Woman In Technology: Are they underselling themselves?

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The world just celebrated International Women’s day, and we’re all about it! But celebrating and elevating women shouldn’t end with that shout-out on social media or those Women’s Day special discounts. We want to dig deeper and understand what women experience in the workplace! A look at the state of women in technology is quite revealing.

Female representation in technology

It is no news that STEM fields have been less than welcoming to women. Only 25% of Canadian technology employees are women, and they get paid $7000 less than men annually. This figure has been practically stagnant for 10 years! A mere 13% of these women hold executive positions, with 5% being CEOs. This, despite 60% of STEM degrees being held by women!

Are men simply better at tech?

Not quite! In the programming arena for instance, research goes as far as to claim that women actually make for better developers than men! A team of US researchers found that code written by female developers had higher approval rates (78.6%) on GitHub – a community code development and sharing platform – compared to those written by men (74.6%). But the catch! This was only true when the gender of the coders was concealed.

Self-reporting skills

One struggle comes in the form of self-reporting skills. Women in the tech sphere have cited concerns like discomfort with asserting their expertise, fear of judgement, and the all too familiar “imposter syndrome” – feeling inadequate despite evident success. This creates an environment that is unfavourable for women to accurately report their skills, often leaving them second guessing themselves, underselling their capabilities, and even leaving entire skill-sets off the table.

Lesley Chard, a developer with Clockwork Fox Studios in St. John’s Newfoundland says that although colleagues have been largely supportive, one can’t help but notice that men in the industry seem to have more of a natural voice, and “it is their voices that come out the loudest”.

She has been a part of conversations where female developers felt like they were “under a microscope and had to be twice as good as everyone else to prove themselves”.

This is why organizations like Canada Learning Code, of which Lesley is the St. John’s Chapter head, are important. They run some great programs like the Ladies Learning Code initiative to set women up for success.

Keerthi Raghunathan, a Toronto-based developer with says that despite having a rich decade-long experience of software development behind her, she feels that her male counterparts are often seen as the natural first choices for certain projects. “I have had to learn to be a vocal advocate of my capabilities, sometimes even interrupting discussions to point out that I would be a better fit for a project”, she says. “And the ones who are not able to do so, miss out”.

Vivian Yonge is a freelance developer from Canada’s West coast. She says of her initial years in the industry, “As a young developer, it was intimidating to try and match up to more experienced colleagues. I would hesitate to take on projects and would never volunteer myself. I also was conscious not to oversell myself and set myself up for failure”. She says that having a way for supervisors to have a fact-based, unbiased knowledge of her skill set would have put her at ease.

The way forward

The answer lies not only in technology and programming education for girls and young women, but also in strong industry support. Organizations like Women In Science and Engineering, Newfoundland and Labrador (WISE NL) do important work in supporting women with training, mentorship opportunities, and funding.

Workplace operations as we know them will have to change as well. Barriers like the ones discussed here are embedded into the system. A credible tool for developer skills to be tracked and reported in real-time could go a long way in levelling the field for women in programming!