Today is International Women’s Day and, predictably, the Verdict inboxes have been overflowing with comments about women in tech issues.
It makes sense: we write about technology, and the issue of women in tech, or lack thereof, remains significant.
But I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret: the subject of women in tech is boring. And I say this as a female tech journalist who has been editing various technology titles for around half a decade.
I want to be excited about this, I really do. But when you hear the same comments year after year, it gets pretty dull. After all, I am in the business of news, and there is nothing new about this topic.
The state of women in tech issues
According to the various studies, comments and reports issued to coincide with this International Women’s Day, the overarching message is of muted progress.
According to research by WISE, women now make up 23% of core STEM occupations, and 24% of the overall workforce in STEM industries.
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Research by Trainline also shows that 74% of technology professionals think it is becoming easier for women to succeed in technology, while 71% of young tech professionals think a gender balance will be achieved in the field. However, there are still concerns, with around a third of both genders seeing men’s attitudes as the biggest barrier to more women entering the field.
Executive search firm Odgers Berndtson is also reporting that among the 1,000 top placements in tech since 2015, women are now out-earning men.
Each of these is relatively positive, showing modest, incremental change. They’re also extremely reminiscent of the news sent last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.
For most topics, it wouldn’t even be notable to report on, but as women in tech issues is one of those hot-button topics that is guaranteed to produce a certain amount of traffic, it gets covered all the same.
It’s a similar story when it comes to comments sent by tech commentators and professionals, which at times resemble a women-in-tech bingo. Familiar phrases crop up time and time again, accompanied by the same calls for change. I’d include examples, but to be perfectly honest it would be completely unfair to single anyone out about this – the whole industry is guilty of it.
I say this not as a criticism of the commentators – what else could they say? – but to draw attention to the fact that very little has actually changed in recent years. Compare comments sent in 2019 to those from the last few years, and you have a list of quotes that are utterly interchangeable.
The problem with repetition
These types of comments and findings lead to reasonable but ultimately unremarkable articles that are shared prolifically by the public relations professionals that helped create them, companies that want to share extra content that aligns with their values and bots set up to retweet women in tech stories. Few people actually take the time to read them, because there is very little in them they haven’t heard before.
This is a bad thing, because it gives the impression that this is a hot topic, when actually it’s just a feedback effect. Worse still, when these sorts of articles do get read by people outside their immediate bubble, they can actually make the whole topic feel less interesting, stopping genuinely interesting findings from getting the traction they deserve.
The subject of female representation in technology is important, but by churning out dull, heard-it-all-before analysis we do it a dramatic disservice. We make it part of the background noise of the online world: a near-permanent sound that few pay attention to.
Sexism in tech: Still a problem?
Of course at the core of this is the concern that tech is still sexist. So is it?
I don’t think it’s fair to call any industry wholly sexist. There are certainly companies within the field with a sexist culture, but they are generally in the extreme minority. More notable is the lack of women who have the experience and skills to take on more senior roles, which a slew of programmes and initiatives are slowly addressing.
For example, Google and Amazon have announced their latest offerings in this sphere just today, which both focus on women very early in their career path where the best long-term effects can be achieved.
There also needs to be effective mentoring and a greater presence of role models to ensure the growing number of women in junior fields translates into a presence at the senior level, which again is beginning to happen but will need to continue and grow.
Furthermore, the issue of representation on boards and at trade shows is still a problem. However, companies that have forced a change through positive discrimination are doing women no favours either.
From my own experience, the world of technology is still dominated by men. But there are women, and they are increasing in presence, particularly at the younger end of the spectrum. I also have seen exceptionally little within tech that I could describe as true sexism – if anything – although of course I can only speak for myself. And I cannot say the same for publishing, despite women seeing far more representation in that field.
Time for a fresh approach
There is, of course, no magic solution to all of this. If there was, it wouldn’t be an issue. But for those people who spend their time banging the women in tech drum, please make sure you are actually helping and not just profiteering.
If this is a topic that matters to you, get involved rather than comment from the sidelines. And pay attention to the genuinely exciting news rather than let it get lost in the noise.