Sexism still haunts women in tech

Tuesday, February 11th, 2020 00:00 |
Qhala CEO, Shikoh Gitau.

Njambi Wanjiku @NjambiCiiku

Women are breaking through the glass ceiling that once stood in their way and standing alongside their male peers to deliver incredible results within the tech world.

Not only does their presence dispute the concept that technology-related career paths are only open to men, but it gives the tech sector a more approachable and down-to-earth touch.

Talented and intelligent women, who still struggle with gender prejudice in a male-dominated world, today have developed many remarkable inventions in use. 

Despite progress in gender equality in employment, men continue to substantially outnumber women in the tech industry. 

At a Dell Technologies Forum in Nairobi last year, women working in tech attributed gender disparity in technical fields to the fact that women study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at a lower rate than men do. 

Qhala CEO, Shikoh Gitau, says with less than half of engineering and computer science students being women, many women who have an interest in tech may not have the right education employers are looking for.

“This may lead to a workplace atmosphere where women feel as though they do not fit in.

Some women can also experience difficulty staying up-to-date with latest trends in technology, leading to a skill gap that adds to the challenges they face,” she said.

Marital and parental status

Regardless of having equal or superior skills to their male counterparts, women often feel like societal pressure and cultural norms work against them while seeking employment and advancement in tech careers causing them to feel pressured to pursue careers in other industries.

CIO East Africa CEO Laura Chite.

Judy Muoka, Information Technology Service Manager at Resolution Insurance, highlighted that gender inequality in the tech industry are at higher than overall average among employed women in other industries.

She noted networking opportunities and promotions go to men in tech careers more than to women.

“Company events often provide settings where male tech workers exhibit sexist attitudes toward their female colleagues.

Employees in the work environment often question whether a woman has the ability to address and resolve technical issues,” she said.

Gender discrimination, though illegal, still exists in the job market. Computer Connections Director Umi Punja observed interviewers ask questions about marital and parental status to three-quarters of female applicants and a stunning 40 per cent of all women, even when not directly questioned about their family status, feel like they must carefully guard details about their family during job interviews.

“Women often lack self-confidence and suffer from feelings of inferiority,” she said.

An international survey, Elephant in the Valley, indicates a drastic 60 per cent of women working in tech report sexual harassment, with many women reporting harassment both from their male counterparts and superiors.

Shockingly, 60 per cent of women in tech reported unwanted sexual advances with 65 per cent from a superior.

For those that reported sexual assault, 60 per cent were dissatisfied with the outcome.

A study by the Hewlett-Packard (HP) Company came to the startling conclusion that women were not applying for a promotion unless they met 100 per cent of the requirements while men will happily apply if they only meet 60 per cent.

In some cases, confident women are told they are too aggressive, with 84 per cent of them in tech reporting hearing this more than once.

In other cases, 47 per cent have been asked to do lower-level tasks that male colleagues are not asked to do such as note-taking and ordering food.

Confident women come across negatively when compared to other women, who may not have the same confidence traits

CIO East Africa chief executive Laura Chite noted many women in tech also feel a general sense of exclusion.

Sixty-six per cent feel excluded from key social and network opportunities due to gender, 59 per cent feel as if they did not receive the same opportunities as male counterparts, and 90 per cent reported sexist behaviour during company events and industry conferences.

“Female computer science concentrators with eight years of programming experience are as confident in their skills as their male peers with zero to one year of programming experience,” she said.

With men comprising a high percentage of those in the tech space, it can be difficult as a woman trying to compete. Even tech giants such as Google, Microsoft and Twitter have extremely low numbers of women in their tech roles. 

In 2015, women in tech roles at these companies were only 16.6 per cent at Microsoft, 10 per cent at Twitter and 17 per cent at Google.

Generally, in executive leadership roles, only 23 per cent of Microsoft’s leadership roles are filled by women, 21 per cent at Twitter and 21 per cent at Google.

Director of Information Technology and Operations at Sidian Bank Catherine Muraga noted when men and women are given the same skills test and asked to self-assess, women give themselves an average score lower than their actual score while men give themselves an average score higher than their actual score.

“Both men and women score very similarly in a variety of skills tests,” she said.

A study done by Harvard also found that men started their self-assessment from zero–five at about three with zero to six months of experience.

Women started much lower at two and only self-assessed as a three after eight years of experience; men with that same experience self-assess at four.

A 2016 Peterson Institute study has confirmed women and technology is a powerful mix in business revealing that the inclusion of women in leadership roles has a positive impact on company profits.

The survey of 21,980 companies across 92 countries, across the world, found that companies with at least two women in executive positions in the C-Suite (a company’s most important senior executives) and two women in board positions had a higher turnover than those without this kind of diversity.

Vice President of Sales at Dell Technologies, Habib Mahakian, confirms hiring more women will help decrease workplace sexism for some companies and make them grow more and perform better.

“Female tech entrepreneurs generate 35 per cent higher returns than their male counterparts. An investment in both hiring and retaining more women actually leads to growth and greater returns for companies, hiring fewer women does not,” he said.

Mahakian added innovation-focused companies are Sh5.28 billion ($44 million) more valuable on average when women hold positions of power.

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