You Can’t Be What You Can’t See

By Karina Margit Erdelyi

We’ve come a loooong way, baby — but have we come far enough? In the last ten years, women have pushed hard against the glass ceiling and come rolling down patriarch mountain into Silicon Valley in increasing numbers. Strides have been made, but the numbers paint a story still in mid-motion.


In 1995, Hillary Clinton famously championed global gender equality at a United Nations Conference in Beijing: “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” And by some measures, we have made strides in the last 25 years. But by others, it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. At that conference, the No Ceilings: The Full Participation Report, produced in partnership with the Gates Foundation, was presented — and one of the hallmarks of the report was highlighting that the United States is the only industrialized nation to not have a mandated paid maternal leave, along with the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Suriname, and Tonga.

You’d think that perhaps this might have changed since then, but we are still sans mandated paid parental leave in 2021. “Labor policies that facilitate or hinder working adults’ ability to balance jobs and caregiving have a tremendous impact on women,” the report states. “Paid maternal leave supports women’s continued employment, job stability, and longer-term wage growth.”

Let’s talk some quick $ and sense

Women are not paid the same as their male peers.
In tech, the median male makes 61% more than the median female, and minority women fare even worse concerning the gender pay gap. Studies peg the discrepancy for women in computer or math-related fields as earning 80 cents to the dollar a man makes from doing the same job—and it adds up: $317 per weekly paycheck or $16,484 per year.

Women are awarded far less equity.
Women in tech don’t just earn less than their male counterparts in $ and ¢, but in shares as well, according to a study released by software platform Carta. Findings showed that overall, men own 91 percent of employee and founder equity in Silicon Valley, leaving women a meager 9 percent.

Motherhood penalty and the fatherhood bonus.
When it comes to kids, moms lose 4 percent of their hourly earnings on average for every child they have, while men make 6 percent more. As you might imagine, this kind of wage gap leads to significant income loss for women — especially since, as of 2017, 41 percent of mothers were the sole or primary breadwinner for their families.

Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall?
At this rate, barring legislative action, like an Equal Rights Amendment, it will take another 99.5 years to close the gender gap globally, according to the 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, an annual report released by the World Economic Forum. And we just don’t have that kind of time. For women, and frankly, the overall success of business and culture, we need to grease the wheels of change.

Let’s look at how far we have come through the lens of three different job titles to help trace the arc: Software Developer, Web Developer, and Marketing Research Analyst.

SOFTWARE DEVELOPER

Women in tech — are we breaking through the glass ceiling, or are we banging our heads? Frankly, it’s sometimes hard to tell. Another International Women’s Day has come and gone in a flurry of feel good Instagram posts, but the conversation around whether inroads are being made remains. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the percentage of women software developers has barely budged despite all the efforts, growing from 19% in 2011 to 19.4% in 2020. The saving grace is that the market itself has grown 57% in that timeframe, which means the total number of female software developers has gone from 198,360 to 365,302.

In the United States, women hold just 25% of the overall jobs in computing and leave the tech sector at twice the rate as men. Just close to 5% occupy leadership positions—and these numbers shrink even further when looking at women of color. Black and Latina women held only 6.2% and 5.9% respectively in 2020. But there is light breaking through the clouds.

Collective action has helped call attention to inequity. 20,000 Google employees staged a walkout in 2018 to protest the company’s payouts to execs accused of sexual harassment, along with Google’s policy of forced arbitration. And it caused a ripple effect throughout the tech industry. Google nixed its policy of forced arbitration, with AirBnB and Facebook swiftly following suit. But to effect lasting change, execs need to chart a real path forward that considers the cultural change required to make a workplace truly more inclusive. The good news? Inclusivity benefits the bottom line.

WEB DEVELOPERS

It’s important to remember that the digital landscape is a built environment. Developers create the websites we visit and code our cyber experiences. As more businesses move to be digital-first, having women at the forefront of curating our digital journeys is critical. We don’t want the digital world to become one designed by only men. The numbers, however, paint a story of stasis. The field has experienced just a small amount of overall growth, with the total number of web developers numbering 182,000 in 2011, growing to only 193,000 in 2019. The percentage of women-identified web developers increased from 38.6% to 41.4% in that same timeframe, which in real number terms means that there are just 9,650 more in 2019 than in 2011. Phew.

Tech folks in web dev distinguish between front-end, back-end, and full-stack development. Here’s what that means: front-end developers are those who design and implement what you see in your web browser, while back-end developers do the programming behind the scenes. And full-stack developers, well, they do it all. Once upon a time, the distinction between front and back-end development was less rigid. In the first decade of the web, every developer had to be full-stack, but web work became more specialized over time. By 2010, the profession had begun to stratify, with developers who had computer science degrees (mostly men) sashaying into back-end roles while more auto-didactic coders and designers stepped into the front.

Tropes emerged. Back-end developers sometimes attribute front-end prowess less to technical skill and more to some web juju comprised of feeling, rather than logic-ing — a mastery, if you will, of the “soft” things that women are “supposed to” excel at. Of course, this thinking in and of itself is fallacious — nothing in the land of computers is any more or less logical than something else. All this erroneous thinking has succeeded in feminizing a subfield of web development and by proxy, masculinizing another. Prestige and labor scarcity dance a tight capital tango, and all too often, masculinity is seizing the prestige.

Underrepresentation of women in tech is a titanic liability for the industry. Why? Because diversity = profitability. Diverse companies tend to report higher growth, perform better, be more innovative, and have an amplified competitive edge. It’s not just about equity; parity is also good for the bottom line. Companies like 23andMe, Pinterest, and Slack are helping lead the way towards true inclusivity that extends into the management and executive levels — we need more businesses to join them.

MARKET RESEARCH ANALYSTS + MARKETING SPECIALISTS

Market research — or data-driven consumer insights — is a STEM field whose purpose is to uncover insights and explore consumer desires and needs. And, as you might suspect, this mathematically oriented career was once dominated by men. But here, the numbers tell a more uplifting story. As data analytics becomes a more prominent part of marketing, women have comprised a growing segment of this space. In 2011, there were 117,875 female market research analysts, but that number leapfrogged to 256,668 in 2020. Here’s why this matters so much: women now drive the world economy. Globally, they controlled about $24 trillion in consumer spending in 2020, up from $20 trillion in 2018. To paint a more vivid picture, in aggregate, women represent a growth market bigger than China and India combined — actually more than twice as big.

Given the numbers, it’s clear that ignoring women comes at a costly peril. And yet, many companies do just that. Part of the challenge comes from who is doing the research. When experts examine what a market needs and wants, the researchers must reflect those they are studying, lest unconscious biases creep in and distort the data.

Companies have a lot to learn about selling to women.
Despite remarkable strides in market power and social position that have been made in the last 100 years, women are routinely undervalued in the marketplace and underestimated in the workplace. With too many claims on their time, it’s often a circus of juggling work, family, and home — made all the more acute by the pandemic. Few companies are heeding the need to create time-saving products or services that speak to women’s lived experiences and needs. Expanding the number of women who run the underlying research that shapes which products make it to market mean more on-target consumer insights. All of which brings us to…

HOW WE CAN ALL HELP TO REDUCE THE GENDER GAP

There are many ways to help reduce the gender gap; here’s a simple one we can all do: amplify women’s voices.

Get out your megaphones. A critical component of championing women at work is equalizing voices. Interrupting, mansplaining, and having others take credit for their ideas are all serious problems that women experience in the workplace. During the Obama administration, female Whitehouse staffers, after having to muscle their way into meetings and vying to be heard, developed the amplification strategy to lift and strengthen one another’s voices. Frustrated by their male peers garnering more attention and seeing their idea take flight more quickly, women in the Obama administration initiated an echoing support technique they dubbed “amplification.”

What began as women supporting women grew into female staffers acknowledging each other’s contributions, which gave way to more of them being consulted in discussions and growing parity with men concerning who sat in the president’s inner circle.

While amplification developed in the White House, this technique can be put to great use in any workplace by both men and women. Role-play these sample statements, shared by DreamHost, to get a sense of how to amplify:

  • As ____ said, we can improve in this area by ____.
  • ____’s idea of ____ could be the solution to ____.
  • I want to emphasize what _____ said. It really demonstrated how _____.
  • I really appreciate your comment, ____. Your idea could really help us ____.

Mentoring is another highly effective way to amplify women’s voices. Sharing knowledge, connections, and shortcuts is a powerful way to facilitate someone having their ideas heard. Every business needs more good ideas from diverse sources, help give them voice.


About the author.
An award-winning creator and digital health, wellness, and lifestyle content strategist—Karina writes, produces, and edits compelling content across multiple platforms—including articles, video, interactive tools, and documentary film. Her work has been featured on MSN Lifestyle, Apartment Therapy, Goop, Psycom, Yahoo News, Pregnancy & Newborn, Eat This Not That, thirdAGE, and Remedy Health Media digital properties and has spanned insight pieces on psychedelic toad medicine to forecasting the future of work to why sustainability needs to become more sustainable.