Why there aren't more women in tech and how to close the gap
With technology continuing to advance at a rapid pace, the IT sector offers plenty of opportunities for jobseekers looking for a rewarding and lucrative career. However, a quick glance at the state of the industry reveals a significant gender imbalance persists across the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields, demonstrating there are still underlying issues at play which deter women from entering and continuing work in these industries.
Statistics and sentiments from a Closing the STEM gender gap in Singapore report from Nanyang Technological University backs this up, showing that in Singapore currently:
- women who graduated with a STEM diploma or degree (58%) are less likely to work in a STEM field compared to men who graduated with a STEM diploma or degree (70%)
- women also acknowledged that there were barriers of inclusion and career advancement for women in STEM
- women are more interested in STEM when they believe they belong in and can succeed in STEM
So why aren’t there more women in tech? And what can IT organisations do to encourage jobseekers like you to join their ranks and thrive?
With International Women’s Day just around the corner, today we’ll dig deeper into the question of why there aren’t more women in tech, providing tech industry leaders and women interested in pursuing this career path tips and strategies on moving towards a more inclusive workplace where equality is the norm and more doors are opened to professional women in technology.
Gender bias and stereotypes
Gender bias and stereotypes are one of the main reasons as to why there aren’t more women in tech. Of the women who are working in technology in Singapore, many face a daily battle against persistent stereotypes and gender biases in a sector that has for too long been a male-dominated space.
Achieving gender equality in the workplace not only promotes equality, inclusion and acceptance, but it is also linked to improved retention rates, enhanced organisational reputation, increased organisational performance and improved national productivity and economic growth.
A paper by the agency ‘Different genders, different lives’ further identified several biases and stereotypes that negatively impact women in technology. These included:
- Persistent stereotypes: Women who actively try to advance their careers may be viewed by male colleagues as being too assertive or aggressive, resulting in some women avoiding such salary expectations entirely.
- Family pressures: When women take time off work to raise children, it can hurt their long-term career prospects, given the high value placed by IT employers on accrued knowledge, skills and experience.
How to support women in tech
So what can be done to increase the number of women in technology? As a leading voice for DEI in the workplace, Nicole Gorton, Director of Robert Half explains change is required on many levels, but it must start from the top.
‘For organisations to develop an authentic attitude towards gender equality in technology, the leaders of the organisation must set the tone. There is a wealth of talent that is currently untapped, and the tech companies that realise this and welcome women to join them will have a definite advantage over those who fail to step up.’
It’s clear that improving the gender balance in the IT sector requires action on several fronts. The report, ‘The Promise of Diversity’ identified five key areas that workplaces can address now to support women in tech and instigate positive change for females in, or wanting to enter, the technology sector.
Leadership, culture and accountability
Senior company leadership must recognise that gender equality is a critical strategic business issue – not just a HR problem. Everyone in the management team must be accountable for delivering against gender equality KPIs.
Flexible work practices
Singaporean work culture has changed significantly in the last few decades, particularly in the years since the Covid pandemic began. Parents are more likely to share caring responsibilities and employees expect better work-life balance. Today, technology allows us to work from virtually anywhere, and it’s important that both genders are encouraged to enjoy flexibility so they can contribute to their full potential.
Mentoring programs and sponsorship
This can be a powerful way to help women achieve success in their IT career. Whereas mentoring primarily focuses on psychological support, sponsorship can be an effective strategy for fast-tracking the careers of high-performers.
Targets vs. quotas
It is suggested to have gender equality targets that are ‘tailored and monitored on an individual company basis appropriate to the circumstances, culture and environment.’ They are preferable to hard quotas, which can result in some women being regarded unfavourably because they are perceived as being unfairly advantaged.
Employers must break the stereotypes of the average IT person being ‘nerdy’, antisocial and quintessentially male – the type of image that deters many women from pursuing IT careers. A good way to do this is to identify successful women in leadership and use them as role models.
Advice to women – from our experts
Two of Robert Half Singapore’s most senior technology recruitment leaders reflect why there aren’t more women in tech and the why it is essential to close the gender diversity gap on the field.
When asked about advice she would give to women in Singapore who are looking to enter the tech industry, Bernice Lim, Technology Division Director at Robert Half with more than 10 years’ experience in the recruitment industry says:
“Always believe in your own abilities and capabilities – if women believe they can succeed in tech, they will. Network – build your connections and network of other females in the tech industry. By building your own community, you can use it to exchange knowledge, share experiences and best practices and learn from others.”
She adds, “There are increasing opportunities for women in tech in Singapore. The Singapore government and other companies in the tech industry have been making efforts to promote diversity and inclusion. There have been more initiatives to attract and retain more women in the tech field, such as networking events, mentorship programs and scholarships for women pursuing tech related degrees.”
Suriani Norahim, our other Technology Division Director who has been working in recruitment since 2005 shares her thoughts on how women can confidently enter the tech field.
“In a field that is traditionally male dominant, if you have passion to develop a career in tech, with dedication and resilience you can succeed and stand out. Be the game changer and be the role model for the next generation to follow. Develop a solid foundation of technical skills by upgrading yourself to take on certifications in the relevant fields to complement your experience. Recognize your strengths and focus on developing them to stand out. Look out for mentors to offer valuable insights to guide you on what it takes to succeed. With hard work and perseverance, women can succeed and prosper in this exciting field!”
Suriani adds, “According to KPMG’s global ranking of leading technology innovation hubs outside of Silicon Valley in San Francisco, Singapore is ranked the #1, ahead of cities like New York City, Beijing and London for the second year running in 2022. There are initiatives such as SG Women In Tech which has led to the growing awareness of gender diversity. In Singapore, women comprise 41% of the tech workforce which is higher than the global average of 28%. I think these statistics are definitely worth mentioning to showcase the openness of hiring for women in tech in Singapore.”
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