Women in IT

Gender gapped: The state of gender diversity in IT

The tech sector has made strides attracting more women and inching closer to equal pay. But a glaring disconnect remains in how men and women view gender diversity progress in IT.

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DNY59 / teddyandmia / Getty Images

The way Melissa Di Donato sees it, there are three types of women in tech: those vying to improve gender diversity in the workplace, those who opt out because the journey is hard and they don’t feel they have sufficient voice, and those who don’t realize they’re the only woman in the room.

For decades, Di Donato considered herself the latter, steadily climbing her way up the male-dominated corporate ladder to become the first woman CEO of SUSE, an open source Linux provider. Di Donato, who says she’s always embraced her femininity with her signature big hair and stiletto shoes, rarely contemplated the idea of gender as a barrier until she attended a women in tech luncheon eight years ago, reluctantly, at the urging of a male mentor.

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Melissa Di Donato, CEO, SUSE

“I told him I don’t do women lunches — I’m getting along just fine and I’m happy being me,” says Di Donato, who admits to doing a complete reversal after listening to women recount their hard-fought battles for success amid a rampant and glaring gender divide. “I started hearing the stories and thought, we do have a problem, we do have a pay gap, we do have visibility issues. My head was so down in the weeds, I didn’t realize.”

Di Donato, then an executive at Salesforce, applauded CEO Marc Benioff’s public commitment in 2015 to close the gender pay gap and elevate diversity. Years into that initiative and despite the strides Salesforce and other tech companies have made, Di Donato contends there’s still a long way to go to achieve gender parity beyond hitting milestone goals for equal pay. Specifically, there is significant work to be done to address distortions in how women and men view gender equality and the progress made to date. “Men see a steady increase in the number of women leaders and think the problem is solved, but it’s not proportional enough to be at 30 percent, which is where they say a minority’s voice is heard,” she explains. “The minute we stop talking about it, men think the problem is solved, yet women still feel disadvantaged.”

Measuring the perception gap

Increasing the number and profile of women in tech has been a persistent struggle. For decades, the number of women fielding technology and IT-related occupations has paled in comparison to other high-profile fields such as medicine, law, and the physical sciences. While the U.S. Census Bureau and other government reports show women’s participation in the general workforce jumping from 38 percent in 1970 to nearly half (47%) by 2014, the percentage of women in tech-related occupations peaked in the early 1990s to settle in at around 25 percent in 2014. A June 2019 IDC Women in Technology survey found women comprised 21 percent of employees at technology companies with a larger (34%) share in specific technology roles.

Perhaps even more distressing than the still-lackluster female presence in tech is the glaring disconnect in how men and women view progress made on gender equality. Male respondents to the IDC Women in Technology survey gave their firms high marks for diversity and inclusion across the board, with 45 percent specifically commending their firm’s gender diversity efforts. In contrast, only 29 percent of female respondents felt their organizations were doing enough to tackle gender diversity issues.

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