The gender disparity in the workforce is nothing new—particularly when it comes to the differing treatments of men and women in male-dominated industries such as tech. From the wage gap, to increased instances of racism and sexism, to fewer promotion opportunities, women face an all-around added challenge in the workplace. If you yourself are a woman in tech, or you work in a tech space that includes female-identifying coworkers, you have probably noticed these disparities, and heard the voices trying to even out the imbalance.
When the pandemic hit, launching our lives into a remote state of being, the workforce underwent dynamic changes as well. This, in turn, has also undoubtedly influenced the treatment and experience of women in tech in many different ways—and many of these experiences are mixed.
o Increased Instances of Gender-Based Harassment
Hidden Behind the Screen
Though it may seem counterintuitive, after moving to remote work, many women have actually experienced an increase in gender-based workplace harassment. According to a survey conducted by a diversity nonprofit group in Silicon Valley, 1 in 4 respondents—primarily BIPOC and trans, nonbinary, and female-identifying tech employees—have experienced workplace harassment. The survey results reflected that women, particularly women of color, were most likely to indicate that they had experienced this increase in harassment, even though everyone was no longer working together in person. Female employees have noted experiencing a rise in offensive, pushy comments regarding appearance, and other inappropriate comments and requests about sex and dates.
While the increase may not make much sense at first, upon closer glance, it becomes clear that being separated by a screen usually bolsters people’s impulsivity and confidence in making comments they normally would not in an in-person setting. This increases the risk of gender-based harm coming to female employees, especially noting cases of workplace hostility that don’t necessarily violate workspace rules but still definitively cross personal boundaries and create a hostile work environment for women.
Longer Working Hours
Another cause of this increased workplace hostility and gender-based harassment is the longer working hours everyone is experiencing as a result of online working. With no structured workspace and environment dictated by an in-person company body, the structure of working hours becomes blurrier, as we can all just sit at home and work comfortably from our beds, couches, and kitchen tables. However, it is very possible that coworkers spending more time together is resulting in female employees being exposed to more risk of being harassed, since there is less protected time and space for these women to return from a physical workspace to the safety of their homes.
Furthermore, the removal of the distinctions of workplace and home may very well be exacerbating the frequency and intensity of harassment against women. Social media is already a hotbed of toxic content and information exchange; platforms like Zoom, Slack, Zoho, and any other online communication tools also do not possess the necessary design modules to prevent harassment and protect employees, such as flagging and reporting dangerous comments. If company directors and team managers are also focused on easing communication rather than prioritizing safety, harassment becomes a bigger issue.
Targeted Job Vulnerability
In addition to facing a disproportionate amount of workplace harassment and hostility, women in tech have also started out at a lower level in the tech field. With poorer hire and retention rates, women stand at a significant disadvantage in securing solid jobs in the tech field. The unfortunate reality is that even if BIPOC and female representation is increasing a bit in the heavily white male-dominated tech industry, poor representation is still a major issue, and most jobs—not only in the tech industry, but across many industries—are still very much gender-based and, as a result, significantly disparate. As a result, women face a higher risk of job insecurity and losing their tech jobs than men do. A survey analysis by Mckinsey shows that women’s jobs are 19% more at risk than men’s jobs, and women’s employment globally is 0.7% more at risk than men’s, due to the sectors of their work being more targeted by the pandemic.
Preference for Remote Work
Despite all this, many women have actually reflected that they prefer remote work to in-person working. While some gender-based harassment has increased in certain workspaces, working from home has enabled women to relax their concerns about certain other gender-based issues in the workplace. For one, everyone does not have to worry as much about getting dressed for work every day, which is a concern that is greater for women than it is for men. Though many workplaces have dress codes, or some semblance of a dress code, a good portion of gender-based harassment revolves around women’s clothing and appearance, which generates a lot of stress for female employees—particularly in male-dominated spaces.
Another great benefit experienced by women, especially in an industry like tech that contains majority men, is being able to be at home with their children. Maternity leave—or lack thereof—has also been a persisting issue experienced by working women. Now, with the majority of work occurring remotely, mothers are finding that they can spend more time with their families. Surveys show that this flexibility of schedule and accessibility to personal life is very important to women; according to a study done by FlexJobs, 68% of women preferred to remain working remotely post-pandemic, while 57% of men said the same. 80% of women indicated remote work to be the top benefit of their job, compared to 69% of men indicating the same sentiment.
While the world is taking steps towards creating a more equitable environment for women in the workforce, it is also clear that more progress has to be made, and that true equity and harmony in the workplace has yet to be achieved. The upside is that such a large-scale world event like the pandemic—along with its effects on areas of living such as the workplace dynamic for women—has shed light on critical issues and brought many important topics into the conversation.
If you are a woman in tech, stay strong and persevere—you’ve already made it very far, and will continue to do so. Above all, make sure to prioritize your self-care, as being in such an intensive work atmosphere makes it easy to become overwhelmed and burn out. Don’t lose faith in yourself! The tech industry—and global community—is responsible for working together to support women in tech, especially in this post-pandemic phase.