Women in Tech: Drop the Gender Roles and Use Your Voices to Be Heard


“I believed we had made progress in paying women equally to men performing at the same level. I believed managers were fair and would assess talent and pay for performance without bias. I thought things were different these days. I thought I wouldn’t have to fight for equality.

I experienced a compensation adjustment that was advertised to make things fair for all employees. I trusted the process. When I found out male employees at the same level who were paid the same as I was before the adjustment were now making considerably more than I was in the new structure, I was angry. I advocated and negotiated for myself and after three months, my compensation was adjusted to address the inequity. I was proud that I stood up and achieved my goal. And yet, it’s frustrating to know that women need to fight to be provided what is simply granted to a man at the same level.” ~ Christina Chan, Senior Software Engineer

It’s a story that’s as old as time. That women are somehow “less than.” Deserve less. Should get less. Can’t perform at the same level as men. It’s also categorically wrong, and it’s just one of the many reasons why Debra Christmas and Kelley Irwin decided to write their book, Please Stay: How Women in Tech Survive and Thrive.

Over the past few months, we’ve looked at the barriers facing women in tech, the importance of having the courage and conviction to forge your own career path, and we’ve explored the many benefits of women in tech supporting fellow women and embracing men as allies.

Today, we’re going to tackle gender challenges. Buckle up.

The Gender Challenges Facing Women in Tech

Beyond the pay-gap issues (that’s an entire blog post in and of itself!), women in tech face all the challenges men in technology face. And then they face additional challenges simply because of their gender.

Debra and Kelley have shared many stories about the challenges they have faced, simply by being women, during their extensive and varied careers in the tech field. And the fabulous “Tech Tribe” members have shared even more (seriously, the book is full of personal stories from women just like yourselves).

What they illustrate is that sometimes, as women in a male-dominated career, we take on the “gender” responsibilities that we have at home and bring them to the office. Do any of the examples below sound familiar?

  • We do all the organizing of events, buy the gifts, pick up the food, or get the coffee.
  • We clean up after everyone else.
  • In the boardroom, we’ll sit on the sidelines, back of the room, along the wall.
  • We give up our seat to someone.
  • We give credit to others when we shouldn’t.
  • We let people take advantage/we don’t stand up for ourselves.
  • We have self-limiting beliefs/lack of confidence.
  • We don’t ask for what we deserve – a raise, a job, an opportunity, and we don’t engage in self-promotion.

We might want to step back when we are about to do something like this and ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this? Has any male in the office ever done what I am about to do? What light might this put me in? How might I be viewed by the other executives or my peer group?” We might not even realize the damage we are doing to the perception of women in the workforce.

I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar: Use Your “Outside Voice”

Many women are often uncomfortable asking for things they deserve. From a well-earned promotion to a long overdue raise, we feel our work should speak for itself. But we were not meant to be quiet. We raise children, we run families, and women influence up to 80 percent of all consumer purchasing.

We can impact the world with our voices. Our voices are unique, and the world needs to hear them. When we use our voices, we share our thoughts, our ideas, and our perspectives. We teach. We learn. And we connect. Engaging in conversation, bringing your ideas to the table, and sharing your insights opens a dialogue that builds connections. The deeper connections and relationships we create, the richer our lives.

Also, things do not “automatically happen” in the workforce. If you don’t use your voice to advocate for what you want or deserve, as Christina Chan shared in the quote above, you will be passed over. In corporations, senior leaders are looking for people with initiative and assertiveness, or evidence that they can handle tough situations, and be strong and decisive. If we don’t demonstrate these traits, even though we might be just as effective with our own style, we are not even on the radar.

If you’ve experienced gender discrimination in some form in the workplace, you are not alone. In a recent IEEE survey of women in tech, nearly 75 percent of respondents said they have experienced negative outcomes in their careers simply because they are women. Seventy-one percent said questions were addressed to men when they should have been addressed to them, nearly 40 percent reported being assigned low-level tasks and excluded from networking events, and 58 percent said they had been asked inappropriate questions during interviews.

If we women in tech don’t stand up and use our voices to articulate that this treatment is unacceptable, if we don’t keep watch over our young women in tech who are just starting out and might not feel secure enough in their positions to protest, this behaviour will persist.

Are We Really Going to Talk About Makeup, Clothes and Hair Care? You Betcha!

Women have the added gender-related challenge of being “expected” to look a certain way. Men can comb their hair and splash some water on their faces and be ready to hit the boardroom. Women (generally speaking) are expected to have their hair freshly styled, nails done, and makeup applied before we leave the house in the morning. Yet, hold up – we also mustn’t look too overdone or glamourous, or we won’t be taken seriously.

Women also need to make more decisions about their clothes than men do (see above re: not looking too glamourous). Men can typically wear a suit and dress shirt, slacks and a polo, and jeans with a t-shirt for most occasions at work. Women need to decide pants or a dress, sleeves or sleeveless, simple look (matching suit or dress) or an outfit, classic or trendy, and shoes for fashion or comfort. That’s on top of the aforementioned hair, make-up, and jewelry decisions that women have to consider. While writing about things like clothing, hair, and makeup feels a little silly, it’s not. All these decisions take brainpower. And time.

Are women just so used to these gender imbalances at work (and elsewhere!) that we’ve been functioning on autopilot all these years? It’s possible. But we have an amazing opportunity right now to stand up and show ourselves and everyone else what women in tech look like, and sound like.

And we need to show the girls who will be the next women in tech that you can stand up for yourselves and for gender equity, be who you are, act how you want, and dress as you like. All we want is for you to be interested and successful. Come join us. Let’s change the face of tech together!

Bonus: A Double Dose of Tips from the Tribe

Drop the Gender Roles

  • Do not say yes to everything.
  • Prepare how to say no in ways that do not sound defensive.
  • Be cognizant of expectations from male colleagues about women at work, and their perceptions of women in general.
  • Don’t volunteer for activities and tasks just because you are a woman and nobody else wants to do it.
  • Think about what you need to be successful, and do not be afraid to stand up for yourself to get it.

Use Your Voices to Be Heard

  • Speak up. Don’t be invisible.
  • Silence will hurt you. Quiet is okay, but don’t withdraw.
  • Own your ideas.
  • Get comfortable expressing your opinion.
  • Set targets for interactions.
  • You don’t need to be an expert to contribute valuable perspective and experience to the conversation.
  • Prepare and practice if you need to in advance of the interaction, meeting, or presentation.