I was invited to provide an anthropologist’s perspective in a “fireside chat” to women interested in IT or STEM fields. These were students and prospective students for university. Reflecting on my remarks, I realized that many of our experiences and insights could be shared with others — beyond the students.
As background, I am currently working with several women who are building entrepreneurial businesses in IT cybersecurity or related spaces, and we are often searching for tips and tricks to address everything from the micro-aggressions they experience on the job to practical ways they can change the culture from toxic to transformative, one in which men and women thrive. Both are significant challenges, but I am confident that change will come if women and men stand up and demand change. But the time is now.
Listen here to my discussion with Sesh Murthy, Ph.D., at the time, Dean of Computer Science and Software Engineering, Western Governors University; Jared Plumb, Associate Dean and Director for Software Engineering, Western Governors University; and Wanda Burwick, EdD, PMP, Department Chair, Information Systems Technology, Midlands Technical College.
An Anthropologist’s Perspective on Gender Success in IT
Let me share some of my perspectives as a corporate anthropologist who also had a 20-year career as an executive in male-dominated industries.
Early in my career, I was a banker for many years, and boy, was that a male-dominated culture. At the time, I didn’t know if other kinds of cultures existed. I had been an anthropology professor for a decade and got into banking almost by chance. My education, however, came very quickly: from how to dress, give a presentation to a management meeting, and behave in meetings when almost everyone else was a man. I was cautious not to become the “coffee lady” asked to provide and clean up after the refreshments.
There were few other women in leadership roles and none to mentor or guide me. Yet, for 20 years, I succeeded as an executive in financial services and healthcare. What now can I share with others about the tools, tips, and tricks for advancing in male-dominated industries? Keep reading!
The state of women in IT today (it’s not encouraging)
The data is essential to set the context for my remarks. You can read further into the numbers here:
- As of 2022, women comprise 28% of the tech industry workforce and 34.4% of the largest tech companies workforce (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft) in the U.S.
- Only 15% of engineering jobs are held by women, making it the STEM field where women are most highly underrepresented.
- 39% of women in tech say that they see gender bias as an obstacle to getting a promotion.
- Women are most underrepresented in physical science (40%), computer science (25%), and engineering (15%) jobs.
- Only 5% of senior-level and management positions in SP 500 companies are held by women.
There are areas in which women and their talent would be significant assets. But the cultures are adversarial. Because of this, women often don’t stay in the industry but instead, rethink their career goals and find other ways to pursue them.
What does the research suggest
There are many explanations for why this is so, not the least of which is that women, despite their education, talent, and technical and social skills, are asked to play demeaning roles in organizations (like fetching coffee or clearing off the meeting table). The cultures of business firms that are dominated by men rely on old social norms that characterized society in the past. Now that women represent over 60% of the college graduates and are entering technological fields, gender behaviors and attitudes need a “reboot.” A serious “reboot,” that will carry beyond the work place into our communities.
Research proves this. VentureBeat discovered that women are required to carry out most administrative duties, including sending invitations to meetings, reserving meeting rooms, and arranging refreshments. On top of that, 86% of women report being accused of being excessively emotional at work or being labeled with equivalent gendered terms. It is incredible that women enter the IT business world today when faced with this kind of work environment. We know that it is not just in IT. But IT has much work to change how they accept and promote women.
Tips and tricks for women to succeed in IT
I always worry about sharing “tips and tricks” because they are neither a panacea nor a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Suppose you are joining a company (IT or any company) predominately populated with men. In that case, please put together your journal of successful tips and tricks you have used to manage a culture that does not reflect you and share it with other women trying to navigate these minefields, too.
When joining a male-dominated IT firm, women need to be aware of certain aspects of the environment to thrive in their careers.
Here are ten things women should think about and plan to address:
- Awareness of gender dynamics: Understand that the IT industry may have a significant gender imbalance, and be prepared for potential biases and stereotypes so you can effectively navigate them.
- Confidence in your abilities: Believe in your skills and capabilities. Self-confidence will help you assert yourself and gain respect from colleagues in a male-dominated environment.
- Network and seek support: Connect with other women in the industry, both within and outside the organization. Building a supportive network can provide guidance, mentorship, and a sense of belonging.
- Stay updated with industry trends: IT is a rapidly evolving field. Stay up-to-date with the latest technologies, trends, and best practices to boost your credibility and provide substance to your contributions.
- Seek growth opportunities: Actively look for opportunities to expand your skills and knowledge. Seek out challenging projects, training programs, or certifications that can help you advance your career.
- Be proactive in communication: Assertiveness is vital in a male-dominated environment. Speak up, share your ideas, and contribute to discussions to make your voice heard and valued.
- Address biases and stereotypes: If you encounter them constructively, address them. Communicate your concerns to the appropriate channels, such as HR or management, and advocate for a more inclusive workplace. Expect them to stay the same. But change comes one step at a time. You can lead the changes.
- Be open to learning from your colleagues: They may have much to teach you, even the men, if they will mentor you.
- Find mentors and allies: Seek out male and female supporters who can help promote your career growth.
- Balance work and self-care: Taking care of yourself and maintaining a healthy work-life balance is crucial. Set boundaries and commit to self-care practices to avoid burnout.
Here is a bonus: I wrote an Authority Magazine article on The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder that you might find relevant.
Is there change coming for women in the IT industry?
There is a rapidly expanding abundance of jobs in the IT world for women and men. Please keep your eyes and ears open for them, and find the career and the company cultures that match your ideals and aspirations. They are going to need your skills, both technical and social. And if you find yourself in a hostile workplace environment where you feel you are not being heard and your contributions are not valued, leave. Consider starting your own business. Corporate life is only sometimes the right fit for you. Then, as you rise, help other women rise with you and change those cultures.