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How we’re failing women in tech

In 2020 and 2021, a group of women from across the Atlassian ecosystem came together in a series of panel discussions to talk about their experience in tech, including interviews, imposter syndrome, work-life balance, HR policies, and more. These discussions were important, and we’re continuing the conversation. First, let’s take a look at some of the numbers. 

A look at the statistics on women in tech

We know that women in tech are underrepresented, surprisingly even more so now than in the 90s. In fact, the percentage of computing occupations held by women in the United States has been declining since 1991, when it peaked at 36 percent. In 2020, women made up 25 percent of computing-related occupations (and Latinas and Black women hold just 1 percent and 3 percent of these jobs, respectively), while data from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) shows that in the same year, women held 57 percent of all professional occupations. Sadly, 50 percent of women who take on a tech role abandon it by the age of 35.

These numbers point to a persistent gender gap in tech, and given the proven perks of diversity, it’s worth addressing. Let’s look at just a small sample of the research on the benefits of diversity. McKinsey research from 2018 finds that diversity with respect to gender is correlated with both “profitability and value creation”. Another McKinsey report from 2015 found that, of 366 public companies, those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean. A study of 4,277 Spanish companies found that companies with more women are more likely to introduce new innovative products into the market. 

So what makes diverse groups smarter? 

It’s worth noting that the benefits of gender balance extend to race as well. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, diverse group members expect conflict and are better prepared for differences of opinion. They anticipate alternative viewpoints and assume that reaching consensus will take time and effort. Diverse teams tend to reexamine facts and thus are more likely to be objective. In other words, the members of diverse groups seem to work harder, both socially and intellectually. There’s a lot of evidence that the hard work performed in diverse teams pays off with better results.

These facts are especially important in tech, given how much the field is growing. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow an impressive 11 percent from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than the average for other occupations. If women get left behind as the tech field continues to grow, they lose out on a wide range of employment with significant compensation and growth opportunities.

So what can be done?

Intervene early, when girls are in school

A new survey commissioned by Microsoft found that young girls in Europe become interested in STEM subjects around age 11 and lose interest at 15. There are a couple of ways to overcome this: 

  • Promoting role models has a big impact, as it's much easier for girls to imagine a career in tech if they see female examples they can relate to. 
  • Fostering hands-on experience with technology is also helpful. Showing girls how technology applies to their lives provides greater relevance. 

Encourage inclusivity in tech companies

There are several ways to encourage gender-inclusive companies: 

  • Companies should set specific and measurable targets for gender diversity in the leadership team. Having female role models makes a big difference to female staff- not to mention prospective new hires. 
  • Both women and men should be encouraged to take parental leave. It’s crucial that senior staff lead by example in this regard, or employees may hesitate to take advantage of the time allocated to them.
  • Deliberately schedule inclusive company events during work hours. It’s common for some employees to meet for after-work drinks, but some women may have a hard time juggling these commitments outside of company hours. 

Talk about it

The panel discussions that inspired this article presented the lived experience of women working in technology. Talking about the barriers to tech for women, as well as their potential solutions, makes it more likely that women will enter the field. 

Ultimately, the more we can promote women in technology, the greater the benefits to industry - and to women themselves. 

 

1 comment

Hi @Sarah Fletcher _Tempo_ 

thank you so much for sharing this! I would love to push a discussion here in group about best practices that would show how everyone and especially in teams can be done to raise awareness of this super important topic.

You are so right and already mentioned great example and I would love to give add some more for a discussion:

  • Start at the very beginning and involve everyone - Diversity is the key here! 
  • Hiring processes should be gender neutral - a long lasting discussion in Germany 
  • Try to break down borders according gender - my experience is that many leaders still assign skills to genders 
  • ...

Maybe someone has also great ideas how to improve the situation for everyone.

I would also love to point out to the wonderful Diversity & Inclusion group in Community group.

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