code-for-a-living October 4, 2017

3 Ways You Can Be an Ally to Women in Tech

According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, only 26% of professional computing roles in the workforce in the US are held by women. Within prominent companies in the industry, the numbers tend to be even lower. It’s clear that there’s work to be done. Many organizations are putting in the work to increase diversity, but in the…
Avatar for Kristina Lustig
Associate Software Developer

According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, only 26% of professional computing roles in the workforce in the US are held by women. Within prominent companies in the industry, the numbers tend to be even lower. It’s clear that there’s work to be done. Many organizations are putting in the work to increase diversity, but in the face of omnipresent cultural touchpoints like this tirade from a former Google employee, the battle feels more uphill than ever. It seems that there are skirmishes to be fought not just in hiring and recruiting and in C-suite diversity, but within offices and breakrooms and Slack channels. When many women who enter the tech field are treated poorly by their peers, we need to figure out how to fix personal interactions as well as systemic issues.

But instead of discussing what women can do to scrabble out a space for themselves in a frequently unwelcoming environment (like “work more!” and “try harder!”), let’s talk about a few things that everyone can do to make their workplaces more… well, workable.

Lift Up Others’ Successes

Let’s say you’re working on a team project, and during the process, one of your colleagues really steps up to pull it together on time. When it’s over, don’t just celebrate the finished product: recognize and share the part she played in making it happen. Creating an atmosphere on your team where everyone is appreciated for their hard work doesn’t just make people feel good, it can actually make them less stressed and more creative. And lifting up the accomplishments of women who may have a hard time doing it themselves is a great way to level the playing field.

Mentor Your Peers

We know—both anecdotally and through research—that women are less likely than men to have workplace mentors. This problem is almost certainly exacerbated in work environments where there are few women in leadership positions and/or in technical roles. This problem is also quite attackable. If you’re in a place in your career where you have a lot to offer as a mentor: be one! Women may be more reluctant to ask for a mentor, but offering to talk someone through her professional struggles or plans for career advancement can be very impactful. If you’re not ready to mentor someone, you could work to formalize a mentorship program within your company. Having a system in place for mentorship can lower the perceived barrier to entry and get more people involved.

Hear More Voices

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In gives women a lot of extremely practical advice on how to navigate male-dominated work environments. That ethos leaves out, however, the very real opportunity for men to lean out. As has been discussed by Dawn Foster, requiring women to change their behavior puts an undue burden on them, and can leave working-class women behind. The next time you’re in a work meeting or project brainstorm and you see a colleague trying to get a word in edgewise, try asking her if she has anything to add. If you find yourself leaping forward with your ideas nonstop, try taking a step back to see if anyone else has something different to add. Improving diversity of a team—including cognitive diversity—improves your product.

Though, while we’re talking about diversity in tech, did you know that you can search Stack Overflow Jobs for roles at companies with female founders? Check it out.

 

Podcast logo The Stack Overflow Podcast is a weekly conversation about working in software development, learning to code, and the art and culture of computer programming.

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