More women are entering the IT field every day, including many working moms who are taking their careers to new heights. The talent pool of working mothers is full of excellent workers and exciting potential leaders, but they also are facing significant hurdles along the way.
If your firm is looking to close these gaps and tap into this talent network, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Employment and Promotion Gaps
There is something of a stereotype of tech – and STEM in general – being “boys’ clubs.” While we’d like to say that, in 2023, we’re past that point, the numbers paint a different picture.
As of 2022, women only hold 22% of mathematical and computing jobs in the U.S., and only 25% of software engineers are women. The numbers are even bleaker for women of color: Asian or Pacific Islander women are just 7% of the IT workforce, while Black women account for 3% and Hispanic just 2%. Even for women who do get hired, the outlook for a long-term career has a clear gender gap. Half of women who begin a career in tech drop out by the age of 35, often due to a lack of inclusivity. For working moms, who often encounter significant hurdles in their early-to-mid careers as they juggle young families and building a career, those numbers can spike even higher.
The gap isn’t just at the entry level, either. Women, regardless of parental status, struggle to get promoted through the ranks in IT and related fields. Only 52 women are likely to get promoted in tech for every 100 men who do, which is significantly behind the across-industries average of 86 women per 100 men (and which itself is still a major gap).
Combating this requires both a deliberate effort to support women’s careers and an equally deliberate effort to dismantle the assumptions and structure that hinder them. Part of it can be simple, like a commitment to promoting more women into leadership. Additionally, spending time and resources on real, significant DEI work – not just PR-oriented initiatives – can help to ensure that more women, including working mothers, feel like they are welcomed, respected, and invested in.
Getting Credit for Ideas
Most women have a story in the workplace that goes a little something like this.
In a meeting, she offers up an idea. It’s dismissed casually, with little fanfare. Then, a little while later – maybe at the same meeting, maybe hours or days later – a male colleague suggests the same or nearly the same idea. Instead of being brushed off, however, his idea is praised and taken to the next steps. She’s left in an uncomfortable position. If she says anything, she could get dinged for not being a team player, or being petty, but if she says nothing, she’s just lost credit for an idea and all the career benefits that come with that credit.
As women work to advance their IT careers, against odds that already can feel stacked against them, these kinds of micro-slights can really add up and impact their careers. A study in the Harvard Business Review found that a status “bump” and perception of leadership ability happened for men who spoke up about ideas, but not for women. Among STEM professionals, women are also almost 60% less likely than their male counterparts to be named on patents linked to their research, and they’re less likely to receive credit for their work at every level.
Individual co-workers can help to reduce these occurrences, as can managers. The key is to amplify ideas without claiming credit for them, and to publicly and clearly draw attention to the original source of the idea. It doesn’t have to be a huge conversation, but repeated, matter-of-fact back-up can make all the difference in the world.
Workplace Culture and Perceptions
Culture can be a nebulous thing, but it also can be a particular challenge for working moms (and women in general) in IT.
Consider, for instance, a common and heavily gendered set of perceptions around working parents. Research has found that 72% of people believe women are penalized in the workplace for having children, but men are not. The same research found that 41% of workers believe mothers are less devoted to their work than those who aren’t mothers, and 38% admit that they judge mothers when they need more flexible work schedules. All of these perceptions are part of a culture that buys into common stereotypes about caretaking, gender, and parenting – an outdated and unnecessary point of view, especially in a field that can be as flexible and remote-work-friendly as IT.
Women also face more generalized culture issues, from outright sexism to more subtle forms of bias that nonetheless impact their careers. Pew Research found that 50% of women said they had experienced gender discrimination at work, and the numbers increase for certain groups that are common in the tech world, including women with a postgraduate degree (62%), working in computer jobs (74%), or in male-dominated workplaces (78%).
Many of these concerns are not cut-and-dry issues that can be solved with a policy or a new page in the employee handbook. Instead, ensuring that moms (and all women) can succeed in IT careers is about understanding the presence of these biases, rather than ignoring them, and actively working to address each specific point. With a positive culture, modeled at every level, organizations can find themselves in a very competitive spot when it comes to recruiting IT talent who happen to also be mothers.