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Women in tech: What needs to change

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This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
Read more about our editorial process.

Hinrich Eylers, Vice Provost for Academic Operations and Doctoral Studies

Reviewed by Hinrich Eylers, PhD, PE, MBA, Vice Provost for Academic Operations and Doctoral Studies.

In many ways, STEM careers are like the MVP of the career landscape. With strong career growth projections and generally higher-than-average salaries, STEM careers appeal to virtually everyone.


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Or do they?

For women, the situation is different, according to new research from the Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research within the College of Doctoral Studies at University of Phoenix.

Dr. Kimberly Underwood, University of Phoenix research chair

Kimberly Underwood, PhD, MBA
University of Phoenix research chair

“Starting with K-12 education, there is an extensive amount on money invested into the preparation of young women for STEM careers,” explains Kimberly Underwood, PhD, MBA, a University of Phoenix research chair. “However, it is also noted that, once in STEM careers, women are leaving these positions at a rate higher than their male counterparts.”

Dr. Underwood was curious. She put together a team of five doctoral fellows to investigate via a study of nine women recruited from a U.S. university in the Midwest. All women were at least 21 years old, had earned at minimum a bachelor’s degree in a technology-related field and were employed for at least one year in the tech sector.

Of the nine women interviewed, two went back to school and changed careers, one went into consulting and two went into higher education, Dr. Underwood says. Here’s how the study explains their reasons for leaving.

1.  Lack of belonging

While the study’s participants often liked the nature of their work, they didn’t feel like it loved them back. Or at least the culture didn’t.

Women reported feeling like their male colleagues discounted or were indifferent to their viewpoints. This perception inhibited them from sharing their opinions and taking on challenging tasks, even if they had the same skills, qualifications and abilities as the men.

2.  Lack of trust

Women working in tech also reported feeling dismissed in terms of their expertise. Sometimes this presented as a customer preferring to work with a male colleague, even if the woman had seniority.

Other times it occurred in-house.

According to the study: “One participant voiced a negative experience when doing interviews with her male colleagues. During an interview with a female candidate, the male colleagues stated their need to test her ability and knowledge. The participant expressed that the lack of trust was not valid since her resumé detailed more experience than previous candidates who did not get tested. She quickly realized the test was due to the gender of the candidate because they did not trust her skill set.”

3.  Lack of support

As in most industries, the tech sector is rich with knowledge that is most useful when it’s shared. But “knowledge hoarding” away from female employees was an ongoing issue among the study’s participants.

“They often referenced knowledge hoarding,” Dr. Underwood says, “specifically, how they felt their male counterparts wouldn’t share information or would hold the information that was beneficial for them either in getting the work done or developing in that environment.”

The study does note a silver lining, though. “It was interesting to see that, although [knowledge hoarding] was part of the interactions many experienced, women were still able to navigate their own development needs,” the study reads. 

Looking to the future: women in technology

So, what’s a tech-minded woman to do? According to the study’s participants, find others who can relate. And find a sponsor or two while you’re at it.

The study concludes: “Most of the participants agreed that if we see more women in the technology workspace, then more women will move into this field. However, we cannot encourage women to join a workspace if that workspace culture is not … supportive.”

For those who choose to pioneer in this space, Dr. Underwood underscores the importance of finding an advocate. “Who is that person who will present your name when opportunities arise?” she asks. “Who will put you in that place where you need to be when you may not be physically present?”

This evolution, difficult though it may be, is worth it to Dr. Underwood. Women bring a different way of thinking to a field that impacts everyone. They can bring a level of emotional intelligence and also diversify a field that sometimes struggles to shake off its stereotype of black-and-white thinking.

She notes, “This is where organizations have an opportunity to create sustainable change to redefine what tech culture looks like and move away from common stereotypes that still plague this industry.”

Portrait of Elizabeth Exline

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Exline has been telling stories ever since she won a writing contest in third grade. She's covered design and architecture, travel, lifestyle content and a host of other topics for national, regional, local and brand publications. Additionally, she's worked in content development for Marriott International and manuscript development for a variety of authors.

 

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