The biggest problem women face in the tech world is the outdated but stubborn idea that women and technology aren’t a good fit. Girls start hearing this misconception in elementary school and it doesn’t stop when women start working.
Kelly Hopping, chief marketing officer of Capterra, said that many people still think women don’t really understand or care about technology.
“Many of my female peers are more geeked out on technology than their male counterparts, but the assumption is that women want to be in less technical roles, like HR or customer service,” she said.
Kelly Chambliss, managing partner, global business services for North America at IBM, said she is surprised that some people still think women aren’t interested in technical work, are risk-averse, and therefore less innovative.
“The women in technology that I work with demonstrate the inaccuracy of these points of view, which do not begin when people leave university and join the workforce.” she said. “These misconceptions start much younger, in elementary school and in middle school.”
SEE: Recruiting and hiring top talent: A guide for business leaders (free PDF)
Here are the eight biggest barriers to entry and advancement that women face in the tech industry. The challenge is not for women to do things differently but for executives and hiring managers to expand their own thinking about who can contribute and who can succeed.
Misconception: It’s all about quotas
Paige Goodhew, product marketing for digital health firm Redox, said that the biggest misconception is that companies should hire women in tech because of diversity quotas or requirements. The real reason to hire women is to create a diversity of thought and experience.
“Intentionally hiring and actually listening to people who have different experiences reduces the likelihood of falling into group-think patterns – you are unlikely to be an innovative company if you don’t have people at the table with different backgrounds,” she said.
Aisling MacRunnels, chief business and growth officer, Synack, agreed, adding that the reason to hire women is because of their abilities.
“The brilliance, creativity, pragmatism and ingenuity that women offer is so needed as technology penetrates every aspect of our lives,” she said.
Misconception: It’s all about technology
Indu Khosla, VP of engineering at GoDaddy, said all software development is a socio-technical domain. In her experience, women often quickly spot the gaps in the human aspects that keep engineering teams or technology from fulfilling their promise.
“The best engineers will jump in and apply the analytical problem-solving skills to the human aspects with equal gusto – improving team processes and communication, or prioritizing end-user problems over purely technical problems,” she said. “Unfortunately, despite enabling their team’s success, this work is perceived as non-technical, and could negatively impact women’s career growth as engineers.”
Ruth Zive, head of marketing at Ada, an automated customer service platform, said the lack of women working in artificial intelligence could have dire consequences because AI is meant to simulate human behaviors, activities and interactions.
“If the people building the AI are not comprised of a representative sample of the general population, what they build will simply not reflect diverse interests,” she said. “So female interests (or those typically associated with women) are not making their way into the AI paradigm, and this is a scary proposition that could set us back generations.”
Misconception: Women aren’t tech-centric enough
Carol Cohen, senior vice president, global talent and leadership at Cognizant, said one of the biggest misconceptions she hears is that a person has to code or be a math genius to work in tech.
“The opportunities in tech are endless and rewarding and while digital skills are important, human skills such as creativity, abstract thinking, and adapting to changing conditions are equally important,” she said.
Kirsten Wolberg, chief technology and operations officer at DocuSign, said when she explored the “technical women aren’t as productive as technical men” stereotype, she heard comments about child care responsibilities preventing women from working late.
“However, when I have actually looked at the data, I’ve seen that scrum teams with even a single woman have at least 15% higher velocity than teams with only men,” she said. “While some women may need to keep different hours in the workplace, they improve team productivity.”
Misconception: Women have nothing to say about technology
Kirsten Wolberg, chief technology and operations officer, DocuSign said that she found an interesting reason behind the “women are not technical or technical enough” stereotype.
“When I probe into this misconception, the common response is that “women don’t speak up” and it is assumed the silence means they do not have anything to contribute to a technical discussion,” she said. “It typically is the exact opposite, they have much to contribute, they just feel they cannot get a word in edgewise with a room full of men and rarely are they asked directly to contribute.”
Hopping, of Capterra, has heard a variation of this stereotype: Women aren’t confident when they share their feedback. Hopping said that this misconception is due to how people perceive communication styles.
“For women that do communicate boldly, it often comes across as ambitious or demanding, which implies that women are not team players,” she said. “Striking this balance at being effective, well-respected, and an expert makes intentional communication a constant priority for women.”
Misconception: Women aren’t a good fit for leadership roles
Stereotypes and antiquated ideas about who is capable at work start at the bottom of the career ladder and reach all the way to the top. Wendi Runyon, VP strategy & business development, Schneider Electric, said that the industry needs to dramatically increase the number of women in business-oriented roles at technology companies.
“At the rate today’s businesses are constantly undergoing technology transformation – think AI, edge, IoT – to remain competitive, there’s a massive opportunity for organizations to elevate female leaders in STEM who have strong skills beyond technical competencies to ultimately enable innovation and make the difference between organizations that successfully transform and those that get left behind,” she said.
Another common misconception is that women don’t have a place on boards or in the C-suite, according to Lindsay Trout, leader of the global digital segment at Egon Zehnder. The company’s 2018 Global Board Diversity Tracker concluded only 19% of board director seats in information technology companies were held by women.
Misconception: Women are always in support roles
Meredith Bronk, president and CEO of OST, said that when it comes to women in pure technology roles, not support roles, the industry has not made much progress.
“The data might show that we are 25%, but when it comes to the actual people working who would identify themselves as technologists, the needle is probably not moving very far,” she said.
Maureen Jules-Perez, vice president of technology at Capital One, said that the journey to becoming an African-American female executive in tech has been lonely. She recalled being at corporate events and mistakenly being asked to bring drinks or direct my fellow guests to the bathrooms. She turned these moments into a learning opportunity for her industry colleagues.
“I’d still direct them to the bar or bathroom—LOL—but then ask them to come back and discuss their misunderstanding,” she said. “I was committed to ‘changing the story’ toward a positive outcome.”
Misconception: Work-life balance is only for women
Stephanie Dua, co founder and president of HOMER, an early-learning platform, said men and women still think that it’s not good to get personal at work, particularly in male-dominated fields. She has found that this is not true because the same values that make a good parent also make a good boss and colleague.
“Being open, slowing down and listening, talking about our struggles, and stoking the interests and passions of those around us helps us find commonality with coworkers, in turn improving the synergy and productivity in the workplace,” she said.
Becky Trevino, VP of product marketing at Snow Software, said the idea that only women have family responsibilities is another outdated idea.
“Men too, need time to be with their families, and creating flexible work environments enables everyone to be more creative, refreshed and high-performing,” she said.
Emuye Reynolds, head of engineering at Superhuman, said that the biggest misconception about women in tech is that all women respond to all experiences in the same way.
“The women I know in tech have different strategies for approaching the industry and bring different skills and unique experiences to the table,” she said.
Emma Schwartz, VP of product at MeetUp, said that a big misconception is that women will never be satisfied with the progress that’s been made. Dissatisfaction with the status quo drives the technology industry in general and that extends to women’s roles in it.
“We won’t reach true satisfaction until true equity is reached, and even then we’ll strive to iterate and improve, because that’s what tech is all about,” she said.
Tatiana Mac, a designer and developer, said that true progress would be fewer “women in tech” events and better representation across the board.
“We deserve the main stage without caveats and to challenge the default face-on,” she said.
Misconception: Women can’t rock the hoodie
Mindy Ferguson, managing vice president, commercial digital channels at Capital One, said that when most people envision someone who works in tech, they usually think of a man in a hoodie.
“International Women’s Day is a great opportunity for us to push the boundary of that visual,” she said, “and help people see that women can rock the hoodie and have just as much of a place in tech.”