Addressing Gender Bias in IT: Empowering Women in Tech

elev8 - 7 min read

Gender Bias in IT

IT career development programs often perpetuate hidden gender biases. María Balbás, President Elev8 Education, reviews why Elev8 is rethinking professional development and helping leaders to empower female talent to reap the rewards.

If you’re a woman in senior management in an IT organization, congratulations. You’ve likely overcome years of systemic bias to smash the glass ceiling in a notoriously male-dominated field.  

In fact, McKinsey research shows that for every 100 men who get promoted to a management position in IT, only 52 women get to take that step. The other 48 remain stuck in junior roles, get moved sideways into a non-tech job, or are forced out of the organization entirely.  

Now, I’m not here to bash IT teams for these inequalities. The societal factors behind the gender bias in IT are many and complex, and they can start to set in when girls are still in kindergarten.  

But with a vast digital skills shortage currently holding organizations back, it makes much more sense for IT leaders to be part of the solution than part of the problem. IT organizations that recognize and empower female technologists will be much better placed to attract and retain female tech talent and benefit from an untapped talent pool to overcome the current digital skills shortage.  

And it’s not just about having more skilled technologists on the team. Research by the Anita Borg Institute shows that gender-diverse IT teams outperform non-diverse teams on multiple fronts, ranging from levels of innovation to adherence to project delivery timescales.  

What is gender bias in IT, and why is it a problem?

Gender bias in IT refers to the unequal treatment and opportunities that women face in the field of information technology. It is a problem because it perpetuates gender inequality, limits the career advancement of women, and hinders organizations from fully benefiting from a diverse workforce.

The issue of gender bias starts early on, as societal norms and expectations shape career choices and opportunities for girls. This leads to fewer women entering IT-related fields and creates a pipeline problem where there is a lack of female talent at higher levels of management.

Organizations can play a crucial role in addressing this bias by implementing policies and practices that promote gender equality bias in IT refers to the unequal treatment and opportunities that women face in the tech industry. It is a problem because it hinders diversity and limits the potential of talented women in the field. It also perpetuates stereotypes and creates an environment that is unwelcoming and discriminatory.

But what, in practical terms, can IT organizations do to start leveling the playing field for women? 

Rethinking professional development for tech women 

One good place to start is professional development programs. You may already offer a fast-track or high-potential program for talented early-career technologists.  

But does that program recognize that women in tech experience career progression differently to men?  

Does it take hidden systemic biases into account?  

And does it have an equal success rate for men and women? 

If not, it might be time to think differently. At Elev8 we’re convinced that women’s tech potential can be unlocked more successfully with a program that openly recognizes issues arising from gender bias, and supports women to build the self-confidence to overcome potential career obstacles. 

That’s why we’re proud to introduce Next Generation of Women in Tech: a 4-week, 26-hour program designed for early-career female technologists or women looking to move into a tech role from elsewhere in the organization.  

With a dual focus on power skills and tech skills, it empowers women to define and plan their ideal career path while building high-value competencies in some of the most in-demand technologies of the coming years. To achieve those aims, it’s delivered in three modules: 

1. Your inside: Becoming an empowered woman in tech  

This first module is focused on the individual employee, encouraging her to think about what kind of woman in tech she wants to be. A motivational keynote introduces the idea of a new generation of women in tech: empowered, confident and capable of overcoming barriers to achieve her full potential. That’s followed by an assessment and workshop on breaking the bias in tech, enabling women to recognize and tackle gender bias in the tech industry.  

By the end of this module, participants have laid the groundwork for developing a growth mindset and embracing a new women in tech mindset. They’re able to understand and recognize gender bias in the industry and the workplace, and deploy strategies to challenge and overcome it.  

2. The other side: Emerging tech reshaping the future  

This module focuses on the emerging technologies needed to support the organization’s digital transformation. Participants attend a future thinking workshop, where they’re invited to re-imagine the role of technology in the organization and learn how to connect business strategy to emerging technologies to help the organization achieve its strategic goals. 

Depending on the outcome of that exercise, participants then choose a technology area in which to take a deeper dive: data science, cloud migration, cybersecurity, metaverse, or artificial intelligence (AI). A hands-on lab exercise enables them to put their newfound skills to work and see how they could practically use the technology to support the organization’s business needs.  

Participants leave this module empowered to think strategically about technology, work as a knowledgeable partner to the business, and gain confidence and trust as a business-oriented tech professional. There’s also an exercise to map stakeholder influence to identify, analyze, and align stakeholders to potential relationships to objectives and future professional growth. 

3. The outside: Your personal journey for impactful presence  

Boston Consulting Group has found that one of the factors holding women back in a tech career is a lack of confidence in their own skills, exacerbated by the innate biases of a male-oriented workplace. This module supports women to build confidence in their abilities, define their ideal career path and build an impactful self-promotion plan and pitch. 

Exercises in this module involve identifying emerging roles in tech, mapping future demand for tech skills, and preparing a career plan aligned with these directions of travel. A final elevator pitching session builds practical skills for confident self-promotion during performance reviews and meetings with senior executives. By the end of the module, the participant will know how and at what pace they would like their career to progress, and how to communicate their career aspirations and professional potential to senior leadership. 

Positive feedback from women in tech 

Feedback from women on the Next Generation of Women in Tech program has been overwhelmingly positive so far. One told us she “noticed different aspects that I didn’t know about myself that now help with my confidence and my professional growth path.” Another said that the program “gives you great tools to identify your focus areas and create a custom development plan,” and that she’s “already applying them not only in my professional life but also in my personal life.” 

Feedback like this gives us confidence that we’re on the right track to help break the gender bias in tech careers. And, we’d love to hear your views: would this kind of program work for your organization, or help you with your own career plan? Let us know your thoughts at [email protected].  

For more information on the program itself, check out our webpage: Next Generation of Women in Tech page