Gender Bias: Is Your IT Group Guilty? - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // IT Strategy
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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 leads 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 EnterpriseEfficiency.com, a UBM ... View Full Bio
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Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
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9/1/2014 | 7:35:03 AM
Re: Let's examine the IT group's parents
Ashish, 

Yay! That's true. :D 

I remember my mother had a book on this topic. 

Well, I am not against two and three-year-old kids playing with iPads if they are taught how to play with it by the parents, who are the ones responsible for anything the kids do online while using the iPad, including downloading and installing games.

It's definitely not the kids' fault but their parents. Blaming and punishing those kids is simply wrong. Kids learn easily if they are taught right. 

-Susan

 
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
9/1/2014 | 7:03:39 AM
Re: Few female tech grads
SusanN, 

"Getting a license to drive an automobile requires more training than becoming a parent does."

For anything that requires some responsibility there is a learning process and a test. Why not for parenting is a mystery to me. I would also add a phychological test. 

"I've often wondered why basic parenting skills aren't taught in High School." 

That would be a good start. 

But then I look at news stories about the enormous arguments taking place in the U.S. over whether or not schools should be allowed to teach children about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and I despair."

I haven't heard about that kind of old argument in a long time. But, honestly, if there is still that kind of thinking going on there is nothing we can do about it with our brilliant Susan thinking. :D

-SusanF 

 
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
8/28/2014 | 7:16:23 PM
Re: Tech Co vs. Tech Department
@Jeff: It is quite a beautiful place (at least the portion of it I saw during a cross-country move). It may also simply be less saturated with large corporations, leaving room for small- and medium-sized businesses to thrive. 
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
8/28/2014 | 6:39:00 PM
Re: Tech Co vs. Tech Department
@Jeff: Fantastic infographic, thanks for sharing. certainly not the states I would have expected: 61% of Wyoming businesses using Square are owned by women -- the highest ratio of any U.S. state, followed by Montana (60%), North Dakota (59%), Iowa (57%), Nebraska (57%), Idaho (56%), Alaska (56%), South Dakota (56%), Maine (56%), and Kansas (55%).

I wonder how  many of them are tech-oriented women-owned businesses...I'll see if I can get a call into the folks at Square and find out how deeply they've sliced the data.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
8/28/2014 | 6:36:10 PM
Re: Few female tech grads
@SusanF: Getting a license to drive an automobile requires more training than becoming a parent does. I've often wondered why basic parenting skills aren't taught in High School. But then I look at news stories about the enormous arguments taking place in the U.S. over whether or not schools should be allowed to teach children about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and I despair. How could we possibly agree on how to teach children about parenting if we can't even agree  how to teach basic science and bilology. Ah, but I suppose this is a discussion for another forum...
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
8/27/2014 | 3:04:23 AM
Let's examine the IT group's parents
SusanN, 

The title of your article could even be changed to Gender Bias: Are Your IT Group's Parents Guilty? Examining the root of the problem. :D

Yay! It sounds like a good title for a book, doesn't it? :)  

-SusanF
Susan Fourtané
IW Pick
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
8/27/2014 | 2:48:32 AM
Re: Few female tech grads
SusanN, 

"So much of parenting is about personal choices, ... "

Choices and responsibility. Parents need to guide the new beings, but how do they guide them when it's some of them the ones who need guidance in life? Where is parenting school?

If you want to become an engineer you go to university and study engineering and other things. Where do you go and what do you study when you want to become a parent? Learning on the go doesn't seem to work well in most cases. The evidence is all around us in society.

" ... and I see some friends who raise their children in very gender neutral environments and others who are all about the girl and boy distinctions in clothing, toys, nursery decor, etc. pretty much from the moment the baby arrives." 

Raising children in gender neutral environments will result in grown ups with a strong sense of equity, who will not have preference over gender in the work environment neither to assign a postion nor to offer a salary.  

On the other hand, raising children making the old boy-girl distinction will result in what we mostly see in the enterprise and society as a whole today. 

Those who have children, what kind of tomorrow's work force are they raising today?

You hear a lot of people complaining about this. Who does something about it, starting from home? 

Not being a parent doesn't prevent me from having a very strong opinion about parenting. :) What's more, I have thought of writing a book on the topic. 

-SusanF 
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
8/26/2014 | 6:41:17 PM
Re: Tech Co vs. Tech Department
@Alison: "have you ever worked or socialized or been part of a team (a sports team, for example), that does nothing to accept or welcome you -- or even proactively works against you, for whatever reason?"

the short answer: Yes.

The long answer: This is often the stuff lawsuits are made of, but sometimes it's so hard to prove. the examples you site of the early days of women in police and fire depts. are so blatant that they were able to file suit. However, in many organizations, this form of shunning and undermining can be dismissed as "office politics" even if it is truly rooted in a form of bias. I agree everyone deserves the kind of comfortable working environment that you described. Hard to believe in this century it's still something that people have to fight for.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
8/26/2014 | 6:37:47 PM
Re: Tech Co vs. Tech Department
@Technocrati: your comments about the inner-city and other absurd assumptions made about minorities led me to think about another important and even more difficult to define form of workplace bias: Socioeconomic class.

I'm a mailman's daughter who grew up in a multicultural poor to working-poor neighborhood in Queens, NY, and I have been on job interviews where the person doing the hiring was clearly biased toward the fact that I had not attended an ivy league school, was not wearing status label clothing, etc. In one such interview, the hiring manager made pointed comments about his penthouse apartment, his home in the Hamptons, etc., and asked about what neighborhood of Manhattan I was living in (Upper West Side), was I renting or did I own, etc. He seemed more interested in talking about these things, and didn't ask me any questions about my actual qualifications. It was intensely awkward and I wasn't at all surprised when I didn't get the job.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
8/26/2014 | 6:30:48 PM
Re: Tech Co vs. Tech Department
@Alison: Kudos to IBM. In my experience, the workplace programs that were designed for women were open ONLY to women, which I thought rather odd, especially considering that all the mentors I have had so far in my career have happened to be men. Unfortunately, I have yet to experience a workplace that is so diverse that there's even a need for a program for so-called minorities (I hate that particular term, but that's a topic for another day!).
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