Gender Perception in the Field of Technology

Gender perception in the field of technology has changed over time. Women have not always been a part of the workforce, especially in male dominated fields. In the modern day, there are many social issues, such a gender discrimination and wage gaps, that affect how gender plays a role in the workforce. Stereotypes are instilled in women before they even join the workforce, which lead them to believe they do not belong in tech jobs. The lack of exposure to the tech field and under-representation also cause women to shift away from pursuing a career in a tech related field. Various studies show evidence of there being major influences that can be changed to increase the chances of women picking a job in tech and staying in that job. While it may seem that gender inclusivity has been successfully increasing among tech companies, further examination shows that the gender diversity checkbox is being marked off without women receiving the proper work experiences as their male counterparts. In order to have true gender diversity, people must draw attention to changing workforce and accommodate to it in appropriate ways.

Cultural Images and Stereotypes

Research shows women are influenced by stereotypes when considering taking jobs in the tech workforce and which continues to impact them if they do pursue a tech career. The average tech worker is seen as a “pale guy who codes while playing World of Warcraft in his gadget-filled basement” (Wynn, 2017, p. 2). This is a cultural image that women find unrelatable, which is why they feel like they would not be a good fit for tech jobs. There are many cultural images that surround the tech field that can influence someone to think they might not belong in it. It could range from being a physical characteristic, like wearing glasses or a personality one, such as someone who is anti-social. Yet, the issue of gender diversity in computer science varies around the globe. In some countries, computer science can even be thought of as feminine, such as in Malaysia. This is “because it meant working indoors in an office, as opposed to working outside, which was considered to be dangerous (Wong, 2018, p. 12). This is a stereotype in other countries that have cultural alignment to dissuade men from working in computer science, but again are not based on any real facts. Unlike in the United States, the cultural alignment is in their favor, and does “not reference the geek stereotype” which provides those women achieve a “high levels of self-confidence in the field” (Wong, 2018, p. 13).

When an individual is unable to relate to these kinds of biases, they are unable to see themselves as the kind of people they believe they must be to be a tech worker. Cultural alignment can be used to describe how much a worker believes that they fit the criteria of the stereotypes associated with their job. If an individual does not identity with the stereotypes associated with workers in the field of technology, they would not feel like they belong in that role. Due to cultural alignment, women have a reduced chance compared to “men to believe they match the cultural image of successful tech workers, they are less likely to identify with the tech profession, less likely to report positive supervisor treatment, and more likely to consider switching career fields” (Wynn, 2017, p. 2). This is because men are more commonly associated with work with technology. Women that do not see themselves as what they imagine a tech employee to be, do not believe they should be in those kinds of jobs. This is shown in the figure to the left as men have higher cultural alignment than women (Wynn, 2017, p.13). If the image what a typical tech employee looks like were to broaden, it would help persuade women to feel like they fit into a tech atmosphere. With more representation of diverse groups of people in technology, it would change the cultural alignment it has by reducing the stereotype that technology is a field meant for men. 

Wynn (2017) shares that a study by Murphy and colleagues resulted in the following:

Women who watched a video with an unbalanced ratio of men to women displayed more signs of anxiety and fear of negative treatment, and reported less desire to participate in the conference, compared with women who watched a gender-balanced video. Whether the video was balanced or unbalanced had almost no effect on men. (p. 4)

This study shows, on a small scale, of the negative impacts that under-representation can have when it relates to cultural alignment through the promotion of a conference, done by a video. The fears women have about working in an environment that they are not welcome in is escalated when they see it playing out the way they worried it would happen. If women were not happy with the way things were run in the video, they would not have the desire to be in that kind of atmosphere. A promotion video is short and if they are displeased with it, they would also be more strongly against working somewhere they seem to not belong in on a daily basis in a career they will have for many years of their lives. 

Education

There may be many varieties of stereotypes people have heard. Although it is common to notice the absence of women in the workplace, this may be a result of the lack of females in a tech related learning environment as well. Without females being exposed to the tech industry and taking tech classes early on in their lives, they would have trouble seeing it as a lifelong career path. This stems from the fact that “female students are underrepresented in high-technology learning environments, enroll in computer science and information technology programs at far lower rates than their male peers… and gender gaps in enrollment grow as the education level becomes more advanced” (Crombie, 2001, p. 42). If there is a low percentage of enrollment among females in lower level technology classes, that directly impacts the enrollment in higher level technology classes. Students tend to drop out of a field when they lose interest in it and if they decide to drop a subject, they enrollment only reduces. There would be an extremely low possibility that they will be an increase in enrollment of females in high level technology courses if there was not one in the lower levels since they would need to take the lower level classes to get to the more complex high level classes. 

Low rates of female enrollment in technology related courses can be caused by multiple factors. One of them would be the fear of not having the ability to be successful in a technology related course. This idea has been proven by the results done in studies with “all-female classes have been implemented for high school math and science courses in some schools. In many cases, females have reported seeing all-female classrooms as superior and shown increased confidence levels. They seem to participate more actively and are more comfortable taking risks in an all-female environment” (Crombie, 2001, p. 43) With an all-female environments, the females were able to feel more empowered to do their work and engage with the material covered in the class. They were more involved in the classes that were single-sex classes, in comparison to mixed-gendered classes that were predominantly male. Along with not believing they belonged in the class, there lack of participation would lead them to doing more poorly in the class. Without being active in the class, they would be limiting their ability to learn and absorb the information as easily as their peers with higher participation rates. This does not mean that men are the root of the problem for there being a lack of women in the STEM field, but simply that women thrive in learning and working environments when they feel accepted and comfortable. This study may also have had the results it did due to the underlying concept of cultural alignment. As previously stated, it takes the stereotypes or the views given to a tech worker and then influences how women feel about being one as well. Taking an all-female math or science course removes the cultural images associated with being what society believes an individual who pursues these kinds of fields would be like. Since the most common, incorrect, stereotype is that a tech worker is probably a pale, anti-social male, that image is disowned in an all-female course. There would be no males to strengthen this stereotype in the course, nor would there be a lack of diversity. Along with disproving these cultural images, it shows the females in the course that other people just like them can pursue a STEM related career and it would not be abnormal. Being able to witness other females, especially ones they relate to can provide a new image to replace the cultural image they were initially stuck on, prior to the course.

Having all-female classes may seem like the solution, but it is not. A more effective way to promote female attendance in these kinds of courses would be to “provide information to counter gender-related stereotypes about computer science, in addition to information about the various educational and career paths that women can pursue in high-technology fields” (Crombie, 2001, p. 43). Providing students valuable information in STEM courses is important, but in order to get them to enroll to begin with, they need to be educated with what they are about and the opportunities and possibilities these courses can guide them toward. Along with persuading females to enroll in computer science courses, schools need to let them know they are capable of working in a technology related job and that it can be successful long-term career for them. Along with that, females must also want to keep being a member of the STEM field past their classes. In order for them to join the field of technology as a life-long career, they must have a pleasant experience in their encounters with technology. Being treated the same as their male peers is one step towards that, but they must enjoy their experience to continue it and choose to enroll in more classes. This can lead them to pursuing is as a major in college and eventually find jobs the workforce that is related to technology.

The Workplace

A company may seem to be inclusive but might not be when smaller details are examined closer. Racial minorities and women tend to have “limited access to, or exclusion from, informal interaction networks” (Siu, 2004, p. 23). Networking provides employees with additional advantages in the workplace. Some advantageous include impacts on performance, having a supportive work environment, along with providing way to advance in their careers. Without having the same resources as their coworkers, women, especially if they are a minority, they are less likely to be as successful. Women also tend to have “less access to a variety of resources, such as income, position, and information, than men” (Siu, 2004, p. 24). This leads to the idea that a women’s accomplishments are not as important and their work is less significant than the work done by their male coworkers. Although it may be easy to overlook, companies need to acknowledge that there are still unfair disadvantages women face in the workplace and address it along with more obvious concerns. These overlooked details are likely to stem from women “being placed on task forces or committees merely to create a gender balance, or being on unimportant committees” (Siu, 2004, p. 26). It may seem that women are receiving equal opportunities in the workplace, but that is actually false information when the importance of what they are offered is examined more closely.

In order to truly be giving women fair opportunities, they need to have the same level of involvement and impacts on decision-making as the ones given to men. In meetings, females “were three times more likely to have their views rejected at departmental meetings than their male counterparts” and some “preferred to be silent in meetings because their views are not accorded” (Siu, 2004, p. 27). Without having the recognition and similar attention their male coworkers received in meetings, there really was no benefits of having the women included in the meetings. If they are not able to make an impact or be acknowledged for their input, the only single detail of fairness in the situation would only be their opportunity to attend the meeting in the first place. As shown in the figure, there is a connection with social identity and career outcomes. A workplace should be fair along with inclusive by involving all employees in tasks and maintenance of the workers (Siu, 2004, p. 23). 

Having gender diversity within a company, can help it bring in more business. This works especially when women are found throughout the different levels of positions, including higher positions, such as leadership boards and management roles. A study by Rodríguez-Domínguez (2018) shows the following:

“the female presence on boards and in top management positions may promote a better understanding of the marketplace, by matching the diversity of a firm’s directors to the diversity of its potential customers and employees, thereby increasing its ability to penetrate markets” (p. 605)

Companies actually benefit by allowing gender diversity within their organization. This is done my making it easier for them to penetrate the markets through understanding how it works more efficiently, which in result will lead the company towards more success. Yet when women’s efforts go continuously wasted, it encourages women to pursue another path, even if they are an ideal candidate for their job. It does not have to be this way. Implementing simple ideas into the way an individual treats their coworkers can leave a big, lasting impact. Not only do workers who are fair, welcoming and inclusive make others feel good, they also make themselves positively viewed. The Golden Rule of treating others the way you want to be treated is a simple idea that is instilled in kids from an early age. It is commonly associated with teaching children how to behave with their peers in schools but is something that should be taken as a life lesson and incorporated in the workplace as well. Allowing for gender diversity provides a win for everyone involved.

Corporate Response

Companies address gender diversity issues from a business perspective, rather than as a human resources issue. In the United States, affirmative action has allowed for women’s representation in the workforce to increase, but their “representation on top corporate boards is proving to be painstakingly slow – from 9.6 per cent in 1995, to 11.7 per cent in 2000, to 13.6 per cent in 2003 for white women – and for women of color, only one-half a percentage point since 1999” (Levin, 2006, p. 63). Although there are some factors working toward incorporating women in the workforce, they fail to be drastic enough to make significant impacts. Women of color are even further underrepresented, which means they are an even greater minority that need more attention drawn to the issue. The American workplace has been transformed by women since “conflicts related to work/family balance were seen as women’s issues” but now, “employees expect companies to assist them with work/life balance, including programs/policies that address individuals’ needs for workplace flexibility, and dual-career couples’ needs for relocation assistance” (Levin, 2006, p. 61). Women have not always been a part of the workforce, and the idea of them being a part of it now is still a lingering novelty. People are still adapting to having women as a part of the workforce and the accommodations couples need with both individuals pursuing careers. Since women are now a part of the workforce, they have brought upon new expectations of companies. 

Companies are also impacted, along with women, when they do not incorporate gender diversity. Drawbacks of not being gender inclusive is a “high cost of turnover and the inability to retain and advance talented managers” (Levin, 2006, p. 62). A study shows that more impactful blockers between women and career advancement includes:

“negative assumptions in executive ranks about women, their abilities, and their commitment to careers; failure to hold managers accountable for advancing women; perceptions that women’s management and leadership styles do not fit with the corporate culture; appraisal and compensation systems that are not uniform for men and women; 
discrimination and sexual harassment” (Levin, 2006, p. 62).

When higher ranked employees see lower ranking female employees with certain stereotypes in mind, it influences them to believe they are not employees that are worth investing in the long-term. This in the long run, this hurts the chances of women who are dedicated to their jobs, not receiving opportunities they are qualified for and willing to pursue. When these employees determine the fate of these female employees based on wrongful assumptions, they do not face any consequences. Yet, they are heavily ruining chances of career advancement for some women with inaccurate biases. Along with questioning women’s abilities and commitments, employers also assume that the styles of female management are not useful. This wrongly strengthens the reason to keep women from advancing further in their careers and limit their growth. Along with unfair assumptions made about women in the workplace, they are discouraged by discrimination and sexual harassment in the positions they do hold. When an individual is not compensated for the same work as another individual, it shows that their efforts are not valued because of who they are. A large factor in why women turn away from joining the tech field is due to feeling that they would not belong there. This is reinforced when they are undervalued in comparison to their peers. Sexual harassment disrespects women and creates a hostile work environment. Although this is something that can impact both men and women in an unsettling way, the percentage of victims tends to be higher for women than men. These conditions are the kind of treatment that make women move away from tech careers. 

Conclusion

There is not only a single reason for the sparse population of women working in the field of technology. Cultural alignment, lack of confidence, underrepresentation and poor exposure all play a role, along with many others. Yet, these factors are all able to be reduced and if they are, help increase the number of women entering the field of technology. People who are already a part of a technology related workforce should take the time to understand how women have been limited in the workforce due to their gender and why this is a problem. Once they do, they can attempt to help eliminate the situation by being inclusive of the women they work with. They should also acknowledge the way women used to be viewed and treated has changed and they are just as valuable as any other worker in the company. This would mean they must adapt to the new changes of an ever-changing workforce, and in result let go of stigmas and stereotypes that may be lingering from the past. 

References

Crombie, G., Abarbanel, T., & Anderson, C. (2001, 01). Getting girls into tech classes. The Education Digest, 66, 42-48. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/218170941?accountid=14541

Levin, L. A., & Mattis, M. (2006). Corporate and academic responses to gender diversity. Equal Opportunities International, 25(1), 60-70. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/02610150610645977

Rodríguez-domínguez, L., García-sánchez, I., & Gallego-Álvarez, I. (2012). Explanatory factors  of the relationship between gender diversity and corporate performance. European Journal of Law and Economics, 33(3), 603-620. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10657-010-9144-4

Siu Chow, I. H., & Crawford, R. B. (2004). Gender, ethnic diversity, and career advancement in  the workplace: The social identity perspective: Quarterly journal. S.A.M.Advanced Management Journal, 69(3), 22-31. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/231240619?accountid=14541

Wong, Y. L. A. (2018). Diverse global entryways: How young men and women from china, india, and the united states make the decision to enter computer science (Order No. 10830335). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global: Science & Technology; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global: Social Sciences. (2117006436). Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/2117006436?accountid=14541 

Wynn, A. T., & Correll, S. J. (2017). Gendered perceptions of cultural and skill alignment in technology companies. Social Sciences, 6(2), 45. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/socsci6020045

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