Reflecting on women in tech for International Womens Day 2021
While women make up nearly half of the employed adults in the total workforce, recent findings by Catalyst reveal that women hold only a quarter of the jobs in the tech industry.
The idea that there are fewer women in the tech field isn’t what surprised me. The shock came when I realized that number is even lower than it was in 1980. For all of the efforts to open the field, the number of women in tech roles is actually declining!
There’s not a simple answer to this trend. There are several factors, but Catalyst highlighted three concerns that contribute to this decline:
- Girls are less likely to study STEM subjects.
- More than two-thirds of females do not consider a career in tech.
- More women are likely to be coached into non-technical roles.
Without encouragement, it’s no wonder we’re seeing a steady decline in the number of women in our industry. Even for someone like me, a woman who has been in the field for more than two and a half decades, the road to a career in technology wasn’t clear or direct.
Women in tech often don’t start in tech
I had a traditional white, middle-class childhood experience. I grew up in a mid-sized city in the suburbs. I was an only child, my father was a doctor, and my mother did not work outside the home. My family has very traditional Irish Catholic values, and very traditional male and female roles were assumed. I was a “tomboy” and spent most of my childhood days playing outside, riding bikes, and playing in a nearby creek. It was assumed and expected that I would go into medicine, and perhaps one day take over my father’s practice.
I did get a degree in Nursing, but I only practiced for about five years. While in college, I spent more time in the computer lab than anywhere and couldn’t help but think that if that internet thing were to take off, we could disseminate healthcare information globally, and ultimately provide some level of healthcare to people in remote regions of the world.
Fast forward to today, I find myself having worked in Tech for the last 26 years. First as a business owner and later inside other tech organizations. I have loved every minute of my career in the IT industry, but getting here involved a lot of twists and turns, personal upheaval, and professional challenges.
Unsurprisingly, that seems to be a theme among today’s women in technology.
Understanding the struggles of our coworkers
Since joining Acronis, I have had the opportunity to hear several of my female colleagues share their stories about how their lives led them to a career in tech. Their paths and difficulties have been tremendously varied: battling cancer, rebounding from deep early career disappointments, struggling with poverty and educational challenges, and more. Each of my colleagues showed resiliency to overcome the challenges they faced, and the resolve to rise to their current roles.
Similar stories were echoed at the Women in Tech Breakfast at last year’s Acronis Global Cyber Summit. At one point in that discussion, Michelle McBain, VP of Global Channel and Digital Strategy for the JS Group, talked about how COVID has affected women in tech especially hard as they balance their career, home life, and remote learning. It was a call to arms for us to listen to the women we work with – both to protect their mental health, safeguard their contributions at work, and protect the advances women have made in the industry.
While the pandemic brought the idea into focus, the day-to-day stories of my Acronis colleagues are a reminder that we’re all going through something at some point. As women in tech, we need to talk to each other, get to know each other, and share our struggles so that we can effect real change, real growth, and real empowerment.
While it’s not possible for everyone, we also should get more involved in mentorships. Whether that means getting involved with the local schools to help young girls to consider careers in tech or simply working with our colleagues to ensure we are encouraging each other and celebrating our successes.
Maybe as more tech organizations like Acronis open up to doing things differently, we will begin to turn the course for women in tech reversing the decline we’ve seen over the last 30 years.