What You Need to Know About Managing Women in Tech

The topic of women in technology has been in the news recently. In a nutshell, there aren’t enough women in technology. At the global epicenter of technology in Silicon Valley, giants like Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter have a male-female ratio of about 70-30 across all job titles. In tech-specific jobs, the ratio is about 84:16.

These companies are under intense pressure to raise the number of women in tech jobs, and they have a lot of money to throw at the problem. Yet, women are taking only 16 percent of these jobs.

It’s a complex and confounding topic, with multiple theories about its causes, cures and urgency. 

If you’re reading this column, you are very likely to be a manager of people who are in, use or make technology (statistically speaking). It’s also likely that you manage more men than women (statistically speaking).

Women have entered your field in smaller numbers than men, are less likely to stick with the field, are paid less and promoted less, and—unsurprisingly—are less likely to be satisfied in the field than men (statistically speaking).

None of that should surprise you. But here are some facts that might surprise you.

The plight of women in technology is a recent and growing problem. For example, in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, a far higher percentage of women had careers in technology fields.

The problem is less about tech jobs than the larger tech industry. For example, the number of women doing non-technical work in tech companies is also far too low.

But even in non-tech industries, where companies employ IT professionals, developers, technology-focused designers and others, women are a tiny minority.

One report suggests that a corner was turned in the same year the Apple Macintosh and IBM PC Jr were released and the cyberpunk novel Neuromancer was published: 1984. The argument goes that when tech became a consumer product, it was marketed as a category for boys and for men. Marketers literally invented “The Big Lie,” which says that tech is for guys.

Here’s an ad for the Apple II and one for an early video game. As you can see from that era’s technology product advertising, the message was clear: Tech is for guys.

The fabrication of The Big Lie in the 1980s created a small disadvantage for women in tech, but that snowballed into the big problem we have today.

One Thing You Need to Know

There is much to learn about this topic. If you’re a manager, you should consider talks, books (although there aren’t enough on the topic), articles and other self-education so you can understand the issue and avoid being victimized by the women-in-tech problem.

But even before you begin that journey, there’s one thing you need to know right now about managing women. This one thing is the foundation of the entire problem.

Here it is: Everyone has been indoctrinated with The Big Lie that says tech is only for guys. That lie governs our assumptions and colors our direct observations. It lords over our decision making and communication. It’s a pervasive notion that seems invisible to many because it’s ambient.

The Big Lie starts with children and is reinforced by product marketing, TV shows, movies and other powerful influences. It emboldens and encourages boys and fills girls with self-doubt and alienation.

And it’s self-reinforcing right from the beginning. Boys are strongly encouraged to get an early start on tech—and to be obsessed by it. By the time kids reach high school and young adults hit college, the numbers of girls and women interested in technology is low.

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