According to a report by the research firm Gartner, the percentage of women taking on the job of Chief Information Officers has remained at 14% since 2004. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of the best-selling book Lean In and passionate advocate of gender equality in the technology sector, in her address to the women at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Houston, Texas, advocated for what, to her, are the key ingredients for women having a presence in the corporate world. Negotiate for raises, be ambitious, seek out peer support, and above all, stay in the technology field.
Critics of Lean In have pointed out the fact that Sheryl Sandberg was not speaking for every woman. Furthermore, it has been said that, far from improving working conditions for women, Sheryl Sandberg was in fact digging a hole for women. The Feminist Wire, a feminist publication asked itself in which way Lean In will motivate patriarchal white males in corporate environment to change their belief system or the structures that support gender inequality.
Studies have shown in fact that the lack of women in the technology field is not due to a simple case of not leaning in. Rather, it is due to more and more women wanting to work in environments that fulfil them. Tina Nunno, a vice-president and fellow at Gartner said, “Women have become very intolerant of situations where they feel men who are not as qualified as them have been promoted over them.” For Ms Nunno, the culture needs to change in the technology sector. One way might be to do away with the “hero” mentality so often prevalent in that field. While men are reputed to solve problems after they have occurred, the women in the tech industry tend more to identify and prevent problems from happening. But in the race for promotion, men are the ones that are seen, because they have been seen when there was fire in the house.
So, staying in the field but on their terms is what many women are now doing. Peer groups like Digital Mums or Women in Telecoms and Technology are being set up. Groups like Women in Technology will only advertise jobs with companies that have committed to increasing the number of women in technology working for them.
Of course, it is imperative that governments join in, and the UK government is making inroads in that area. Funds have been allocated with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to fund diversity programmes within the technology field. Because as one of the critics of Lean In said, it isn’t about women’s lack of perseverance, it is about systematic inequality. As Sheryl Sandberg rightly concluded her address, “I actually think we need to bring back the word feminist.”