When prestige or money comes into a business or industry, too many times the men show up and women magically leave.
Stats show that, even in 2020, when women enter a field, the prestige, the pay and the number of men all go down. This can be seen in industries like tech.
Genderfication. Why we don’t see women in tech.
Professions once seen as the domain of women…until they became popular.
Decades ago, the stereotype images of people seen cooking and as cooking experts were women. At that time, there was nothing out of the ordinary in the public belief that cooking “was a woman’s job.” It wouldn’t be surprising to find men saying women should be in the home cooking instead of at corporate job 20-30 years ago.
Yet, today, men like Gordon Ramsay, the now-deceased Anthony Bourdain, Jamie Oliver, Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri, are seen across books and TV shows and on the lips of the general public. A gender change to the point where men don’t even blink to question a male’s cross over into a previously “woman’s” role.
How things change.
If you have seen movies like Hidden Figures or know about the history of women in tech as software programmers, you know that women once dominated tech in areas like programming and math. Now like then, all too often, women were often dismissed as menial laborers or sexually objectified.
For a quick catch-up . Check out this explainer video.
Women had a place in tech. The inventor of the compiler was a woman (Grace Murray Hopper). Yet “Bro” companies (a nickname for companies created and mostly run by men at all levels and retaining a predominately male-centric culture) litter the tech sphere.
Yes, there are women at these organizations. When you think of Facebook, COO Sheryl Sandberg comes to mind. Problem is, in answering the question, “and then who?” Do that, and the executive level and the number of options (unless you’re looking at the HR, marketing and PR staff) start to nose dive.
It’s far too common, that during top-level decisions involving executive leadership, seeing female involvement becomes as difficult as seeing the smallest letters on an eye chart test.
Based on the history of women in tech. I find the phenomena weird. It’s like football or basketball. Sports where the majority of players and people considered superstars are often non-white, but management, the place you’d assume would be tapping this talent to kick upstairs for leadership, is not.
Like I said, “weird.”
Even weirder is that, reported this year, more women are now working outside the home than men. Yet, men dominate the executive ranks in those businesses outside the home.
How did we get here?
Two reasons. The change happens in such fields because two other changes happen: cultural and financial.
The cultural reasons for fewer women in tech.
Did you know, in history, that poor people in cities were often forced to live by the water?
Was that because people want the poor to have great waterfront views? No.
In the past, it was believed that diseases came from the water or from water vapor (Miasma Theory). As a result, the more affluent didn’t want to live there and were more than happy to let poorer people live in harm’s way. Later, when disease and water were unlinked and the concept of germs was discovered, waterfront property was reclaimed by the more wealthy.
That cycle is similar to what I believe has happened in industries like tech and cooking. Programming and math, once considered drudgery or “beneath” men or their identity as men, women were “allowed” to hold such jobs as they were considered to support the “real” work that men were doing.
The unfortunate perception around gender and work.
Let’s be honest. The perception of whether an industry is “male” or “female” does drive the makeup on an industry. Fashion (85% female industry graduates). Construction (91% male).
I don’t have to be honest. I can just be factual. Stats show that in industries, like parks & recreation and biology, as more women enter an industry, the men and pay shrink.
A big reason attributed to this is that men attach their identity and self-image to being a high-wage earner and being in a job considered “masculine.” So when an industry starts “feminizing,” men start to leave and other men won’t take such jobs.
To understand the link between genderfication and jobs, see nursing.
Being a nurse can easily pay over $100K a year. Yet even during the great recession of 2008, a time when men were especially losing jobs, many men from previous “manly jobs” refused to consider or train for such jobs, even as the industry was desperately looking for nurses.
If that is the case, it stands to reason the opposite is likely true. A company with an overall “masculine” identity (e.g., construction and “bro” companies) often attracts more men and rewards them with higher industry pay.
Take male-led tech startup companies. It is undisputed that types of firms receive most of the venture capital available to fund their businesses. In fact, in 2017, women-based companies received only 2.2 percent of the total venture capital funding. Even worse, only 10 percent of decision-makers at VC firms that hand out money are women. And in those U.S. venture capital firms, 74 percent have ZERO female investors.
Such environments have produced such stories as executive Ellen Pao who lost her $16 million gender discrimination lawsuit against the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.
Gender perception shapes work, staffing and pay.
With that construct and applying gender with the metaphor of race, having more women come on board an industry and assuming key decision-making positions can be seen like some men in that industry is a bit like a suburb’s neighbors worrying their neighborhood is getting a little more “United Nations ( a sarcastic code word for “darker” I often used to hear when looking for housing). The mindset is that it was okay when a few showed up, but now it’s looking like a continual and rising trend. It’s a change where people in the neighborhood start worrying about how it’s going to affect the prestige of the neighborhood, property values and if it’s time to think about moving.
Financial opportunity driving “Genderfication”
With the exception of nursing, smelling money in an industry can change the gender balance to men. The change is similar to gentrification that is happening in major cities.
As cities, the place boomers fled from in the 1960s to 1990s, became hip places for young couples and families, prices went up and changed the demographics and culture of neighborhoods.
As housing prices became pricier, people considered buying in run-down, more ethnic neighborhoods. As the money came, the upscale stores that wouldn’t open there, suddenly did. That leads to even more growth. Growth that looked cool. Yet it also pushed out groups living there (often minorities) out. Likely reaching a tipping point of feeling culturally unwelcome and well as their old support system around them dying, it’s simply easier to leave.
“Genderfication” in tech is the same concept.
In the past, while women focused on programming and math, men focused on the “important” part of tech of the latter 1900s: Computer hardware. That became a farm team environment for men in tech.
As Silicon Valley eventually evolves to software and internet data services, the money came in.
Many of those same men, making hardware, made the transfer to that data services side of the business. That already gave men a head start. And because nerdy men only knew nerdy men, the natural inclination to hire buddies, created a nerdy boys club that nourished an exponential growth of men and a culture that would become the modern tech industry.
We still see the results of genderfication today. In 2018:
- 29% of all Apple leaders were women.
- The percentage of Facebook’s women in tech had increased to just 22%.
- Facebook’s female employees reached 36%.
- Women formed 30.9% of Google’s employees.
- 25.5% of Google’s leaders on a global scale were female.
- 24.5% of Google’s newly hired tech-position employees were women.
With more than 50% of the public being women and the future is going to rely on tech, we should be much better than that.
How do we improve women’s place in tech?
One way is via an ask for all of us.
I dare say that we must accept that we are ALL internally trained to see certain jobs as masculine or feminine. We need to change that as employees and businesses build and react based on that perception.
Don’t think so? Then I ask, why on earth, in the year 2020, are we still having debates if a woman (not just a certain woman) can be president? Are the odds of finding a competent woman across 150 million females in the US really that slim?
Another ask is to not think about sexism or gender exclusion in its extremes. If you use that model, you will miss how the process really works.
People and decision makers in companies are usually not trying to keep all women out. It’s more like managing who and how many come in and their role. Like with race, things like tokenism in the workplace, “look, we hired a black person or a woman” (mission accomplished clap hand cleaning goes here) works as a pressure release/control valve. Taking one action that tremendously reduces pressure to take future or additional action.
When hiring, many are also subconsciously managing a level of participation and positioning of gender that doesn’t hurt “the (tacitly masculine) brand.” As women enter, some find an invisible pressure to operate within the “brand.” A brand that is more aligned to male roles and values through non-verbal cues.
As a result, some women who do earn those positions in a firm subconsciously feel they often must act masculine, submit to the masculine vibe or workplace values or have their position or competence questioned.
Why should we change and stop genderfication?
We are a society that has benefited by diversity. While some still hate when that diversity causes someone different to be in your neighborhood or your workplace, many of those same people still love “those people’s music” and “those people’s food.” Pick your ethnicity or nationality for “those people.”
The point is as you go out for a taco or Thai tonight and listen to jazz, or enjoy your German BMW, it’s clear we build off the diversity and insights of those who are not in our immediate tribe.
While those examples are cultural, gender is no different. While we could “steal” those benefits from women (like having them do math programs while men do the “cool” hardware or “you just worry about the PR, Toots”), it’d be even better to have them in the decision-making room.