An Open Letter to Women in Technology

by Kayla Toh

I had the privilege of attending an insightful and empowering talk by the former White House Communications Director and Director of Communications for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

In her book, ‘Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to Women Who Will Run the World’, Jennifer Palmieri shared the emotional turbulences she experienced, whilst shedding light on how those events could be used to encourage and guide our future female leaders.

Possible lessons learnt

Jennifer Palmieri has seen women dealing with a multitude of different obstacles and struggles throughout her career. But the result of the 2016 election, which saw Donald Trump became the President of the United States, made her realise that people still face huge issues when it comes to accepting a female leader.

In an attempt to come to terms with this political outcome, Jennifer began to pick away at the many layers of the Clinton campaign. At first, she thought:

Maybe women aren’t supposed to go this far in the US. Maybe men like Trump are always supposed to win at these things”.

But on a deeper level of understanding, she accepted that the failure may have been in the error of moulding Hilary into a female facsimile of what a male president should be, instead of what a female president should be. This is because the only past models were men.

As a result, many people – women included – saw her as inauthentic. And this is because, in order for Hillary to compete with the other male candidates, she had to act as they did – emotionless, assertive and unapologetic in her declaration that she is powerful enough for the role of President. People were not used to seeing a woman in this ‘male environment’ and behaving in this way. To many it seemed unnatural. A power-seeking image and expressed power-seeking intent can bias voters against female politicians.

How this applies to women in technology

Jennifer’s arguments can be extended much further than just politics. It can be applied to all areas in life where women seek to succeed – including technology.

The tech industry is widely seen as a male-dominated sector, with less than 7% of tech positions in Europe are filled by women.

There are few possible reasons for this:

  • The gender stereotype that “boys are better at STEM subjects”  discourages women from studying science and math
  • As a consequence, less women are in the pool of talent and the possibilities to see the number of women increasing is low
  • Managers tend to hire people similar to themselves. When translated into the tech industry, this means that male employers tend to hire male employees.
  • The industry makes it difficult to combine having a tech career with motherhood

The gender imbalance is a relevant problem, as the tech sector offers the largest and broadest skills and opportunities for the future, with the demand for IT and STEM-educated professionals expected to boom. By 2023, it’s predicted that there will be 142,000 more jobs in the technical fields to fill. We do not want women to be excluded from this because they know that the industry has unequal opportunities (or a lack of opportunity altogether) for them. These ideas result in them avoiding the pursuance of a tech career and the gender imbalance will continue.

Since the recent release of the Gender Pay Gap Reports in the UK, the difference in salaries, achievements and wellbeing between men and women in tech professions has come to light. Results show that the gap has actually widened since last year, with women being paid much less than their male counterparts (up to 9%). In argument, the difference shown by the gender pay gap reports is mainly down to the fact that there are less women working in the high-paying managerial/leadership roles within tech, compared to men.

“[An] aspect of the gender-in-tech problem that I rarely see acknowledged: the heavily gendered casting of roles within companies – or in other words, the way that tech companies with female employees tend to place them in “people” roles, while men dominate in technical positions…Coders are lionized in the tech sector, and are compensated for their technical skills with higher wages and positional power – so women without coding chops are automatically less likely to advance to senior positions or command the highest salaries.”

Lauren Bacon, Tech Entrepreneur and Author.

Overcoming the gender imbalance in technology

There is no evidence to support the argument that women are not hired for senior positions because they are incapable of carrying out the same level of work as men. Women actually created the field of technology and the first ever computer programmer was also a woman.  So, why are there less women in these types of roles?

The root of the problem relates back to Jennifer’s argument that people have an unease with women seeking supremacy. People make the mistake of identifying a woman’s voice as a feminine voice, instead of simply a female voice looking for equal opportunities.

Jennifer addresses the problems, but also offers positive and practical ways for women to deal with these barriers. She states that in order to become a leader, a woman must be more than just an imitation of a male figurehead. Women must change the view that leadership roles are ‘masculine’ – the same way that women will change America’s perception of a ‘candidate’ in the way that they run for the presidency, since Hillary’s attempt.

The attributes that are seen as ‘feminine’ in a woman should be embraced, celebrated and used to drive success. For example, the expectations of a woman to be compassionate and not interested in taking credit for work are actually characteristics that men would benefit from too. When Jennifer once worked overtime for something that had no benefit to her, a colleague said to her: “I don’t know why you’re doing that, a guy would never do that”. And she thought “But I don’t want to be like a guy!”.

Do not let your emotions be a sign of weakness. A woman can be both strong and emotional. As Jennifer argued: “If you feel like you’re going to cry when you say something – don’t stop yourself. More than likely, it means that what you have to say is really important”.

Women can combat gender inequality by sticking up for their own professional integrity. This might be pursued by improving education, challenging stereotypes, or strengthening their networking and mentoring opportunities.

Bringing more women into the tech industry would have many benefits, from breeding innovation to helping to break the cycle of a male-dominated sector and filling the STEM talent demand. The reduction of gender inequality could make the UK’s GDP increase by over £444 billion by 2025.

Jennifer notes:

The future is female and the past is too, but no one thought it was important enough to write it down”.

We must collectively – both men and women – overcome the feeling of unease at women seeking power in any aspect of life, in order to pave the way for a better future for our daughters and granddaughters.

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