Will the Women in Congress Trend Trickle Into Tech? I’m Hopeful.
We’re a bunch of chatterboxes here are BrainSell. In the breakroom, you might overhear conversations about plans for the weekend, recent movie releases – and yes, sometimes about politics. This month, we’ve been chatting a lot more about politics than usual, since Congress is now the most female it has ever been throughout U.S. history.
With 23 new female members, women now make up nearly a quarter of Congress – the highest percentage in U.S. history. This is part of why the media has been in a frenzy. After a decades-long, steady increase of women in government, we’re just now finally seeing changes in a sector that has been historically male.
These changes reflect a larger upward trend of female participation in the general U.S. workforce over the last few decades. Women’s participation rose from 34% in 1950 to almost 57% in 2016. In the mid-70s, women became a permanent fixture of the job market. However, women’s participation isn’t increasing as fast in some sectors compared to others. While sectors such as government, healthcare, and business are growing with female workers, other sectors are slower to change – particularly, in the software sector.
While the software industry suffers from a similar diversity problem that the government sector does, there are signs of improvement. The number of female software developers and engineers is on the rise, but at a snail’s pace. Women developers and engineers have similar skill sets and experience as male counterparts. On top of this, nearly half of computer science graduates and junior developers who enter the workforce at entry-level positions are women. These are huge steps toward an industry-wide shift in female participation.
So, if women in software are statistically equal to men in terms of education, and expertise, why aren’t they equal in terms of population? Many believe this is due to gender equality issues deeply imbued in STEM work culture – mainly that women tend to be held back in junior positions despite being equally capable as male peers. Lack of career development opportunities prompts women to leave the industry and, in some cases, discourages women from entering it in the first place. Many who are promoted end up in top operations or project management positions rather than top development or engineering positions.
The reasons for this are complicated. Even if the quality of work is the same, on average a man’s contribution is taken more seriously than a woman’s. By many accounts, this is because women in software are thought of as less qualified, less hard-working, and less knowledgeable. The most common (and extremely inaccurate) justification of this belief – popularized in recent years by a highly publicized internal memo written by one of Google’s top employees – is that a man’s brain is biologically wired better for software and programming than a woman’s. Despite this problematic claim, the debate surfaced an important fact that society pressures women to prioritize managerial skills over technical ones in the workplace.
Anecdotes from women tend to cite the same reasons for why there are less women in software than there should be: an unwelcoming gender-biased work culture, and more importantly, a serious lack of female role models or industry leaders.
Lack of strong, successful female examples to follow has made it extremely difficult for women to navigate the complicated and difficult social dynamics of the software sector. These same social dynamics exist in other male-dominated workforce sectors as well – government especially. With the recent influx of women representatives in Congress, many people are considering the example we’re setting for female children and students. Visibility is a powerful thing. Women of today who are regarded as strong, qualified, experienced leaders will inspire younger generations to continue paving this road towards progress and equality.
But make no mistake – the government sector is no exception to this rule. Women in software have just as much power to promote change and set examples for generations that follow. Many individual women have vowed to step into these leadership roles to become the example for others that they wish they’d had. And it’s not just individual women who are setting leadership examples and championing change for younger generations, universities and private organizations are doing this as well. More and more, we’re seeing opportunities for women to learn and create alongside other women in software. Girls Who Code, Code Like a Girl, Go Girl, Go for IT and Tech Girls are Superheros are only a couple of the many organizations working to create these opportunities.
So, while there’s a long road ahead for women in software, the end is in sight. BrainSell is a proud woman-dominated technology and software company that employs women in managerial and technical roles – so this steady march toward progress is near and dear to us. As the new congressional representatives settle into their new positions this month, we’re thinking of how far they’ve come, how far they’ll go, and of all the women they will bring with them on their way. We’re hopeful for the same progress in the technology and software workforce as well.
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