Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
Commentary
8/11/2014
08:06 AM
Susan Nunziata
Susan Nunziata
Commentary
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Gender Bias: Is Your IT Group Guilty?

When it comes to gender bias, a recent InformationWeek flash poll suggests that IT groups may be slightly less discriminatory than the tech industry in general. But there's still plenty of work to be done.

All you have to do is take a head count at any tech industry conference to get an informal idea of the male/female composition of the average IT department. The salary survey results, as well as recent diversity reports from major tech companies, serve to support what we already know anecdotally: This industry is male-dominated.

Table 2: Tech company worldwide workforces by gender

Company Male Female
eBay 58% 42%
Facebook 69% 31%
Google 70% 30%
LinkedIn 61% 39%
Pinterest 60% 40%
Salesforce 71% 29%
Twitter 70% 30%
VMWare 78% 22%
Yahoo 62% 37%
Sources: Company reports, 2014.

There are a number of US laws designed to prevent gender bias (and other forms of workplace discrimination), all of which are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. These laws include:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. The law also requires that employers reasonably accommodate applicants' and employees' sincerely held religious practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business.
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which amended Title VII to make it illegal to discriminate against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963, which makes it illegal to pay different wages to men and women if they perform equal work in the same workplace. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

However, sexism can take many forms in the workplace. Some may not be legally actionable but still serve to undermine women's potential to advance.

Here are just a few examples:

  • The only woman in a meeting is expected to be the default note-taker.
  • A woman is asked about child care plans during a job interview, a question that's rarely raised with male candidates.
  • A woman is deprived of the chance to lead a major project because she's seen as a "maternity risk."
  • A woman is accused of "emotional" behavior when the same behavior in her male colleague is considered "passionate" or simply "angry."
  • A woman's ideas voiced in a meeting are ignored or dismissed, only to be repeated by a male colleague a short time later to wild acclaim.

If you can look at the list above and honestly tell us that you've never seen any of these things happen in your workplace, congratulations! Please tell us where you work and how we can all get jobs there. But if you are already thinking up 12 more examples, share them with us. Exposing these insidious forms of discrimination is a first step toward recovery.

Technology is rising in importance in most companies, but is the IT department's importance and reputation also rising? InformationWeek is conducting a survey to determine how IT is perceived in the enterprise. Take the IT Perception Survey today and be eligible to win a prize. Survey ends Aug. 15.

Susan Nunziata works closely with the site's content team and contributors to guide topics, direct strategies, and pursue new ideas, all in the interest of sharing practicable insights with our community. Nunziata was most recently Director of Editorial for ... View Full Bio
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Jeff Jerome
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Jeff Jerome,
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8/14/2014 | 2:29:35 PM
Re: Tech Co vs. Tech Department -Making Marketing Better—Why Diversity Enhances Your Business
Hot topic these days: https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140814175057-22977722-making-marketing-better-why-diversity-enhances-your-business?trk=tod-home-art-list-large_0

 

 

Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
8/14/2014 | 9:41:20 AM
Re: Few female tech grads
@Technocrati - I believe the percentage of women in tech has grown, but not nearly fast enough considering the many opportunities across all industries within technology. Savvy organizations realize they MUST hire women and minorities, otherwise they'll simply run out of the best-qualified employees! But it's more than that. Several studies demonstrate the benefits an inclusive workforce bring and those organizations that aren't welcoming could well find themselves in trouble eventually when their competitors attract the best and brightest, regardless of gender, ethnicity, color, religion, or other factor.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
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8/14/2014 | 9:38:56 AM
Re: Gender Bias
Sure thing, @SaneIT. There are several well-known organizations that advocate (and help train HR/CIOs/CEOs, I believe) for a diverse tech workforce. They include: The Anita Borg Institute; the Society for Women Engineers; the American Society for Civil Engineering; Association of Women Engineers; National Society of Black Engineers; Urban Technology Network, and the Minority Professional Network (a mix of tech and non-tech groups/resources).

Here's a link to a page that has several organizations for minorities and women. They are not all necessarily focused on IT, but some groups probably have an IT career expert, conference, or other resources available. 

In researching a long, multi-part feature for Internet Evolution, I heard some tips from IT and HR pros in tech (email me at alison.diana@ubm.com) and i will send you a PDF of the story, if you'd like. During that research, I found many statistics that demonstrate the importance of a diverse staff: Of course, customers increasingly are diverse, so that's one obvious reason, but at least one study suggested even stock prices improve for more inclusive organizations!

Many are really simple and straight-forward: For example, HR recommends figuring out whether a new female or minority employee prefers large groups vs. one-on-ones and then make sure the IT staff welcomes her/him by taking them out to lunch, either as a group or in small or one/one parties during the first few weeks. This helps make the new hire feel part of the team. It's important, the HR exec said, for the CIO or IT manager to plan this so the newbie isn't stuck eating lunch alone during those first few days and weeks, giving her/him the opportunity to learn more about colleagues, company, etc.

Many larger tech firms (like IBM and EMC) have internal groups for their female and/or minority employees; these groups have meetings and support diverse hires by helping them network, resolve any real or conceived issues, etc. Larger firms also participate in some of the groups I provided in the first graf, either by paying for employees to attend events, encouraging them to speak on a panel at these meetings, or sponsoring part of the conference. There are usually local Meet-Up groups for diverse employees; by sponsoring, catering, or using company facilities for a meeting, even the smallest business sends a welcoming message to the tech community. 
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
8/14/2014 | 9:21:50 AM
Re: Tech Co vs. Tech Department
Here is the USA Today story where Cook discussed Apple's (lack of) diversity and his disappointment/plans to improve. Good luck!
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
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8/14/2014 | 9:19:53 AM
Re: Few female tech grads
It's a shame there were no women in your class, but that is (thankfully) not always the case, as Laurie said. Thanks to the efforts of K-12 and higher-ed schools, IT professionals, organizations, and volunteers, more women (younger and older) see technology as a viable, fulfilling, and attractive career path. Granted, it's nowhere near a 50/50 split (or close), but it's tough to turn a ship around overnight. 
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
8/14/2014 | 7:12:27 AM
Re: Gender Bias
@Alison_Diana, can you give me an example of some of those resources or how they reach out because I'd love to pass that along to our HR team.   Traditional hiring for IT positions seems to be lacking or as you pointed out it is reaching out in the wrong directions.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
8/13/2014 | 5:50:49 PM
Re: Tech Co vs. Tech Department
"....Tim Cook did say improving Apple's diversity is a priority for him."

 

@Alison _Diana       Really ?   I had not heard that about Mr.Cook.  I might have to dust off the ol' resume in that case.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
8/13/2014 | 5:48:08 PM
Re: Few female tech grads

@Rman23a      I experienced the same thing during my studies in MIS.   There were about ten or so women in my class, I wonder how many of them are working in tech today ?   That was in 1997 - It sounds like the numbers are even worse in CS today.

Laurianne
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Laurianne,
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8/13/2014 | 4:44:29 PM
Re: Few female tech grads
I volunteer with a group of young women at an engineering-focused college here in MA and let me assure you they are not only real but also incredibly smart.

 
Rman23a
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Rman23a,
User Rank: Strategist
8/13/2014 | 4:03:18 PM
Few female tech grads
What am I missing here?  I had 0 females in my Computer Science major at university.  How are companies supposed to hire what doesn't exist?

thanks
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