Recently, I was on a business trip visiting one of my client’s sites. The client was holding a large meeting for everyone on the program to introduce some changes that were going to be implemented. I got to the meeting early and sat in the back corner to just observe and provide support as needed to my customer.
As people entered the room, looking for available seats, you could sense the uneasiness and anticipation of the message that was going to be delivered. But my focused shifted from reading facial expressions of members of the crowd to counting the number of women and minorities in the room. Soon after, I started feeling uneasy because I realized that I was one of 3 women in a room of more than 40 people, and I was 1 of 4 non-Caucasian people.
I started feeling uneasy because I realized that I was 1 of 3 women in a room of more than 40 people.
If you do the math, the numbers do not look too good. And the sad thing is I am being conservative with the number of people in the room. Being in that environment, I started to feel anxious and uneasy about speaking and imagined the perceived judgement that I would receive if I was not “perfect.”
I turned to my male counterpart and said, “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of women here. Why do you think there is such a lack of diversity?” He gave me a classic rebuttable, “There probably aren’t a lot of women who live in this area who are in the technology field.”
A recent report on datacenter efficiency found women make up less than 6 percent of the workforce at most datacenters, but that was not seen as a problem by 70 percent of the respondents. Speaking from the perspective of an African American woman, I still find myself at times being one of two women in the room with 15 men. People attributed the lack of women in datacenters to the tendency of organizations to hire entry-level staff from the military or trade school, whereas the other IT professions require college degrees, and that pool will have more women than the other non-degree programs.
We are not immune to the overwhelming statistics showing a lack of female representation in technology fields and their impact to the success of a company. But despite those staggering statistics, we still seem to be plagued with this unresolved issue of representation.
What are the true impacts with the lack of female representation in technology? What can women and men do to help improve female representation?
I think what is more disappointing is the lack of concern for even addressing this issue. Rosabeth Moss Kanter published her research in 1977 in the American Journal of Sociology showing how the imbalance of majority and minority groups in the workplace has a profound impact on the social dynamics and perceived diversity problems among the organization. In laymen’s terms, if the environment has a majority of men, the majority of men will not think there is a problem with diversity. And if the majority does not think there is an issue to address, the issue will get ignored and be left unresolved.
Not much has evolved in 40 years. Male privilege has allowed men the latitude to be able to ignore such glaring issues that are obvious for females in male-dominated cultures. So, when I turn to my co-worker and point out an issue about the lack of diversity being one of a handful of women, the easy response is to assume that no women are available or wanted the job and dismiss it as an issue all together.
A 2018 Pew Research Center study, Women and Men in STEM Often at Odds Over Workplace Equity, expanded on Kanter’s research. They found that about half (48%) of women in the technology field who work with mostly men say their gender has made it harder for them to succeed in their job. This is compared to only 14% of women who are in more gender equitable environments.
What can we classify as harder? Some is discrimination, but I imagine a good portion is probably natural human bias from men and self-inflicted insecurity from women. I have never thought of myself as an insecure person. But in the situation I described earlier, I felt smaller and smaller as the room continued to fill with more white men. In return, I felt I had one of two options. Either shrink away and fade into the background or take command and control and dominate the room. I felt I no longer had the luxury to just be. The chasm between those two options had a direct correlation to the imbalance of the majority and minority groups in the room. And I know that I am not alone in this situation.
So, I want to put a challenge out in the universe for both women and men. For women, we need to support each other through mentorship and sponsorship. If there is only one woman at the table, advocate that there should be three. We are not a monolithic voice, and the more diverse the voices are at the table, the better the overall solution will be. We are our biggest cheerleaders. We cannot assume that our male counterparts recognize the issue of diversity as easily as we do.
For men, especially those in technology, pay attention. For every six men in the room, there should be at least one woman (if not more). If more men start paying attention and speaking up when there is under representation in the room, then change will actually happen.
I am interested to hear your thoughts. Ladies, have any of you had the same sentiments?
Dr. Alma Miller is an enthusiastic entrepreneur, speaker, and educator with more than 15 years of experience in the IT industry. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Catholic University, a Masters in Electrical Engineering from George Washington University, a Masters in Technical Management from Johns Hopkins University, and a Doctorate in Engineering from George Washington University. Dr. Miller considers herself a relationship counselor between development and IT operations teams. Her consulting company,
AC Miller Consulting
, provides services to government and commercial clients across multiple industries. Dr. Miller speaks at industry conferences and events and teaches graduate courses for Johns Hopkins and University of California Irvine. Connect with her on
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