought with it suspicion and a feeling that I had to work twice as hard to earn the same recognition as my male peers.

Support for women in technology 
Springboard—2001—Web site with information on venture capital for women-run technology businesses Wise-women.org—Web site for female developers Society of Women Engineers—Professional organization for women in various engineering fields National Association for Female Executives—Professional women’s organization Working Woman.com—Magazine featuring professional and personal issues of importance to women in the workplace

The Men's Club
One of the most obvious hardships encountered by women when working among mostly men is a lack of peers. It seems that the more technical or skilled a woman is, the fewer women she works with. In technology, women are more likely to fill roles such as technical writer or technical trainer than developer or integrator. Management roles are often filled by women, but rarely are lead developers or product managers female.

What are the implications of this? In some cases, it can result in a lack of socialization—which can undercut your loyalty to the team and to the company. In other situations, a lack of female peers leads to a continuation of childhood tomboy behavior, which may prevent teammates from respecting you.

So what should you do if you’re a woman in this type of situation? Be yourself. If you socialize easily with men (as many women in male-dominated fields tend to do), then by all means you should do so. But don’t compromise your own interests just so you’ll be included in the Men's Club.

If you are a woman with few or no peers within your technical area, cross-socialize with other departments or seek out women in management positions to befriend. Recommend women friends to development positions within your organization. Join technical groups for women in your area and speak to your human resources department about closing the gender gap.

While the social aspect of work may not be an issue, being a minority does have other career repercussions. If socialization isn't possible within an organization, you can probably fulfill those needs elsewhere—but keep in mind that who you know and how well you work with others are critical factors in any quest for promotion.

Bringing home the bacon
To be honest, when I started working on this article, I expected to find that technology was established and impersonal enough to have closed the gender gap in salaries. I couldn't have been more wrong. According to Delphi Developer, women developers generally make 17 percent less in total salary than men. They typically have less experience but hold the same job titles and skill sets as their male counterparts. This is consistent with findings of other independent developer groups. My research into other male-dominated fields revealed that the salary disparities between men and women in technology fields are greater than in real estate, medicine, and law, but not as extreme as the gap that exists in civil, mechanical, chemical, and petroleum engineering.

This potential lack of pay equity requires women in IT careers to be particularly savvy and resourceful when pursuing opportunities and negotiating salaries. Here are some suggestions:
  • When accepting a job offer or a promotion, don't be embarrassed to talk about money.
  • Discuss ways that you have helped, and can help, the company, as opposed to focusing on personal achievements and skills; steer the conversation toward the bigger picture.
  • Update your resume monthly, even if you don't intend to change jobs. This is to improve your self-image and help you identify areas where you may be overspecialized or underspecialized.
  • Do your research. Look at job sites such as techies.com, dice.com, monster.com, and thingamajob.com to find out what salary you should be expecting.
  • Never stop learning. Continue your education through online learning centers or by taking classes.
  • Stay involved with technical community activities and mention them in your review/interview.
  • Don't be intimidated. Chances are you'll be negotiating with a man, but remember that if you're in a position to negotiate, you are qualified.

The bottom line
Remember that “women in technology” does not mean Lara Croft. Your work is what you are, not who you are. By remaining skilled and confident in your abilities, you can achieve equality without compromising your individuality.

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