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How to Overcome Gender Bias in Tech

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

While gender bias is a complex issue, there are several tactics companies can put to work for them tomorrow to create an immediate, positive impact on their culture.

Credit: ShutterstockCredit: Shutterstock
Gender bias and discrimination is a hot topic, largely due to a now-infamous manifesto against diversity written by a since-fired Google engineer. The author of that memo claimed that biological differences between men and women was to blame for the lack of equality in the technology field.

Other cases, such as Ellen Pao versus Kleiner Perkins, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm Pao took to court in 2015, accusing the firm of gender discrimination; have also elevated the conversation. That court case is now over (Pao lost), but what has continued is an open discussion in the media and among tech insiders about gender discrimination in the industry.

MORE: How to Beat Age Discrimination in Hiring

Stanford researchers released results from a survey in 2016 named "Elephant in the Valley," inspired by the Pao trial. The researchers interviewed more than 200 women from the San Francisco Bay area; the results demonstrate widespread gender discrimination. Among the women surveyed:

  • 60% percent reported unwanted sexual advances.
  • 40% felt the need to speak less about their family to be taken seriously at work.
  • 75% were asked about marital status and children during interviews.
  • 87% percent received demeaning comments from male co-workers.

What is gender bias?

Gender Bias Learning Project defines gender bias as "the perceived mismatch between the 'typical woman' and the requirements of jobs that historically were held by men such as professor, scientist and investment banker." Gender bias may reveal itself in several ways, such as assuming a woman won't be as committed to a job once she has a child; a pattern of passing up women for promotions; asking inappropriate questions in a job interview.

"We all have bias, it's normal and it doesn't make you a bad person. What matters is being aware of it," said Mikaela Kiner, founder of Uniquely HR, a human resource consulting agency based in Seattle. Kiner's HR career includes tech giants such as Microsoft and Amazon, and now she works with a myriad of emerging Seattle tech startups.

While gender bias is a complex issue, there are several tactics companies can put to work for them tomorrow to create an immediate, positive impact on their culture.

Expand your network

"People tend to hire those they know and refer those they've worked with. We all tend to do that," Kiner said. "The problem with this is that we tend to hire people who look like us. If you're going to commit to overcoming gender issues in the workplace, you're going to have to work 10 times harder."

Kiner points out that a lot of tech companies post job ads on the same websites they always use. She urges companies to step outside their comfort zone and post on other websites to attract a more diverse audience. Another great idea is to reach out to local organizations, such as universities or women's networking groups, to be more gender inclusive.

Talk about gender bias

Addressing gender bias doesn't always require an expensive or time-consuming training program. Simply openly acknowledging the issue, and creating a workplace environment where everyone can openly discuss it is a great first step. Kiner points out that many organizations offer videos and training manuals, accessible to the public. Facebook is one of them.

Culture is created at the top

Many companies tout perks, like work from home days and a family-friendly work culture. But living the culture and talking about it are two different things. Kiner points out that management needs to be aware of how their actions impact employees of all backgrounds. Do employees truly feel comfortable leaving early for their child's soccer game? If the company offers a flexible scheduling program, does management urge and support everyone's participation?

"I've been in companies where no one feels comfortable leaving before the manager does. And I've also worked at companies where a male management leader may leave early because he has to go pick up his son. These things make a difference, and they communicate different things to employees," Kiner said.

Evaluate your work environment

Is your work environment possibly more skewed toward male employees? Look at your work environment with fresh eyes to make sure it appeals to men and women of all backgrounds. For example, not all workers may be thrilled about Friday happy hours or video games.

"And even if they aren't into those things, are they truly comfortable leaving work early and going home versus participating? You have to think about these things," Kiner said.

Diversify your interview process

"Include women in your interview process," Kiner said. "A lot of companies say they are diverse, but then a female engineer is interviewed by eight men. They feel like they're just the token female."

And interviewees should remember that interviews are a two-way process and that tech talent is in high demand. Remember to ask a lot of questions about flexibility and work culture to thoroughly vet a company.