Why Sexism Remains A Major Barrier For Women In Tech

Why Sexism Remains A Major

Barrier For Women In Tech

Every year since 1998, tech billionaires, wantrepreneurs and mega-corporations converge in Las Vegas to discuss all aspects of tech from beauty to virtual reality at the annual Consumer Electronic Show.

This year Nina Garcia, the Editor in Chief of Elle Magazine, moderated one of only two panels focused on women called “Global Dialogue of Connection and Support.” The guests were Glory Cheung, chief brand officer at China’s Huawei; Facebook’s Vice President of Global Marketing Solution, Carolyn Everson and Robin Raskin, a longtime partner of the conference, an original protégé of Bill Gates and one of the first female coders. Garcia addressed the elephant in the room: that this year, of all years, i.e. in the midst of #metoo and #timesup CES Keynote speakers were all male. Thus a hashtag had surfaced similar to 2015 Oscar’s: #cessomale. And it was. From Booth Babes to Robot Strippers it wasn’t the most comfortable place for women present, as objectification seemed to override participation.

ELLE USA Editor-in-Chief Nina Garcia moderates panel at CES 2018. Photo Courtesy of CES

However, the panelists proposed their solutions for the keynote dilemma as well as increasing the numbers for women in STEM and Everson had the most concrete and doable actions of the panel–all delivered in such a contagious and upbeat way, the audience left feeling like we’d almost already won.

The room clapped when she stated: “Out of all years, this would not be the year to not attempt 50 percent representation. I think it just takes a commitment. The answer I won’t accept is that it’s hard. Because if we said it was hard, it would be hard to find black females to join your company, it would be hard to find U.S. Hispanic women to join your company at senior levels, it would be hard to find enough gender diversity around LGBTQ. Guess what, life’s hard, we have to commit to it and get it done.”

She introduced real-life solutions such as requiring sensitivity and anti-harassment training at Facebook, even for those attending a one off event. She also discussed mandatory unconscious bias training started by Sheryl Sandberg that is used in Facebook’s review process“During our review process we screen for words that are typically used in bias situations,” Everson explained. “So if we see female reviews and the term aggressive is being used, or bossy, that gets flagged. It goes back to the manager and we ask them to go into more depth–what do you mean by that? Is it a bias—would you call a man bossy? And by the way we do it for men too,” she said and also detailed Facebook’s diversity focused approach to hiring and equal pay protocol.

 “Even if you don’t agree morally, it’s good for business,” she said about fighting ageism, sexism, racism, trans phobia, and classism at the tech workplace. 

She also discussed getting young girls interested in STEM. “Computer science degrees for a long time have been stagnant around 18 percent for young girls. We have to get that up to 50 percent or more so you have a better pipeline, particularly on the engineering side.” She said she’s been advocating for coding to be considered a foreign language, and a requirement in schools, an interesting solution. Robin Raskin, who taught herself to code under the tutelage of Bill Gates agreed “I think we have to start super young,” Raskin mentioned the Young Innovators to Watch program which is like a science fair on steroids, it sponsors high school students and their families to CES. This year, students presented projects which focused on cancer detection and amblyopia treatment. “If you don’t have hope after seeing these kids,” Raskin stated.

The global voice, Huawei Chief Brand Officer Glory Cheung discussed women’s contribution to tech such having a woman’s perspective on the CEO Richard Yu’s keynote. She was the only woman in the room when they received news only a few hours earlier that changed the entire tone of the presentation. The men wanted to use logicfocus on the benefits and attributes of the new phone, and stick to business and moving forward, but Cheung suggested to Yu that he ditch his script and speak from his heart and express his feelings as a human being. He followed the advice and many called his Huawei keynote the best at the conference. Cheung says having women in decision-making positions makes sense because simply women know what other women want. She also used an example of a female designer creating earbuds that double as jewelry as an example of something an all male design team might not ever think of. She noted that China too was having a watershed moment for women that resulted in strong female role models the West had not heard of yet who nonetheless were inspiring young women and girls in Huawei’s headquarters. She said the movement was rippling throughout the world as “digital feminism.”

 Elle’s EIC and moderator Garcia began by addressing the fact that for women of color the uphill battle and silencing is ten-fold. “We don’t have time to address each ‘ism’ one by one” so she suggested they tackle the issue as one. She addressed how she found herself in the position of moderating and gave simple words of advice to women, women-identified and gender non-binary folks everywhere: “Take every opportunity.” That’s what Robin Raskin did, when Bill Gates read her PC World article “How I Learned to Use a Computer to Save our Marriage” which paid her $25 and offered to teach her how to code. 

The panelists discussed their favorite uses of tech, Huang said it was showing her son dinosaur videos on her Huawei using a projection beam while doing business at the same time. Everson talked about her favorite apps like Waze and Daily Plank. Raskin said she considered herself a translator for tech and was thrilled about the beauty tech display that year at CES.

The conference clearly answered the question about how to engage and represent women in tech. Many of the solutions, such as those Carolyn Everson mentioned, are available to the public. So, hopefully, there will be no excuses next year and the speakers at CES will be 50 percent female. The problem may be that STEM and tech, in particular, is not unappealing for women to work in, it was just unfriendly. The hopeful news is that while women hold just 24  percent of STEM jobs, they do make 35 percent more than women in non-STEM counterparts in the private sector, so here’s to a future full of females in tech.

Alyssa Pinsker

Alyssa Pinsker, Girl Gone Global, writes about travel, female global entrepreneurs, faith and wellness for publications from BBC to Cosmopolitan.

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