5 Scary myths that keep women away from a career in technology*
Sónia Fernandes, November 5, 2022
In the week that Halloween is celebrated, few things scare me as much as the stereotypes generated around women who choose tech professions. I share 5 myths that contribute to a skewed sociocultural narrative and discourage women from taking an interest in these professions – leading to only one in four IT jobs being held by female professionals, Pew Research Center and Gartner reveal.
Myth #1 – “Women are not interested in technology.”
Women do not have an “aversion” to technology. Instead, they have an “aversion” to this area’s sociocultural barriers (prejudice, salary inequality, etc.). Also, from an early age, children are still misled into thinking that there are “feminine” and “masculine” professions, in which rockets, video games, science kits, and technological gadgets are often more part of the boys’ imagination. It is urgent to change this narrative and encourage girls to get to know the technological universe and the inspiring female figures that history has: Ada Lovelace, considered the first woman programmer; Grace Hopper, the creator of COBOL – COmmon Business Oriented Language; Hedy Lamarr, the woman who 80 years ago patented the technology for Wi-Fi; Katherine Johnson, known as the “human computer” at NASA for her extraordinary contributions; or Radia Joy Perlman, responsible for the creation of Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), fundamental to operate in networks.
Myth #2 – “You need to know math and code to have a tech career.”
Sure, many women have academic backgrounds and bright careers in fields like Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Information Systems, and others. But the possibilities outside of math and hand-coding are immense – I, for example, have a BS in Biology and an MS in Computer Science. Today, I’m a Software Developer working at a technology company pioneering intelligent automatic software modeling and generation! Talking about technology and digitalization-driven innovation is today talking about many professions in fields such as People Management, Project and Product Management, UX/UI Design, Marketing and Sales, Customer Experience, and Data Science. Professions need not only technical hard skills but also behavioral and human soft skills, such as creativity, abstract thinking, adaptability, and agility in ever-changing contexts. In short: a technology career comprises a very wide range of skills.
Myth #3 – “Women like to leave the more technical and complex issues to men.”
The truth is that women still feel insecure in primarily male environments. And they often choose silence during a discussion or team meeting. But they still have something to add or say on the subject, be it more or less technical. It may mean they have much to contribute but are afraid of being interrupted, criticized, corrected, or belittled by their male peers. Studies such as Yoctoo’s point to situations of maintaining (interruptions by men), mansplaining (obvious explanations from a man to a woman), bioprinting (when a man takes credit for a woman’s ideas), and psychological and moral harassment as the main prejudices suffered by women in the technology workplace. On the other hand, when women speak out openly, boldly, or achieve leadership positions, they are often called ambitious, arrogant, or “bossy” by their colleagues. Therefore, finding a balance where everyone can ask for, give and receive feedback with empathy and true team spirit is crucial.
Myth #4 – “Younger people are the ones with a future in technology.”
There is always time to (re)start anything. How many professionals today have professions that did not exist when they chose their path in higher education? How many have decided to embrace other challenges and completely change their career by discovering new possibilities enabled by technological developments? How many women choose to take a career break to dedicate themselves to their families and then return, later and in force, to the labor market to work in a completely different field? The truth is that not all of us need to start liking IT at a young age and do our first experiments in the garage of our parents’ house like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The passion for technology is only sometimes portrayed in the movies. It can come in many forms… and at any age.
Myth #5 – “Motherhood hurts women’s work performance.”
In my ideal world, mother and father should take care of their children and take advantage of the flexibility brought by the Work-Life Balance trends and the new hybrid/remote work models to ensure more quality family time. But supposing that one of the parents has more significant work constraints and the other has more availability, and this other parent happens to be the woman, the question that arises is: how does being a mother affect the professional contribution of women? The values, qualities, and skills applied in raising a child (or two, as is my case) are assets to any organization, regardless of its area of activity – conflict resolution skills, storytelling, critical thinking, negotiation, empathy, creativity, resilience, multi-tasking… Just think that many of these “requirements” appear in the job ads we see every day. Being a mother is one of the most significant tests of overcoming and high performance that I know of, and organizations that still need to understand this are losing talent.
Promoting women’s training and technological empowerment cannot be merely a matter of filling quotas in educational institutions or the labor market. Instead, it is about fostering the different interests and vocations of young people, regardless of their gender, whether through extracurricular activities and training, museum visits, robotics competitions, or computer clubs. With the support of teachers, mentors, and other allies who are aware that it is by adding various points of view, different talents, experiences, and male and female perspectives (and not excluding unfounded prejudices) that value, productivity, creativity, agility, and innovation are generated.
By demolishing these and other myths one by one, we will continue to move towards that increasingly inclusive future in schools, universities, and organizations. That future where a woman can choose any technological career without being an exception or a minority in the statistics.
*This article was originally published in Mais Superior.