You may have heard and even listened to the repeated calls for ’more women needed’ in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). And when you were told that careers in technology offer women more opportunities to climb the corporate ladder; and to achieve greater economic independence and workplace equality, you believed it. That is why the recent news that yet another big tech company favors the boys over the girls must have hit you hard.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the tech industry and its female employees, there is no shortage of alarming headlines in the news. First it was Facebook that landed in the male-dominated hot seat. This time it is Twitter who is being sued for gender discrimination by one of its former female employees. Shocking news? Maybe, maybe not.
The question is: if the need for more women in technology is so great, why is there so much resistance by the industry?
Just a few days ago, it was all about ’girl power’ when President Obama hosted the 2015 White House Science Fair and recognized the student winners, many of them girls, of a broad range of STEM competitions. During the festivities, President Obama announced $240 million in new contributions to help kids in STEM fields and told students and women scientists to:
“Keep asking why. Don’t settle for what you already know. Never stop believing in the power of your ideas, your imagination, your hard work to change the world.” --President Barack Obama.
Among those listening to the president’s inspirational words was Trisha Prabhu, a 14-year-old from Illinois who invented an anti-bullying computer program called “Rethink” that alerts users when an outgoing message contains hurtful language. But it was not just the president’s message that is attracting girls like Prabhu to STEM careers, it is also his actions.
In 2015, he created the White House Council on Women and Girls within the Office of Science and Technology Policy. His goal, according to the website, is “to increase the participation of women and girls — as well as other underrepresented groups — in STEM by increasing the engagement of girls with STEM subjects in formal and informal environments, encouraging mentoring to support women throughout their academic and professional experiences, and supporting efforts to retain women in the STEM workforce”.
However, the problem for Prabhu and other girls interested in pursuing STEM careers probably has little to do with obtaining the education needed. Instead, the greatest obstacle for them will be their ability to thrive in a male-dominated industry. Shanley Kane, tech industry observer and the founder of Model View Culture, told MIT’s Technology Review, that there is a lot of dialogue surrounding “the need to get 10-year-old girls into science in order to bring up the numbers of women they will fund, but they don’t fund the ones already in the industry”.
“We are not getting hired, and we are not getting promoted, and we are being systematically driven out of the industry,” Kane, who routinely condemns ‘the white brogrammer establishment’ on her website, added.
Bernadette Andrietti, a vice president at technology firm Intel Inc., agrees with Kane. In an interview with Forbes, Andrietti talked about the problems that still exist when it comes to women hoping to launch a career in Silicon Valley.
“There are still two major issues: the number of women working in the industry, and the opportunities for them to advance their career and their pay,” Andrietti told Forbes.
She added that there is “definitely a concerted effort being made by governments, education bodies, businesses and non-governmental organizations” to support diversity in STEM careers, particularly when it comes to leadership roles for women. In countries like Africa and Indian, governments are working with businesses to attract and retain more women in technology, says Forbes. But is that enough?
If you ask women like Intel’s CEO Kumud Srinivasan, Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Ann Mayer, or Hewlett-Packard’s CEO of Meg Whitman, they would probably say that things are changing slowly. But if you ask female insiders like Tina Huang what the tech industry is doing to attract and retain more women, the answer would probably be nothing. Huang, who worked as a software engineer for Twitter from 2009 through 2014, filed a class action lawsuit against the social networking service last week. The suit alleges that Twitter operates on a ‘black box’ style of promotion, in which management favors men when it comes to promotions.
According to Reuters, Huang was ignored by management when she asked for a promotion and subsequently fired after she complained about it. In the Court documents obtained by Mashable, Huang also claims that Twitter has no formal procedures for posting job openings or granting promotions. Relying instead on a secretive ‘shoulder tap’ process that promotes few women to top engineering jobs. But Twitter says that Huang had quit her job.
“Ms. Huang resigned voluntarily from Twitter, after our leadership tried to persuade her to stay. She was not fired. Twitter is deeply committed to a diverse and supportive workplace, and we believe the facts will show Ms. Huang was treated fairly,” a Twitter spokesperson told The Verge.
If you ask one of Facebook’s former product managers, Chia Hong about any steps taken to ensure income equality in Silicon Valley, she would probably give it a big thumbs down. Hong, who filed a lawsuit against Facebook for gender and racial discrimination, sexual harassment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, is also claiming that she was overlooked for a promotion and fired in 2013.
According to the Verge, Hong has included Facebook’s Director of Finance and Infrastructure Tools Anil Wilson as well as a number of other male employees in the lawsuit. In the Court documents, Hong claims that she was often put down by her male counterparts; and ordered to organize parties and serve drinks by Wilson.
It was just last year when some of the largest tech companies released a flood of diversity data disclosures that provided more confirmation of the blatant gender discrimination that still occurs in the industry today, says INC. Magazine.
And like you, many female tech employees are calling it another blow against equal pay and equal rights for women in the workplace. In the end, the news of cases like these do not offer a lot motivation for the young girls who may be contemplating whether or not they should answer the call for ’more women needed’ to join a mostly white male-dominated industry.
Do you think that tech companies discriminate against women? Have you any experience of this? Your thoughts and comments below please...