If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering what it’s really like to be a woman in tech. We sat down with Pluralsight’s Lilac Mohr, Sr. Director of Engineering, Flow; Aisha Blake, Director of Developer Relations; and Faye Ellis, Principal Cloud Training Architect, to learn more.
They share their experiences as women in tech, including how they broke into the industry, what challenges they faced, and where they see opportunities for women in the future.
What percentage of women currently make up the tech workforce?
According to a report by The World Bank, women make up less than a third of the world’s tech workforce. They hold only 28% of all jobs in computer and mathematical occupations, and even less (15.9%) in engineering and architecture occupations. On their own, the statistics are disheartening. But the people behind the numbers paint a fuller picture of what it’s like to be women in tech.
What are some of the challenges that women in tech often face?
Even with ample support and encouragement, women in tech often face challenges that their male counterparts don’t.
Feeling the need to prove themselves
“As a woman in IT, you do still need to prove yourself to everybody around you that you are really up to the job,” says Faye. “That still hasn’t changed, and it can be very draining, stressful, and demoralizing. If you make a mistake, some people won’t be surprised.”
“Women bring different voices and perspectives to the table which benefit the entire team,” Lilac adds. “But getting your voice heard in the tech industry can be challenging as a member of any minority group.”
Dealing with overt sexism
“I've faced sexism and racism in the workplace,” shares Aisha. “Sometimes I've only found out months or years later that I missed an opportunity because someone thought I was ‘intimidating’ or that I wouldn't understand [something]. Other times, I've been told I was being ‘stupid’ to my face only for that person to implement the same idea.”
Faye echoes this sentiment. “I’ve faced plenty of barriers, from people wondering if I really know what I’m talking about, commenting on why I got certain job offers, discussing my hair, appearance, [and] even my shoes! Asking me if I am a secretary or a project manager, instead of the technical architect. I’m sure plenty of women working in IT will have similar war stories, but thankfully it is changing. I have pretty thick skin, and I can laugh it off.”
Navigating the absence of female leadership
The challenges women in tech face aren’t always overt, though. “Although I seldom encountered barriers getting job offers as a young woman in a male-dominated industry, the culture I encountered while working was not always inclusive,” says Lilac. “Most of the tech organizations I worked for did not have female leaders that I could look up to and from whom I could receive mentorship.
“The rampant bro culture forced my female co-workers to pivot careers to ‘less techie’ work. I’m glad I persevered in this tech industry because a lot has changed over the last two decades. There is still a long way to go to increase diversity in tech, but I’m seeing more female leaders and an increased drive to foster a sense of belonging in organizations.”
What benefits can women enjoy by working in tech?
The lack of female representation can make tech seem like an uninviting industry. But tech organizations offer several benefits that women can take advantage of, including:
The median wage for tech occupations is 125% higher than the median national wage. Women still need to contend with the gender pay gap (American women only earn roughly 82 cents for every dollar earned by men), but tech can give them a higher starting salary.
Roles in the tech industry are also more likely to offer flexible arrangements like remote work. A McKinsey & Company study found that 52% of people in computer and mathematical occupations report being able to work remotely full-time, compared to only 35% of respondents overall. These perks make it easier for women in tech (especially working parents) to maintain work-life balance.
Emerging technologies like AI/ML have “increased the pace of change tenfold.” This makes tech an ideal space for women who crave opportunities to learn new skills and create unique solutions to new challenges.
“I was initially drawn to a career in tech because I wanted a career that would be intellectually challenging, enable me to support myself financially, and allow me to live the life I want,” says Faye. “Having a stimulating career that pays well has always been a high priority for me, even though I don’t feel at all defined by what I do. I don’t feel in any way like a techie. I see myself more as someone who is curious about how computers work!”
How can women break into the tech industry?
As Lilac and Faye noted, the culture is changing to become more inclusive. But whether you’re a new college grad or a seasoned professional, navigating the transition to tech can still be overwhelming. How can you break into the tech industry as a woman—and continue to develop your career once you do?
Consider non-technical roles
You don’t need a tech degree to get a job in the tech industry. You don’t even have to work in a primarily technical role. “I would love for people to realize that a career in tech can be extremely varied. It’s not all writing code and fixing laptops,” explains Faye. “Many of the roles I’ve done over the years were roles I never realized existed when I was at school or college.
“For instance, working as a Cloud Architect, in addition to technical skills, you also need the ability to understand business requirements, communicate with stakeholders, understand their concerns, and have empathy for the teams around you who have to deliver and support the solution that you recommend.
“A solid foundation in technical skills is important, but having the ability to be flexible, find creative ways to solve a problem, and anticipate what can be done to help those around you is also very desirable. All of those are skills that a lot of women just have naturally, and those are skills that, in combination with a great technical foundation, are real differentiators.”
Learn and develop tech skills
If you are looking for a technical role, start learning relevant tech skills. Explore fields you’re interested in and make a list of the technical skills required. Then look for resources that will help you learn those skills, earn certifications, and gain experience.
“There is more opportunity than ever to learn at your own pace with so many online resources now available,” says Faye. “[But] there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to complete a tutorial that is out of date and no longer works! For that reason I always check how recent any content I watch online is. I don’t want to waste my time or get demotivated. It’s not true for everything, but certain technologies change so frequently that a video created a year ago just may no longer be relevant.”
Online resources are an excellent starting point, but they’re not your only option. Coding boot camps, hackathons, and even Opportunity Academies can give you hands-on experience and access to a community of other women with similar goals.
Find a mentor
Regardless of where you are in your tech journey, seek out role models and mentors you can learn from. Many women in tech understand the unique challenges you face and are willing to help others break into the space.
“Women need to find allies of all genders in the workplace who can support them, advocate for recognition of their unique contributions, and push for organizational change,” advises Lilac.
Build a support system
It helps to build a supportive community both inside and outside the industry. This doesn’t only include coworkers or industry peers. For many women in tech, their first support systems consisted of family members and close friends.
“My mother introduced me to the tech industry when I was very young,” says Aisha. “She spent her entire career in various positions at IBM, beginning as an engineer. Because of her, tech has always felt attainable. I've been extremely fortunate to have an excellent network of people who support and believe in me throughout my career. Being able to fall back on that support system means that I don't have to suffer people or organizations that don't value me as a human.”
Faye also mentions her family. “In a lot of ways, I have been lucky because in my family I have always been encouraged to aim high,” she says. “I was always told that I could do anything I wanted, and I think if the people around you are saying that then you internalize it and that helps you to focus and not get discouraged.”
What opportunities exist for women in the future of tech?
Women in tech continue to make meaningful contributions—but in some ways, they’re just getting started. “We want to bring girls into an industry where they can just. . .do their jobs without a disproportionate amount of glue work and without a ton of double standards,” says Aisha. “I think seeing more happy and fulfilled women in the industry is likely to make it more attractive.”
Lilac adds, “I believe women in technology have a bright future ahead.”
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