For many women, being ‘the first’ in a STEM role, can feel overwhelming, isolating and sometimes even intimidating. We asked all our interviewees to share their own personal experiences working in a male-dominated environment.
Ramos has always felt her male peers listened to and respected her on the job: “My experience in Software Testing in a male-oriented discipline has been generally positive and pleasant. If colleagues can see that your work is good, you can keep up and understand technical discussions, then you are treated fairly. In the teams I have worked with, the majority of males have treated me with respect.”
Hughes often feels the need to become her own cheerleader to ensure she is heard: “women sometimes have the battle of being heard and being respected, which can lead to self-doubt and questioning if they are capable. It’s incredibly important to remind yourself of your technical ability and experience to deliver the task at hand”.
However, Northmore shares the harsher side of the gender imbalance; “sexism, inappropriate behaviour, and the low hum of tech bro culture persist”. Encouragingly, however, she also notes the major strides taking place within the industry: “there’s been a concerted effort to diversify conference panels. I remember when Software Engineer Nicole Sullivan was the only female developer panellist. Seeing her made me think— oh, I could do this as a career too, and be an expert.”
The topic of confidence is a repeated theme throughout the study with all interviewed participants alluding to it as being a key driving force for change. Next, we look at how they’ve personally tackled the topic of finding the confidence to pursue a career as a minority within the industry.
Confidence and imposter syndrome
Confidence is also an area King has developed over her career, consciously changing her approach when pitching for work: “I’ve had to learn to be stronger on pitches as there have been times where people aren’t perhaps taking me as seriously as others on a pitch. My ways of working have to be more direct than perhaps I’d be more inclined to in my personal life. I’ve also been able to get a feel for things earlier on, in terms of working with clients who will listen to me more and champion women developers in general”.
Software engineer Zemaityte shares a similar view having found her fellow female peers more likely to doubt their abilities at work; “from my experience, women have a tendency to be less confident and doubt themselves a bit more in a field that's so male-dominated.”
I think there are two parts at play here; a shortage of people, in general, coming into the industry across the board which is then exacerbated by the smaller numbers of women going into STEM industries. And there is a lack of general awareness about upskilling and changing career direction into development which is invaluable.
Freelance Web Developer
King also shares her own experiences during her career; “I’ve noticed in the past that male counterparts progress quicker than possibly I did in my career. You don’t see many higher engineer positions for women which is a shame.”
Imposter syndrome is another recurring topic when discussing women in tech. Northmore shares; “Usually, it was because I didn’t look or sound like other people who coded, and I didn’t have a computer science background. Luckily you can quickly upskill with online courses.”
Hughes shares her view on dealing with imposter syndrome, as a woman in tech: “Don’t feel intimidated by a room full of men or even people who don’t look like you. Don’t ever worry about your gender, be strong and focus on doing what you love! Stand your ground and believe in your own ability, do a good job and you will get the respect and the rewards you deserve. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions and remember making mistakes is a way we all learn.”
Overcoming imposter syndrome is something that comes over time and through career development. However, the question remains, if it isn’t confidence or imposter syndrome holding women like King, Hughes, Northmore et al, what is causing the dwindling statistics of women in higher positions within industries such as technology? Are women simply being overlooked for their male counterparts? Or are there other contributing factors when it comes to hiring women for top-paying jobs?
How societal expectations play a part
Referred to as the ‘Motherhood penalty’ by PWC, one of the major external factors to consider when exploring the gender imbalance is the role that the wider society plays when creating imbalances for men and women at work. As well as taking time out of their jobs for maternity leave, women with children are often expected to take up more childcare responsibilities whilst working full time. This unconscious bias follows women from school-age, as results from a recent survey by CPD London revealed. 1,000 school children were interviewed in February 2022 by agency CPD London, and the results found 39% of the 5- to 11-year-olds polled think that women should stay home and 38% agreed that men should go to work.
These unconscious biases are being created at an early age for the next generation of our workforce by external factors such as their own parental influences, reinforcing these traditional expectations on women to put their own careers on hold. If, as CPD London’s survey suggests, these biases are starting at school-age, they are far more likely to impact how younger girls view their own working opportunities later in life.
As a mother and developer, Northmore’s own career experience has been supportive: “I’ve taken maternity leave this year (2022) and I’ve never seen another software engineer who was pregnant! Luckily, my current employer is amazingly supportive and parent-friendly.”
Hughes echoes the need for the industry to tackle long standing issues that have dictated the work/ life balance for women; “the other major factor that may impact women becoming freelance is the fact that we do not get maternity pay, sick pay and also holiday allowance. I personally feel that the flexible contracting work-life balance, pay and remote working outweighs these fears and if possible I would want to encourage more women to become freelance.”
So, are there fewer women in freelance roles in tech due to external factors such as parenting? Does this impact job security which causes more women in tech to go into fixed term/ perm roles vs. freelance?
This is something Ramos is conscious of when considering new roles “In my opinion, perhaps females in IT prefer the security of permanent roles rather than short term contract roles so they’re not job hunting as often?”.
Flexible working hours to accommodate school pick up/drop-offs for working mums, maternity leave, work from home, mentoring, connecting with other women in the company, equal pay to males, award recognition for women in IT, training, opportunities for on the job upskilling.
Senior QA Analyst
In order to attract more women in all types of development roles, employers need to encourage flexible working environments. Ramos contests: “flexible working hours to accommodate school pick up/drop-offs for working mums, maternity leave, work from home, mentoring, connecting with other women in the company, equal pay to males, award recognition for women in IT, training, opportunities for on the job upskilling”. These are just some of the ways employers can attract some of the best female talent.
Instead of women feeling the insecurity of contracting or freelancing in such a high-demand industry, the flexibility of being freelance should be considered a huge benefit, as King shares her own feelings about managing workloads: “Flexibility in a role can work around what your personal life needs. Again, this is across the board now after the last few years and people have discovered not working in offices is a huge benefit.”
Zemaityte echoes the need to promote flexibility in roles; “remote and flexible working is more appealing and with that, I think it's very important for employers to maintain balance in how employees are treated and not fall into favouring those who are in the office (and thus more visible) versus those who are remote.”
Beyond the topic of flexibility, the other area that was a consistent discussion point amongst the study’s participants was the accessibility and great potential a career in technology offered for those who pursued it.
There’s been a concerted effort to diversify conference panels. I remember when Nicole Sullivan was the only female developer panellist. Seeing her made me think— oh, I could do this as a career too, and be an expert.
Engineering Lead at iX, IBM
King is enthusiastic about coding being available to anyone; “Coding is a skill that can be learned at any age – by anyone. It’s not something you have to spend years learning to get into”, a sentiment seconded by Zemaityte “more women are starting to see software development as a valid career path they could pursue but they often already have degrees in other subjects and so have to find a different way to get the skills for a software engineering job.”
Being aware of the various opportunities to learn technical skills is another contributing factor to the eventual success rate of equality in the tech sector. Unless you’re consciously exploring a new career path or have pre-existing connections within the tech industry, there is a high likelihood that opportunities, as well as resources, are outside of a person’s awareness.