We're tired. (But let's keep going)

Posted by Erin Clark

At the Women Of Silicon Conference last year, the growing size of the event was a notable indicator of how women’s place in the tech world is finding firmer footing. Yet, despite the progress, being a woman in tech can still feel like an exception rather than the norm.

As a woman when you tell someone you work in tech it is almost always met with surprise. In the UK, just 20% of IT specialists are women, and that disparity only increases with seniority. The fact that people are surprised is because, well, it is still surprising. It’s a fair reflection of our current reality where women in tech are still massively underrepresented.

These numbers have been on the rise, and there are a lot of amazing initiatives working hard to make this happen, but the reality is that it is still in a state which requires this intervention.

In just one or two generations above mine, it has gone from women being directly told that they were not capable of working in these areas (with credit often being taken in the cases they were defiant enough to do so) to the conversation being a common enough topic to have entire companies, such as Women Who code and SheCodes, dedicated to bringing women into the tech space.

But looking at how far we have come should not cloud the judgment of what situation remains today. It might not be about directly being pushed out anymore, but challenges still exist, albeit in more subtle forms.

It's being hired less, paid less when you are hired, and not being moved forward as fast as you should be, or even being pushed out sooner than your male counterparts. 

Studies, such as the famous 'John vs. Jennifer' research by Yale University, highlight inherent biases, revealing that even with identical qualifications, women are often seen as less competent than their male counterparts (and generally paid less when they are hired!). But this was reflected by both men and women who participated in the study, so this isn't just a case of men pushing women out, but rather that people are not used to seeing women in these roles and therefore assume that they are not suited there.

While these stats are concerning and work needs to be done to change them, they are averages and don't apply to each situation. Some companies still have entirely male tech departments, and others are managing to break even.

Even in the most supportive environments, when the ratio is so heavily weighted towards men, you can feel like you're not only doing a good job for yourself, but you are representing women in general. Representation is a huge part of it, and while there isn't much of it, it puts undue pressure on the women who are in these roles. In the interim towards equality, there is still a great need for initiatives which help close the gap.

We still need to be actively celebrating women in these roles, not because we're surprised that they can do the same job as a man but because they have been doing it under the weight of the judgment.

So where do we go from here?

This isn't to say that things aren't getting better, or even to just complain, but to give a realistic picture of what women are getting into when working in these roles. When you don't know that there is a disadvantage due to the systems in place, you assume that any failure is purely because you aren't capable.

It’s important to be aware of where the disparity is at by using up to date research, get involved with organizations focusing on changing this, support women within your workplace, and find groups of women who you can talk to who can relate.

This isn't just about banding together to confront systemic issues, but about creating a supportive network that validates our experiences and encourages resilience.

If revolution is your thing, then by all means be the change, but remember that the longer term goal really should be fighting for the right to be average. To be allowed to make mistakes without the fear that you have let down women in general. Allowing women to be seen as individuals, rather than monoliths representing their gender, will lead to a healthier, more inclusive tech culture.

There will be days and events and situations in your career where this will be agonisingly apparent, but there will also be days where you see the amazing progress that is being made, and know that you were a part of it.