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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.

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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.