Where are the Women in IT? An Insider’s Take
From the challenges to the opportunities, dive into the trenches with one of Softensity’s talented QA engineers and hear what it’s like to be a woman in IT.
By Monika Mueller
These days, there’s a lot of talk about equality in the workforce. More companies than ever seem to be making a real effort to hire and promote more women, along with people from diverse backgrounds. But the tech industry seems a bit … stuck.
While nearly 50% of the workforce is made up of women (47%, to be exact), just 26% of IT jobs are held by women. At the biggest tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft), women only make up around 34.4% of the workforce.
Meanwhile, there’s never been a better time for women to get into technology. The tech industry is facing a severe labor shortage, which means there are plenty of openings for well-paid IT jobs. The growth of remote work has also made it easier than ever to achieve the flexibility and work-life balance that many women want.
So why aren’t more women filling all of the open IT roles? We sat down with Andrea Medina, a QA Engineer based in Honduras, and Nicole Diez, a Regional Human Resources Manager for Latin America, to get their take.
Pursuing a Career in IT
Andrea Medina has worked in IT for more than a decade, holding jobs as a developer, analyst, administrator, IT coordinator and QA engineer. All of these roles have one thing in common: very few women. Unlike many women, who tend to veer away from studying technology (women earn only 18% of computer science bachelor’s degrees in the U.S.), Medina chose a computer technician track in high school, and went on to earn a degree in computer systems engineering at university.
Medina recognizes that she was fortunate to have the opportunity to study technology. Growing up in Honduras, she explains, many women start working at a young age to help support their family, or become caretakers for brothers and sisters so their parents can work. Society’s message about a woman’s role was also very clear. “Society tells you, you need to be quiet. You need to be a lady. You need to be shy,” she says. And in the working world, “The thinking is that women are less intelligent than men,” she says, adding, “It’s not true.”
Early in her career, in her twenties, Medina remembers worrying that she had to convince interviewers that she had the knowledge and skills needed for the job — because she’s a woman. But now, in her thirties, with a decade of experience under her belt? “I’m confident,” she says. “If they don’t believe me, I don’t care. I’ll find another job.”
What It’s (Really) Like to Work in a Male-Dominated Field
Both Medina and Diez have a disheartening number of stories about cat calls, inappropriate male attention, disrespect and being underestimated at male-dominated companies. At one point when Medina was working as an IT coordinator, an approaching customer saw her and turned on his heels, saying, “My mistake, bye.” He was shocked to see a woman in the position, and thought he had made a mistake. While at the job, which involved moving computers, routers and servers — and working with equipment on the roof, Medina got used to hearing, “We never imagined there would be a woman in this position.”
Having a voice and getting a seat at the table has been a common challenge. “You’re not supposed to be a loud woman, or a confident woman,” Medina says. “You’re not allowed to be a strong woman in your position.” Meanwhile, the same qualities are revered in men. “When a man shows strength or character, he’s considered a leader,” says Diez. “But if a woman does the same, she’s considered too bossy.”
Medina has come a long way in her career to earn a seat at the table and find employers who value her for her impressive skillsets. At a recent job, Medina started a group called “Iconic Women” in order to encourage more women to enter the field and, she says, “to increase the confidence of women in the company to take risks and move to senior positions.”
What’s Holding Women Back From an IT Career?
Knowing they will be in the minority at an IT job can be intimidating for a lot of women. “Worrying about having a seat at the table, worrying about always having to be backed by a man to have a voice or to be heard — these things do affect women looking at the industry, and the ability to raise their voice and say, ‘I’m a fit for this position’,” says Diez.
In her role as a recruiter, Diez notes that many women get in their own way by putting up too many barriers. “In my experience recruiting,” she says, “a lot of women don’t apply for a position if they don’t feel like they match 100% of the skillsets … they don’t want to interview if they don’t fit the whole criteria.” Men, however, rarely have the same hesitation.
The same holds true when it comes to negotiating a salary. “Women underestimate themselves too much,” Diez explains. “I'm blown away sometimes by women who have all of these skillsets and are amazing, and they just simply undervalue their worth." In her experience, “Men have the confidence to ask for more and feel empowered to do so, while many women will just stay quiet and accept what they’re given.” Her advice? “Every woman should take a negotiation course.”
In Medina’s opinion, the fear that an IT career will be too difficult likely steers many women to choose an easier field. "A lot of women are afraid of code,” she says. “It's a cancer in IT because a lot of women think they can't code,” she laughs. “And it's just wrong. We can code. If you think about it, code has no gender.” In fact, many women are perfectly suited for a job in development or QA thanks to a finely tuned attention to detail.
Advice for Women Considering a Career in Technology
In her heels, makeup and dresses without a tattoo in sight, Medina has often been told, “you don’t look like an engineer.” She doesn’t buy into the stereotypes. Her advice for women looking to get into IT? “Don't believe the stereotypes. Don't believe what people say. You don’t need to be a nerd. You don’t need to look like an engineer.” Above all, she encourages women to “Do what you want to do. Be what you want to be. Follow your dreams, and follow your heart.”
Diez encourages women to know their worth and to have the courage to take that first step. "You shouldn't be scared to ask for more. You shouldn't be scared to raise your voice,” she says, adding, “You shouldn't be scared to say what you feel, and to fight for what you deserve.”
Diez and Medina agree that it’s a great time for women in IT. Not only are there a lot of excellent opportunities, but working from home provides flexibility that can make balancing career and family much easier. Think a career in IT may be for you? Get in touch.