Is IT a “men’s game”?

Is IT a "men's game"?

As part of our cycle “Women in IT”, we invite you to read the conversation with an economist, researcher and lecturer Dr. Zofia Łapniewska.

We have just started a series of posts about women in the IT industry. This sector is still dominated by men. Why are there so few women in professions related to technical sciences?

It seems to me that above all stereotypes and prejudices operate here.
Fewer women study STEM (although they achieve better results in maths as teenagers around the world, as tested by the University of Missouri researchers), yet, more and more decide to do so, thanks to campaigns such as “girls for universities of technology” consistently run for over 10 years.

Research carried out by Ireneusz Sadowski from ISP PAN pointed out that girls who apply to Warsaw University of Technology usually have very high secondary school results in exact subjects (so they apply only if they are sure that they will manage), while boys apply even with way weaker results. That shows continuing internalization and perpetualization of a low self-esteem in girls in terms of the ability to think abstractly and solve problems.

Women are burdened with a “double job” to a greater extent than men – that is, they are expected to take care of children and the elderly in the family, thus they are not so available (in case of e.g. overtime, emergency situations, trips, conferences, training, etc.). But interestingly, the situation is different in the countries of the global south – where grandparents are involved in bringing up children (they live together – as a multi-generational family) and women there have a better negotiating position – in terms of promotions and wages (see the Bipash’u Baruah article).

As research shows (eg carried out by Cornell University in the United States) – people prefer to work in mixed teams, and it is not easy for men to get acclimatized to feminized groups or for women to  masculinzed occupations  (including in the IT industry). My research, which I conducted on energy cooperatives in Europe, showed that a certain “critical mass” of women is necessary to attract other women. So, if one sees that  there are already women in a team, she is more willing to join (or think about it at all!)

Number of women in the management of the technology sector is very small. According to the Report of Women in IT and Tech in 2018, only 5% of CEOs in the Polish ICT sector are women (9 women out of 452 companies). In the technology industry there is the lowest rate of women in management – only 10%. What it comes from?

Again – two jobs (productive and reproductive) – fewer women decide to make a career sacrificing their private / family life, and there is a belief that it is a “men’s club” or “boys club” where you have to drink vodka with other CEOs to have contacts, deal with contracts and be “successful” (I’m not saying that it was eliminated). In IT, there are fewer women than in other sectors , that is why even less  get to the top … unfortunately.

There is also an opinion that women “pull up the ladder”, meaning – when they achieve something (usually putting more effort into it than men), they do not promote other women, but “prove that they are more masculine than men” by playing “male principles”. Is it really so? Hard to say. I think that aspiring for higher positions always involves a certain political game. Some progress faster, others slower and often qualifications or the results have little to do with it. We have to negotiate our whole life, and not everyone is good at it.

It would be good to promote female models – as for now promoted are, for example, travelers, thus girls know that they can travel to the end of the world or climb to K2. Or women in sport who play, run and jump on the same basis as men and get the same rewards. Networking and mutual promotion (this is often called “positive discrimination”), or at least sensitivity to inequality, is very important. And solidarity with other women is necessary. It’s always easier in the group. Looking at today’s political scene – the future belongs to women.

Another interesting one from the aforementioned report of the Techcrunch 2017 Report. Only 17% of startups from the high tech industry were founded by a woman. Startups created or co-created by women receive an average of twice lower funding than those initiated by men, but in the first 5 years of operation they bring profits by 10% higher (“Why Women-Owned Startups Are a Better Bet?”, BCG 2018). Do you have an idea of ​​what this may result from? And where this lower confidence in startups founded by women comes from?

When we look at the results of TEA (Total Entrepreneurship Activity) for Poland and similar countries (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Spain, and Italy) among young people –“Eastern Europe” has much higher rate of starting enterprises in comparison with “Western Europe”.  But these results differ significantly between men and women (only 6% of women in the population of 18-64, and 12% of men).

After the recent financial crisis, many journalists pointed out that women avoid risk (e.g. the article by Doug Sundheim “Do Women Take as Many Risks as Men?”). This may also apply to start-ups.

My current research on participatory budgets shows that women do not let go so fast. If they have an idea, they make adjustments, agree on simplifications, make alterations, but want to fight to the end to implement it. And many men give up when they encounter any obstacles (“it is too difficult to achieve”).

Ad lower funding, that is simply bias (perhaps women cannot show their achievements so spectacularly, and therefore their strart-ups are less known?). Although, I’m surprised a bit, because money is money, usually is invested where a high rate of return is guaranteed. Maybe this report should be publicized more? But I also suspect that investors – mostly men – can identify themselves with the creators of the new idea, or start-up founders who only now can, for example, realize their childhood dreams indirectly – through their money – and create solutions they dreamed about when they played computer games as they were small. Of course, this is just a guess.

According to the “Report of the Women in IT” (Geek Girls Carrots 2018) 53% of workers of IT companies in Poland believe that it is more difficult for women to cope in this industry. 76% think that the main reason for this situation are the prevailing stereotypes and conviction about the traditional social roles of women. Do you have an idea to overcome these stereotypes? How can school, family and employers help?

Further campaigns, encouraging girls to study STEM and, above all, promoting women / mixed teams. But the need for effective working partnerships at home (so not only were women do care) and support in the form of nurseries, kindergartens, day care for children, for people with disabilities, the elderly. Someone has to do this job and robots will not do it. Hence, employers and schools and the family model must support equal opportunities for both women and men for a good life.

In many countries there is a disproportion in earnings in the IT industry in the same position between women and men in favor of men. Is not it just unjust?

I agree, unjust. But we must ask ourselves – what is rewarded in capitalism? Of course – skills, contribution, dedication, responsibility. But the employer pays, usually, as much as the employee herself/himself negotiates. And women usually come out of the lower pay scale. And then they get less at promotion. Of course, in many corporations there are usually explicitly defined wage differentials on managerial positions (what was first described in the Gender Index report in Poland in 2007 ), what does not completely eliminate the difference.

Since the beginning of their presence on the labor market women have been performing and still perform lower-paid jobs (even in factories they received half the rate of men – because men were considered “heads of families” – what argument often justified the disproportions). In sectors where they dominate (Harriet Taylor Mill called it “the effect of crowding”) earnings are not high and grow much slower than in other professions. The best example is  the last strike of teachers (what profession was not feminized in the past). The IT industry is still considered to be prestigious and masculinized, and wages are high.  Women should definitely boldly negotiate. A good solution might be the transparency of wages. Then it is easier to relate to other employees in a similar position. Fingers crossed!

Read more about the future of the European Union’s Economy in my book chapter (pp. 91-101).

Zofia Łapniewska – economist and feminist, adjunct professor at the Institute of Economics, Finance and Management at the Jagiellonian University. In 2012-2016 she was abroad as a postdoctoral researcher, among others at the Humboldt University in Berlin and the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her main scientific interests are the care economy, common goods and cooperatives.

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