Empowering Women in a Gender-Biased Tech Industry

Gender inequality is an existing issue exacerbated within the tech industry. Here are three areas to empower women today in the workplace.

Jen Cole, Senior VP & GM, Enterprise, Appen

January 6, 2023

4 Min Read
female business leader heading up a conference room meeting
monkeybusiness via Adobe Stock

Despite the push for more diversity, the number of women in STEM roles continues to lag behind that of their male counterparts. When looking at the leadership level, the number is even smaller. Females hold less than 28% of leadership positions in the tech industry.

Because of the pandemic, a possible recession, and widespread layoffs, being a minority in the industry can be even more challenging now than it was three years ago. This negative impact on gender equality in the workplace has made intentional recruitment of women a higher priority than ever.

However, when it comes to pushing for more women in tech, business leaders not only have to include women, but we must also empower them. Organizations must understand how to motivate, inspire, and empower women in tech and what they must do to keep and recruit women in the field. Here’s three key areas to keep an eye on, and what we can do to further women empowerment.

1. Unequal accessibility equals unequal opportunities

Traditionally, women have not had the same type of access and opportunities for mentorships and professional development as men in the tech space. Tech is still a male-dominated field. As such, female leaders, founders, and contributors are not always presented with the same opportunities and can be overlooked for critical career-defining roles.

One way to move toward equal access for women in this space is through focused mentorship and sponsorship. Can your team offer individual sessions with experienced mentors, personal coaching, and a meaningful support network? Mentorship and sponsorship are not as simple as a colleague who checks in on you bi-weekly, but a true champion of professionals and resources available to foster growth, make critical introductions, and encourage learning focused on developing skills needed to get to the next level. This is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have.

2. Upleveling culture, inside and outside the organization

If we’ve learned anything over the past two years, it’s that whether in-person, remote or hybrid, company culture can still make or break an organization. So, when we think about how to empower not just women, but everyone, it starts with creating a space where people can bring their true selves to work every day.

Grandfathered in by many years, there are often certain styles and ways of acting that are favored in the tech industry -- but businesses need to create a culture where diverse styles are welcome and encouraged.

To start, try implementing a “no apologies” culture, one where people can openly share how their personal lives and preferences intersect with their work, and welcome this into the conversation. Be intentional about creating space for people to share their authentic selves while at work. We are seeing an explosion of content sharing tools that allow more creativity and voice into our everyday work, making it easier to incorporate different styles.

The pandemic blurred the lines between personal and professional life, bringing good elements into the workplace. If leaders continue to embrace those positive elements, where we recognize that we all have unique and personal commitments, passions, and preferences, we can create stronger work cultures that bring out the best of our team. This will make it easier for women and other underrepresented groups to thrive in the workplace, ultimately leading to incredible loyalty and commitment.

3. Unpacking bias not only within data, but within language

In the tech industry, especially within the AI lifecycle, bias exists. Whether it’s recruiting bias when building your teams, training bias when developing your models, or confirmation bias when brainstorming new ideas, bias is there.

One way to lessen bias is through the introduction of diverse groups, and the more you have women at all levels, the more your organization will naturally start to build more diverse teams. Your team diversity should represent the diversity of your market or those represented in your AI models.

Diverse teams are the first step, then comes empowering people to raise bias when they see it. For instance, encourage team members to actively bring awareness to gender-biased language in the tools you use, the services you sell, and even your internal conversations and then show real action to drive change based on the feedback. Most likely this bias is carrying through to your offerings you bring to the market and potentially narrowing applicability or diminishing validity -- by taking continuous action when potential biases are raised, you are not only creating a better work environment you are also likely improving the value of your market offerings.

Women still face systemic obstacles in the workplace, and one path to improving this is for business leaders to make deliberate and sustained efforts to remove obstacles, improve support, and remove bias. Creating real change in how we operate and interact within our organizations will open the door for more important conversations and steps towards creating a more inclusive industry for women. It starts with mentorship, it grows beyond bias, and it ends with equality.

About the Author(s)

Jen Cole

Senior VP & GM, Enterprise, Appen

Jen Cole joined Appen in November 2021 and has over 22 years of experience building enterprise marketing and data platforms, leading go to market teams, and scaling the delivery of technology enabled services. As SVP & GM, Enterprise, Jen’s responsible for the success of Appen’s Enterprise business including go-to-market strategy, sales, delivery, and operations to ensure continued growth and sustained client success.

Prior to joining Appen, Jen was the President at Sincro, an Ansira company, where she led a 1000 person global team building advertising technology, ecommerce platforms, and marketing solutions for distributed ecosystem business environments.

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