Tech Troubles: 5 Common Challenges For Women In The Industry

by Kathleen Yu

Women face many unique challenges in the workplace.

From getting paid less for doing the same amount of work as their male counterparts to raising a family while continuing to actively pursue their careers, many women often find it difficult to successfully traverse corporate hierarchies to work their way to the top.

The good news is that many organizations have already taken notice of this problem and are taking steps to develop a more inclusive and collaborative work environment for men and women alike.

It’s still a work in progress, but it’s a lot better than some of the solutions that more conservative parties have presented.

The tech industry is one of the few fields in which men still dominate in large part. This is greatly due to the fact that many women choose to opt out of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields in favor of other options.

While I disagree that the reason women are less inclined toward STEM areas is a capability disparity, I do believe that the demographic imbalance is easily traced to society’s expectations of the kinds of careers women should pursue.

While there has already been a lot of progress over the years for realigning society’s expectations of this, it will require a lot more work to completely eliminate these preconceived notions about what is (and isn't) a “female appropriate” career.

The young women who currently work in the tech industry endure several daily challenges.

Working in a male-dominated field isn't a walk in the park — especially if you desire to be valued based on the skills you bring to the table (as you should).

As a female entrepreneur running my own technology company, I've come a long way from where I first started (and I’m still working my way to the top).

I've encountered my fair share of difficulties (that were simultaneously amusing and terrifying), but for the most part, many of the people with whom I’ve worked (especially the guys), have been incredibly supportive.

While I’m incredibly lucky to have been able to work my way to where I am, some days, I think still think everything would have been much easier if I were simply born a man.

Below are five of the challenges that I’ve faced as a woman in the tech industry:

1. You don’t understand the jokes.

Guys have a unique joking language that many women don’t understand. It tends to manifest when groups of guys hang out together and are constantly laughing about something — whether it’s sex, dicks or the result of the latest football game.

Some jokes can come off as in poor taste when a woman is in the room, but most guys in tech aren't used to having women in the room.

So, they continue to joke and pretend you’re simply not around.

2. People have a hard time believing you actually did what you said you did.

The stereotypical profile of a successful tech entrepreneur is a young male in his early 20s (or sometimes, late teens) who is antisocial (to a degree), looks good on magazines (has that nerdy-cute vibe, maybe) and comes from an upper-middle-class background (and he may or may not have dropped out of a private college).

People associate successful tech entrepreneurs with that kind of mold and whether consciously or not, make decisions (like whether to invest or assist) based on that preconceived image of “success.”

I do not fit this profile; I’m a lot more antisocial and a lot more female. So, when I talk to people about the new algorithm I wrote, or whatever, the common initial reaction is skepticism.

3. You get hit on a lot.

The law of scarcity states that when there’s a shortage of women in a given area, guys are more likely to hit on the first woman they see (because, who knows when another woman will come around, right?). Having never been considered pretty in the mainstream sense, the attention has done wonders for my ego.

While it’s nice for the most part, it can be a bit distracting when you’re working and don’t want to be disturbed.

4. You have to put in a lot of work to keep up with the others.

Many women are at a disadvantage when they come into the industry, or at least the ones like me, who didn’t get engineering or computer programming majors.

Coming from a communications and statistics background, at first, I had a difficult time keeping up with tech trends and coding. A whole year has passed and I've just about grasped the basics of coding in both JavaScript and Python (and I’m still learning).

It’s a pretty daunting skill gap, but with enough hard work and persistence, I am confident that I’ll (eventually) be as good as the male coders at work, who have the necessary prerequisite skills down.

5. You’re still a bigger risk than your male counterparts.

Nothing is as tough or pressuring as trying to convince people to invest in your company. Plus, studies have shown that startups are more likely to get funded if they’re run by a man, which shows that it’s generally much more difficult to make it in the industry if you’re a woman.

Ultimately, it’s challenging to be a woman in an industry that’s male saturated. But, there is a big upside: The tech industry is a meritocracy, where you’re judged not on your looks, background, gender or college degree, but on the quality of the work you produce.

People won’t care where you came from, so long as you deliver consistent results. As a woman, that’s a lot more refreshing than getting nowhere at a 9-to-5 office job because the guy in the next cubicle plays golf with the boss.

Working in tech gives me the freedom to create the things I’d like to see in the world; to turn my dreams of building something useful into a reality. Sure, there are many challenges for a woman in the industry, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Photo credit: Getty Images