Men On Women In Tech
12:45 pm, March 21st | by Beth Devin, Manilla.com
With the heightened attention on women in technology and Sheryl Sandberg’s new book “Lean In,” I decided to take a different approach and ask men in technology for their perspective. This topic is a personal interest of mine, but I find that it is discussed more among women and less so in mixed company or with men directly.
I surveyed around 50 or so men in my network and received more than 30 responses. I realize this is a small sample of a much larger population, but there are some interesting data points and insights worth sharing.
Before getting to the results, three caveats: 1) I prepared the survey and did so quickly. There is a science to survey design and execution from which this survey does not benefit. 2) The majority of the respondents are men from my San Francisco Bay Area network so there is little representation from the rest of the United States, let alone the world. 3) As mentioned above, the results are from a small respondent group.
Some background information about the men who were kind enough to participate:
• Most age groups are represented – 22% are under 30, 39% are between the ages of 30 and 39, and 39% are 40 or older
• This is a highly educated group – 93% have four-year college degrees and almost half of this group completed graduate school.
• 68% hold a degree in a science, technology, math or engineering (STEM) field
• The men’s current roles are management (22%), product or project management (16%), software and quality assurance engineers (45%), technology operations (10%), and other (7%).
• On average, the group has worked 14 years in a technology role. However, the range of experience starts at two years and tops out at 35 years.
The survey focused on whether there are enough women in technology and whether the status quo is changing. It also asked questions about what his experience has been working with and for women. Respondents were also asked why they thought more women weren’t interested in technology careers and what they recommend doing to encourage more interest and participation from women. The majority agreed that there is a shortage of women in tech roles and that the workplace would be better off if there was more diversity.
However, there were four interesting takeaways for me that demonstrated how complicated and challenging it is to drive real change — there are no easy answers.
1. The Perception vs. the Reality Although more than 90 percent of the men surveyed agreed that there is a shortage of women in tech, a surprising 77 percent felt that the trend was improving and more women were choosing technology careers. In fact, a 2012 study states just the opposite, that “numbers of women in the science, technology and innovation fields are alarmingly low in the world’s leading economies, and are actually on the decline in others, including the United States.” I worry that recent press regarding the lack of gender diversity has raised men’s awareness but perhaps has also created a false sense that the issue is or has been addressed. This is a wake-up call that we need more fact-based communication on the topic.
2. Barriers to Entry When asked why more women don’t pursue technology careers, the two most popular answers, for a total of 71 percent, were societal norms (i.e., how young girls are rewarded and encouraged) and lack of interest on the part of women. Wow! If this is in fact true, then men can play an important role as the fathers, uncles, brothers, and teachers of the young women with whom they come in contact each day. Men can make a difference — what if more of the commentary on this issue came from men? On a side note, it was surprising to see that almost no one selected our education system, which I personally believe does more to hinder than to help expose women to the breadth and potential of STEM careers.
3. What can be done? The men provided some great suggestions for how to break down the barriers and increase the number of women in tech. The responses include placing greater emphasis on technology skills and projects in grade school, having more strong women role models at school and in the workplace, creating welcoming work environments, using marketing initiatives and messaging to communicate the creativity and teamwork in a technology career, and leveraging grassroots technology community organizations. We need to make changes on many fronts, and there is no silver bullet solution. Everyone can make a difference, but only if we work at it.
4. The Payoff The survey included an open-ended question asking what the benefits are of having more women in the tech workforce. Many of the men entered multiple responses, the most popular being that women have a different approach, communication style, thought process, and experience than men. This diversity benefits customers, products, and company culture. My favorite response was, “There are some freaking smart women in the world, and tech needs all the smart people it can get!”
Certainly women need to lean in more to own the trajectory of their career. Women can also bring other women along. However, this survey reminded me that it would be a much easier undertaking if we were partnering with the other 50 percent of society. Men are aware of the issue and recognize the benefits of gender diversity. Perhaps we need to lean more on the men in our life and encourage them to act on their ideas for change.
If you are interested in receiving a copy of the complete survey, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beth Devin is the chief technology officer of Manilla.com, a free, award-winning and secure service that helps consumers manage all of their bills and accounts in one place online and via mobile apps. Get the chance to win $2,500 in cash when you take the Manilla Get It Together Challenge. Learn more here.
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