How can we eliminate gender bias in tech?

We’ve taken some considerable strides towards gender equality in the workplace. However, the proportion of women in tech careers remains staggeringly low

A recent study found females to make up just 16% of IT professionals, with figures barely rising over the past ten years.

This is not due to a shortage in youthful and academic talent – when it comes to STEM, research indicates that boys and girls study in equal numbers, with the latter typically achieving higher grades. Rather, the talent pipeline is heavily skewed towards men. Employment inequality and workplace discrimination is real, in offices, and in interview rooms.

So, what are the next steps to creating a truly inclusive workplace?

Introduce blind CVs

The recruitment process is riddled with gender discrimination. Much of this bias is unconscious, a consequence of deep-seated societal prejudices that seep into the professional sphere, contaminating company cultures and tainting how new talent is taken on.

Studies indicate that women are on average 30% less likely to be contacted for a job interview than men with comparable qualifications and experience. Even the science profession — known for its unsentimental objectivity — is plagued by discrimination.

When women are selected for a role, they’re often offered a smaller salary than male colleagues. That’s the conclusion reached by tech industry recruitment site Hired, whose most recent report on wage inequality suggests the gender pay gap widened 3% between 2019 and 2020.

The answer? Blind CVs. If a hiring manager can’t tell an applicant’s gender, they can’t be prejudiced — unconsciously or otherwise — against them. Indeed, with anonymity working in their favour, research suggests they’re up to 46% more likely to be hired.

Set gender targets

It’s heartening when a tech company commits itself to gender parity — but without concrete, measurable goals, they’re unlikely to get there.

That’s why employers should spell out clear, incremental gender inclusivity targets. Measures to reach these targets can take a number of shapes: robust onboarding processes, reverse mentoring, external coaching, assessments that unlock sponsorship programmes for high performers to accelerate to senior leadership positions.

However, these alone are not enough. Organisations must assign a certain proportion of C-suite and top-tier executive roles to women. Additionally, they should set quarterly and annual success targets pegged not only to financial performance, but gender parity progress as well.

Bridge the wage gap

As mentioned before, there’s evidence — corroborated elsewhere — that the gender pay gap is widening in Silicon Valley.

This is deeply concerning for the tech sector. As it is, men in the industry earn some 61% more than women for performing the same job, while two-thirds of the time women are offered a lower salary than male candidates recruited for an identical role. On both counts, this imbalance is greater when the individual involved is a woman of colour or comes from an ethnic minority background.

This, again, reflects deep-seated prejudice. That’s why tech firms must commit themselves to pay parity irrespective of gender, adopting checks and balances that ensure a policy of equal remuneration for equal work is adhered to.

Fail at this, and a company’s brightest female talent will be prohibited from reaching their fullest potential, which is bad news for all involved.

Eliminate the ‘motherhood penalty’

There’s clear evidence of professional prejudice against working mothers — women are passed up for job progression and prevented from exploring other opportunities. This is called the ‘motherhood penalty’.

On average, women lose 4% of hourly earnings when they start a family; a significant amount when taken as a proposition of lifetime earnings. Compared to men who gain an average pay rise of 6% after becoming fathers.

Moving forward, employers must make clear to female staff that they will be judged purely on performance, not on their working schedules – opening the door to more flexible working options, letting women advance professionally without jeopardising family commitments.

Likewise, the stigma around shared parental leave must be addressed, normalising a man’s role as equal caregiver when tending to a new-born. With more equitable paternity policies, female staff will be better enabled to pursue senior leadership roles.

Address gender bias head on

Firms must address bias head on. Company-wide training programmes and workshops that address gender discrimination are a good place to start with this. Similarly, employers should promote their gender equality policies, making clear their progressive approach to recruitment, pay, C-suite targets, and the motherhood penalty.

Shatter the glass ceiling

We cannot lose another second to gender bias in the workplace. Fairness between the sexes isn’t only a matter of social justice — it’s about good financial sense. Reports indicate companies perform ten times better with more females in leadership positions. Only once we shatter the glass ceiling can we build back better from the pandemic.

About the Author

Ann-Kathrin View Ann-Kathrin Sauthoff-Bloch’s profile champions Infosys Consulting’s growth strategy across Europe. She has an impressive career history, having spent 14 years at Accenture, before moving to IBM in 2013, where she was the global lead account partner for Deutsche Telekom, one of IBM’s largest accounts in Germany, leading over 250 consultants onsite and offshore.

Featured image: ©Andril Starunskyi