As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s important to reflect on the progress women have made in the hi-tech industry, while also acknowledging the challenges that still exist. As a woman in tech, I’d like to believe that our daughters and their peers will not have to face the same obstacles that I and my generation have experienced. However, the numbers suggest that, unless there’s a radical change, this will not be the case. While more women are entering the industry, they still face significant barriers – including gender bias, lack of representation in leadership positions, and wage disparities.
What are the challenges facing women and what needs to be done to ensure a brighter future for women in hi-tech?
Highlighting women’s successes
Celebrating women who have broken the glass ceiling is an important way to acknowledge and appreciate their achievements. Some notable examples of women leaders in the high-tech industry include:
- Ginni Rometty Former chairman, president, and CEO of IBM, became the first woman to head the company.
- Mira Murati Chief technology officer at OpenAI.
- Ursula Burns The first African-American woman to head a Fortune 500 company and was previously the CEO of Xerox.
- Diane Bryant A top executive at Intel for more than 30 years and led the company’s datacenter business.
- Orna Berry Director of technology at Google CTO office, and former chief scientist at Israel’s Ministry of Industry and Trade.
These women have not only shattered the glass ceiling in their respective industries, but they have also paved the way for other women to follow in their footsteps. Despite these successes, women still face significant barriers in hi-tech.
The numbers tell a different story
- While the proportion of women graduating with core STEM degrees is increasing steadily, the gender split remains at 26 percent, since the number of men graduating with core STEM degrees is increasing at a faster rate. This trend is also reflected in the STEM workforce, with women accounting for just 24 percent.
- Using the data trends from the last ten years, 2009–2019, WISE has estimated that by 2030, they expect to reach over 29 percent of women in the STEM workforce.
- Less than 45 percent of the workforce of the major technology companies in Silicon Valley – namely Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft – comprised women (ranging from 28 percent to 42 percent in 2020).
- 26 percent of computing-related jobs are held by women.
- Five out of ten women leave the technology industry by the mid-level point in their careers.
What is causing women to quit the hi-tech industry despite the substantial effort they have made to become accepted in this field?
Women are often driven out of a promising career in tech by a number of factors including institutional barriers, the COVID pandemic, gender bias, and more.
Navigating the boys’ club: the unspoken challenges
The hi-tech industry is often referred to as a boys’ club where conversations revolve around sports, table games, and complaints about wives. Unfortunately, these topics don’t always resonate with women. While these clubs can be enjoyable and sometimes offer lighthearted conversations, they also create a barrier for women to feel included. Imagine being the only man at a table. It makes you wonder what hi-tech offices would look like if women were in the majority.
This topic of the “boys’ club” in the tech industry is complicated as it contradicts the push for equal rights and behaviors between men and women. It’s challenging because, on the one hand, women advocate for equal rights and behavior, eliminating the boundaries between what is considered “masculine” and what is considered “feminine” –making the discussion about a boys’ club somewhat contradictory. On the other hand, it’s still a part of women’s daily challenges. How do we talk about the unspoken?
Tokenism vs empowerment: a delicate balancing act
A further challenge that women encounter as they pursue their careers in the tech industry is the lack of female role models with whom they can identify. As a recent addition to the high-tech industry, I attended a motivational session led by Orna Berry, the former chief scientist at the Ministry of Industry and Trade, and director of technology at the Google CTO’s office. This session was part of a women empowerment initiative held on International Women’s Day.
Witnessing a successful woman in a leadership role within the industry was undoubtedly inspiring, yet it also left me feeling intimidated by her remarkable accomplishments. While such examples serve as a source of inspiration, they may also create unrealistic expectations that discourage women, resembling a ladder with missing rungs, where one can either ascend to the top or remain at the bottom.
This experience prompted me to question the efficacy of using accomplished women as tokens, and whether it serves to close or widen the gender gap. Instead, a more realistic model of successful women in the hi-tech industry should be presented, showcasing women in various leadership positions, as well as those who are experts in their own fields. By doing so, we can provide a more comprehensive picture of success and inspire more women to pursue a career in this field.
The Imposter syndrome
Not all the challenges faced by women in the tech industry are external. As a woman working in this field, I have experienced firsthand what it’s like to feel like a misfit. I remember doubting my abilities and feeling like I was not as capable as the men beside me, and feared I’d be exposed as a fraud. This feeling is so common that it even has a name: the imposter syndrome – which 75 percent of female executives across industries have experienced. An interesting fact is that when asked which dynamics within the workplace were most valuable to help reduce feelings of imposter syndrome, 47 percent said having a supportive performance manager and 29 percent said feeling valued and being rewarded fairly.
Transforming the status quo: the vital role of men in advancing women in tech
Men have a significant role to play in promoting more opportunities for women in the industry, starting with guaranteeing early access to education and opportunities and continuing with creating more inclusive workplaces.
In fact, there are men out there who are making a difference, and who are actively working to make the workplace more inclusive and supportive of women. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few of these men in my own career. Shai Harmelin from Dell EMC saw my potential as a product manager and encouraged me to make the switch from software engineering. Amit Liberman from Grid Services challenged me to embrace my emotions when I was upset (well he was actually so sarcastic about it, that he made me laugh immediately), and Aron Brand, CTERA’s CTO, simply told me: “Don’t worry, you’ve got this” just before I started writing this article. These men are proof that allyship is essential in creating a workplace where everyone can thrive.
Ravit Sadeh, senior director of product management, CTERA, has more than 15 years of experience in product management and development in storage and cloud solutions. She is currently the senior director of product management at CTERA. Previously she held product management and development roles at Dell EMC and Amdocs. She has earned two Bachelor of Science degrees, one in Computer Science and one in Biology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Ravit is a single mother of two children.