Feedback and promotion; inclusion; unconscious bias; motherhood; harassment and safety – the five reasons women are backing out from technology roles in Silicon Valley.
In a collaborative effort between seven women in Silicon Valley with backgrounds in venture capital, academia, entrepreneurship, and more, new research interviewed 200+ women to identify the following five reasons behind gender disparity.
Feedback and promotion
It is difficult for women in tech to strike the right balance without being seen as too meek or too harsh – in fact, 84% have been told they were too aggressive, while close to half (47%) have been asked to do lower-level tasks that male colleagues are not asked to do, such as taking notes or ordering food.
One respondent shared: “At Company X we had a joke that there were only two reviews for women – you are either too reticent or you are too bossy – no middle ground.”
Two in three (66%) felt excluded from key social or networking opportunities because of gender, and 90% have actually seen sexist behaviour in action at a company offsite or industry conference.
One respondent shared: “At annual sales conference once, all the men gathered in the suite of the head of sales, drinking late into the night and then all shaved their heads as a bonding exercise. (The boss had a shaven head).”
To analyse the Asia-wide impact of these findings, Human Resources reached out to Anshoo Gaur, a technology industry veteran and angel investor based in India, who has led institution-wide IT sector initiatives, apart from his industry experience.
Gaur breaks down the adverse effect of the systemic bias around women in STEM and related roles: “There are some inherent unconscious mindsets that are pervasive. Only the masculine gender is referenced in all third person conversations. This is true for conversations both by men and women.
“We have to talk about “them” and “they” or a healthy mix of “he” and “she”. Conversations have to change for any meaningful change on women inclusion, equal opportunity, and for companies to do a lot better,” he says.
Demeaning comments from male colleagues (87%) and eye contact with male, and not female, colleagues (84%) are some of the bias issues that plague the industry.
One respondent shared: “When I am with a male colleague who reports to me the default is for people tend to defer to him assuming I work for him. As soon as they know that is not true they look to me. I have also had male colleagues say to me that once a woman is pregnant she is irrelevant.”
In the backdrop of this research, Gaur cites his past experience. “I am reminded of a conversation when an IT CXO on a panel discussion was asked, when he expects to see more women leaders in IT C-suites.
“His response: ‘I am not sure if women want to be in the C-suites… because you know it is a difficult job, with a lot of pressure.’ And he was not sure if this is what women wanted.”
Of those women who took maternity leave, 52% shortened their leave because they thought it would negatively impact their career. Three in four were also asked about their family life, marital status and children in interviews.
One respondent shared: “In one review session, one male partner said of a female employee ‘we don’t have to worry about her bonus or promotion because she just got married. So she’ll probably have a baby and quit soon’.”
Another trend Gaur identifies is in the societal pressures, where women tend to drop-off when they get married or have children.
“Companies (from the top down and with push from HR) see this and are trying to be innovative to see how they can not lose this talent – flexible work, work from home, day care options are being evaluated by several firms.”
Harassment and safety
Two in five women in the technology industry have reported unwanted sexual advances, and a similar 65% have reported these advances coming from a superior.
One respondent shared: “The first time I travelled with a new CEO he made an advance. I turned him down. After that, I was never asked to travel with him again. This impacted my ability to do my job.
Despite various HR initiatives, Gaur points out problems within organisations remain. “There is a gap where senior and mid-level leaders (mostly men) don’t see a problem – because ‘they do not discriminate’.
“Plus there is ‘enough’ supply of talent (read: men) when a woman takes time. The value from diversity is not seen important in a fast moving technology world.”