The technology industry, despite being one of the most progressive and disruptive influences in our culture, typically fails in miserable fashion when faced with its own gender equality issues.
It doesn’t take much to find a new story or data pointing to the low status of women in tech – look at The New Yorker’s piece that equates the technology field to that of Wall Street investment banking and Madison Avenue ad firms. Alarmingly, the article points out almost half of women who go into technology eventually leave the field. Not a good sign for an industry that needs to retain smart, driven individuals to succeed.
Yet, when we look at Washington D.C., whose power structure has historically been dominated by men, women are pressing past gatekeepers and glass ceilings to forge impressive and significant careers in politics, business and beyond. In fact, the local economy holds serious opportunity for women in tech as D.C. barrels forward as one of the nation’s most promising tech capitals — over 25 metro area startups and businesses made it on Deloitte’s 2017 Fast 500 List, which ranks the fastest growing technology companies across North America.
Building on that, from 2011 to 2016, the local economy increased technology jobs by over 9.6 percent. According to that same survey by CBRE, the region had the third largest tech talent workforce, with 32 percent of that labor pool women. D.C. women are some of the most well positioned in the country to lead the conversation around pay equality and opportunities for women and to make a difference in one of the broadest and most rapidly growing industries on the planet.
However, there are obvious hurdles and challenges women in the D.C. workforce face. HireStrategy, a D.C.-based professional staffing firm, recently released findings from its survey of D.C. metro employees examining job satisfaction, motivations and career outlook. The survey specifically broke down findings based on gender, revealing notable takeaways for every woman building her career in tech in D.C.
Data and experience show D.C. still maintains an air of a boys’ club — men were 17 percent more likely to agree that networking is necessary in their industry — however, in every career, networking is essential. In D.C., this is especially true. Having the right connections is the expectation. Therefore, women need to be part of the group that plays golf, goes for drinks or grabs a bite after work. It takes work, and unfairly, likely more effort for women seeking to move up the ladder in industries dominated by men.
Make tech female.
According to a survey released by Glassdoor in July, the D.C. metro outpaces Silicon Valley in terms of the number of software jobs in the area. Yet, HireStrategy’s survey found that IT jobs were ranked as one of the lowest that women are willing to apply for. This disparity could result in an opportunity cost for women being left out of a major growing piece of the local economy, or it could provide an opportunity to persist.
While the tech sector remains stubbornly male dominated, which has brought about issues for some of the biggest Silicon Valley companies, Washington D.C.’s relatively nascent technology industry gives women the opportunity to reshape the narrative in our own community. Already, there is so much potential growth in the IT sector with more startups setting up headquarters or satellite operations in the area.
Show me the money.
The HireStrategy survey showed that D.C. male professionals are 27 percent more likely to say their industry pays high salaries. Interesting points, given that the technology industry in particular is under pressure to remedy gender wage gaps. With so much positive momentum for women working for technology companies in the local economy, there’s a huge opportunity to make headway on this issue and show how women are the backbone of this growing economic boon for D.C.
So, with all the potential in the local tech scene, what can organizations and individuals do to create a positive narrative of women working in the industry?
In my work with the Women in Technology Organization, we help women advance in technology from the classroom to the boardroom through networking, education, scholarship and leadership development. We also recommend that local organizations implement programming and incentives to attract women to technology careers. As part of this experience, it’s important for companies to maintain awareness. Healthy self-awareness allows tech leaders and organizations to understand the problems faced by women and what they can do to take action against these issues. At a time when national attention in our town couldn’t be greater, D.C. is in position to lead the charge and make meaningful change in addressing gender inequality in the workplace, but it will take collaboration of both male and female tech leaders to make gender equality a reality.