A lot has been written about women in technology lately, especially with companies like Google and Apple publishing their diversity statistics and the advent of programmes like Lean In. As a female chemical engineer in Silicon Valley, I see all sorts of initiatives towards increasing the number of women in technology. I’ve also met people with many different ideas about this, ranging from those who maintain this is an imaginary problem to those who merely provide lip service to the issue to those who are working every minute they can towards achieving gender equality.
Whatever the many opinions are, the fact is this: Men clearly outnumber women in technology companies in technical and management roles. There are many reasons contributing to this – sexual discrimination, traditional gender role bias, conscious and unconscious biases, and so on. The biggest obstacle to solving this problem is the systematic denial that there is, in fact, a problem. It’s easy to recognize a problem when there is a blatant discrimination of rights, for example, when women weren’t allowed to vote. In today’s world however, where women are “allowed” to vote, work and drive, it’s easy to ignore the fact that they are working as hard as men but aren’t enjoying the same compensation or perks. It’s easy to forget that freedom and equality aren’t the same thing, and both are equally important.
Gender inequality can only be fully eradicated, and I say eradicated because it is akin to a disease, when there is organized change in all walks of life – schools, colleges, society, households, offices, media, and so on.
Many initiatives are being undertaken globally to improve gender statistics in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Programmes like Techbridge are aimed at getting more middle and high school girls involved in STEM careers. Intel publicly announced concrete goals and a $300 million fund towards improving diversity in their workforce. Salesforce’s CEO recently announced that he intends to eliminate the gender wage gap in the company. Lean In, now a worldwide movement, aims at inspiring confidence in women to demand changes. These are very important initiatives taking several steps in the right direction. However, it is important to understand that no one programme will fully eradicate the problem; instead a combination of different solutions working in tandem has to be implemented in parallel. There is no point in improving office conditions for women if there are no women in the pipeline to join that particular company.
This series of articles takes a comprehensive look at gender equality in different stages of life – middle school, high school, college, graduate school, work, government STEM initiatives, academia, etc. Each article will examine the nature of the problem in that stage, the different initiatives aimed at improving the situation, the statistics, what’s working and what’s not, and the obstacles.