Time for Change: Empowering Women in Tech



According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the disparity of individuals who identify as women in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) pipeline starts early. From a young age, teachers and parents unknowingly underestimate girl's math abilities. AAUW also suggests that some teachers may pass along their own math anxieties to girls and grade them more harshly than boys. This, combined with the fact young girls have fewer role models that look like them in the STEM space to provide inspiration, can discourage young girls from pursuing STEM careers.

These challenges present themselves clearly by the time women enter college or university. The Pew Research Center found that of the Bachelor’s degrees earned by women, only 22% were in engineering and 19% in computer science.

“Women’s representation in science and engineering declines further at the graduate level and yet again in the transition to the workplace,” according to the “Why So Few” report by the AAUW.

The workplace proves to be no better for women in tech careers, where they face a sizable wage gap. Pew, which studies the median annual earnings of workers in STEM, reports these disparities:

Asian men: $103,300 Asian women: $88,600
White men: $90,600 White women: $66,200
Hispanic men: $73,000 Hispanic women: $57,000
Black men: $69,200 Black women: $57,000

According to Gallup, this pay gap is occurring at a time of deep worker dissatisfaction — aka “The Great Resignation” — with 48% of U.S. workers actively searching for new jobs. Another survey from Bankrate puts that figure even higher, saying its research found that 55% of workers expect to seek new positions in the next year.

Worrisome amid these numbers is the emerging trend of women leaving the workforce.

“The pandemic had a near-immediate effect on women’s employment,” according to a March 2021 McKinsey report. “One in four women are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers versus one in five men. While all women have been impacted, three major groups have experienced some of the largest challenges: working mothers, women in senior management positions, and black women.”

Specifically, in terms of STEM careers, a study by the Center for Talent Innovation found that two-thirds of women engineers — specifically those on a technical versus managerial track —leave their jobs within 15 years. Nearly half (48%) of Black women in technology said they feel stalled in their careers. Furthermore, only 25% of young women in tech say they get the career support they need, despite 85% describing themselves as “very ambitious.”

How we can collectively empower each other

All of these obstacles and issues matter. Much has been written to demonstrate how a lack of diversity impacts individuals, organizations, society, the economy, and the fields of science, technology, and math.

So, how do we work together to empower more women to pursue studies and jobs in STEM, keep them, and have significant career advancement? We must keep the conversation going, collaborate, and share knowledge to ensure that women from all races, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds:

  • Have equitable access to robust, comprehensive, and high-impact training and education programs;
  • Understand how to navigate the IT job market;
  • Are considered for upwardly mobile, IT careers without bias or discrimination.

Far too often, women are not considered for higher-income IT roles. In many cases, if they are able to get their foot in the door, they languish in entry-level positions, such as IT help desk support, feeling “stalled,” and are at risk of dropping out of the workforce.

At STS, we acknowledge this disparity, and our corporate goals and efforts are aligned to tackle this issue.

As this is a multi-faceted topic with various factors and implications, it must be broken down into several parts. First and foremost, we want to speak directly to women in the IT industry or those pursuing IT careers and empower and equip them to take steps toward their advancement.

In leading STS’ Recruitment Program, far too often, I talk with women who discredit their own capabilities and do not know the value they hold. When the topic of salary expectation comes up, some individuals aren’t ready to “play ball” or negotiate.

Albeit unconventional, in some instances, I direct folks not to answer my question when I sense hesitation. Instead, I provide the salary range for the role at hand, communicate expectations around education, experience, and certification requirements, and then advise them to do their own research and get back to me with a salary figure that works for them and allows them to live, not solely survive. I have yet to have someone come back with a number that was out of our hiring range; these honest conversations are win-win.

To that end, here are a few pieces of advice to help women gain their footing in pursuing or advancing their IT careers:

Build your mindset and confidence muscles. Mindset is key, and your confidence will enter a room before you do. It’s not only important to know your abilities and your strengths, you must also whole-heartedly believe in them and yourself. For example, research has shown that by building self-confidence, individuals enjoy a variety of benefits — including increased pay, more frequent promotions, and a greater sense of autonomy. This may be easier said than done; just like any gym workout, your mindset and confidence muscles will get bigger and more defined over time with intention, effort, and consistency.

Do your research. Knowledge is power. According to LinkedIn, women apply for fewer jobs; however, they are more likely to get hired than men because they do their research. Before applying for a job, read up about the organization as well as its competitors. Go to sites like Glassdoor and Salary.com to gain a broad understanding of company cultures and competitive salaries in your field. When looking at salary ranges, take the time to assess your strengths, skills, years of experience, certifications, education, etc. Use this information to ask for a salary figure that aligns with your work history and background.

Get comfortable talking about money. Here again, the power of knowledge plays a significant role. Knowing your worth and the value of your experience and education puts you in a great position of power when it comes to salary negotiation. The key here is to practice salary negotiation. Recognize that you will be asked for your desired salary range. Be prepared to calmly and confidently explain why your skills and expertise fit your requested pay. These typically are not conversations we as women are used to having. Society does not teach us to confidently and comfortably discuss money, let alone ask for higher salaries or pay raises. This is where the belief in yourself, along with the knowledge you gain from researching the job market, will allow you to feel more confident in your ask. It may be uncomfortable, you may be nervous, your voice may shake…ask anyway!

Build your team and network. Don’t stay in comfortable circles in which people are not willing to grow. Jim Rohn once said: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” As adults, it can seem daunting or intimidating to make new friends, however, your circle will be the biggest predictor of your success. Moreover, expanding your network will give you access to jobs and resources you may not otherwise have heard about. Join groups within LinkedIn or via the MeetUp app where you can learn about different IT events. Once you’re there, ask questions. Don’t be scared to start conversations and don’t be afraid to talk about yourself! Here’s more advice from Harvard Business Review.

These steps are simply a start. It is important that we get the conversation going and collectively work to share information as it relates to salaries, career trajectory, negotiation, and most importantly, supporting each other. The steps above serve as a loose guide to remind you that we all sometimes experience fear, nerves, or discomfort in communicating roles, salaries, and career expectations. The important thing to know is that we are all in this together, and together we will eliminate the STEM pay gap.

If you identify with any of these issues and want to take the conversation further, please reach out to us!