What defines a woman in tech?
You might think that this question brings us back to basics in an insignificant way, but it needs asking. The obvious and most succinct answer would be that a woman in tech is any woman working in STEM fields. Given today’s growing digital landscape, and the ways in which tech careers are constantly evolving and changing, this definition no longer suffices.
One of the biggest challenges women face in technology today is being valued appropriately for skills that might not fall neatly under the STEM umbrella, but which are definitely technology based and should be considered so.
Back to the future
In the past, to be considered a woman in tech, you had to have a computer science degree and/or be able to code and/or be able to hack into any computer system known to man (I blame the ‘90s for that last train of thought. Hello Hackers).
There have been numerous discussions about the issues facing women in tech, but in my mind the biggest issue is how we define women in tech. Women are often told to change their behavior with such cliché advice as “learn to code” or “hang in there,” but let’s face it, tech careers are drastically changing, and continuing to offer advice along these lines is perpetuating the issue. We need to value women for their contribution and engagement in tech roles rather than having them change their behavior to fit an archaic model of what working in tech means.
It’s refreshing to see articles such as Meet ELLE’s Women in Tech. Although they do admit to this being their first time celebrating influential women in tech, it’s nice to see different representations of what a woman working in tech can look like in today’s world.
Brave new world
There are very real gender issues facing women in tech, one of them being that tech roles have opened up to mean so much more. Take for example the rise of hybrid roles and their impact on companies. These nouveau roles demand multiple skill sets from individuals. One example of such a role might be a tech, marketing, and design hybrid. When women take on these hybrid roles, often the tech aspects of the job are completely undervalued. Just because you are bringing design and marketing skills to the table, doesn’t mean that the tech aspects should be valued less or that the role is not technical.
Let me offer a few personal examples. When I first started designing and developing digital learning for a company a few years back, I didn’t even realize I was a “woman in tech.” In my past roles, which I deemed to be strictly creative at the time, I was managing and developing technical projects without even realizing that I was a “woman in tech.” See a pattern here?
There is often a divide between the analytical and the creative that blurs the lines of defining a technical role even further. We need to place value on this blend of design and tech, as it is becoming an increasingly popular hybrid role. Think of eLearning—in and of itself, individuals must wear many hats to be successful in the industry. This could include anything from creative directing, graphic design, digital development, animation, project management, digital strategy, audio editing, programming … and the list goes on. These hybrid roles are drastically changing the ways in which people, and women in particular, are engaging with and innovating in technology.
The company you keep
Gender equality doesn’t stop at hybrid roles. A lot of companies are working towards a future that is diverse, equal, and fair for women in tech. BuzzFeed recently noted that the tech industry is full of female entrepreneurs who are actively redefining what it means to create, engineer, and innovate, and that number’s only set to grow. From Etsy to Facebook to IBM, there is a definite collective progression forward for women in tech, but what happens in the meantime? How do you, how do I, how do we make changes?
Educate and advocate
It is important to constantly educate those around you and speak up (or lean in) to make a change. Right now educating and advocating for a definition change of what it means to be a woman in technology is the most important thing for women to be doing. Put yourself out there. Describe your work in detail. Don’t be afraid to ask for that raise based on the value of your tech skills. Mentor others. Redefine your definition of what a woman in tech is. Wear your tech badge proudly. Simple changes can go a long way.
It is an extremely exciting and innovative time in technology, but it’s not without its challenges. In this brave new digital landscape, women are often utilizing and mastering technology but are not necessarily being valued for those skills. How do we expect women to collectively champion for change if they can’t even define that they are, indeed, a woman working in tech. With the digital world growing at amazing speeds, the definition and value placed on women in tech needs to change to truly represent the sector.