“This is striking considering women make up more than half of the overall workforce,” said Lesia Harhaj-Kudryk, director of career success at The Grace Hopper Program at Fullstack Academy, which offers an immersive software engineering coding bootcamps for women and non-binary coders. “However, they are still underrepresented in STEM fields, especially in managerial roles, making up only 27% of the workforce in those industries combined, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
While not tech-specific, “women and people of color are almost always deeply underrepresented in higher paying positions,” said Michael Passoff, CEO of Proxy Impact, which provides shareholder advocacy and proxy voting services. “Median pay gap data sheds a light on that problem, and studies show that companies that disclose pay gaps are more likely to fix them.”
Proxy Impact and Arjuna Capital recently released their 6th annual Racial and Gender Pay Scorecard, which found that of 68 companies examined, 13 received a score of “A” while 25 received an “F.” In the tech/communications category, five out of 18 companies received a failing rating on this year’s scorecard.
Kathy Chou, senior vice president of SaaS engineering at Nutanix, and tech industry veteran, was aware that she made less than her male counterparts based on conversations she had. “They spoke in generalities, but their ranges were not the same as mine,” she said. “It’s not a very good feeling, so I would take that information and advocate for myself … with every new role.”
When asked if men and women in technology are paid equally at Juniper Networks, their CIO Sharon Mandell said that “no two people in the same role are paid precisely the same.” Rather, they are paid within the same pay ranges used to determine their salaries. When it comes to pay increases, “I work with my HR team, and we run an analysis to make sure women and other underrepresented groups are getting their fair share of the pie.”
Ways to close the gender gap in tech
More work needs to be done to close the gender gap in the tech field, especially at the leadership level. According to Juniper Networks’ 2022 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, 92.9% of technical company directors are male, compared to 6.9% who are female.
This requires more advocacy for women in the workforce, Harhaj-Kudryk said. “This is important because much of the onus is on employers to implement more equitable hiring practices, compensation strategies, work environments and career paths,” she said.
Further, employers need to be more transparent about pay and job expectations when hiring, and they should choose salaries based on standard pay ranges for a position, rather than the candidate’s salary history or expectations, Harhaj-Kudryk added.
Women also tend to face more barriers to advancement in their careers, Harhaj-Kudryk maintained. “At the most basic level, all workers deserve the autonomy, communication, time, and resources necessary to do their job efficiently. It is also important that women have the same opportunities for professional development.”
This includes implementing employee resource groups, mentorship and training opportunities, educational resources, and other proven avenues to support upward mobility, she said.
Besides compensation, there are other factors that disproportionately affect women such as domestic and caretaking responsibilities, Harhaj-Kudryk said. “Implementing practices like caregiver leave, designated non-work appointment time, and flexible or reduced on-site hours, for example, may allow all employees more flexibility to tend to their personal life needs.
Mandell said it saddens her that many women left the tech industry during the pandemic. As a single mom, Mandell recognizes she was fortunate to have good flexibility throughout her career, “so I hate to see women perceive that they can’t make it work.”
She calls herself a “strong supporter of women in tech” who “cares deeply about driving diversity in my organization in underserved groups.” The more diverse a team you have, the more perspectives you’ll have, leading to more innovative and creative solutions, Mandell said.
It helps to know your “superpower and strengths” and have confidence in them, she said. Mandell recommends that women research what their pay should be and look for a company with a culture that matches theirs.
“You have to be willing to put women in leadership positions.”
When Mandell was growing up, there were not a lot of women in tech leadership positions so she “had to look to women in other functions to believe it’s possible to ascend the ranks.”
It’s not enough to talk about trying to find enough female candidates to fill your hiring pipeline, Mandell said. “At the end of the day, you have to put your money where your mouth is, and you have to be willing to put women in leadership positions,” she said.
That’s something Mandell has put into practice at Juniper, mindful of the fact that “there’s a war on for tech and scientific roles.” Often, she said, managers feel pressure “to put a body in the chair to get the work done, and I have to keep the diversity focus in front of them constantly. So, there are competing goals.”
Mandell is well aware that if leaders don’t bring women and other underrepresented groups to the forefront during the hiring process they will not be seen as viable candidates.
Kathy Chou, senior vice president of SaaS engineering at Nutanix, was one of nine female mechanical engineering students in her graduating class at Stanford University. She recalled that “we didn’t have names for things like microaggressions back then. We knew we were different and weren’t chosen for the best projects and weren’t picked to give the presentations. We were in the background.”
But Chou, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from China, said she and her younger brother were raised as equals. “My father told me, ‘You shoot for the stars…be the best at whatever you do.’”
Chou realized she had an aptitude for math and science in high school. “I looked forward to taking math tests.” She aspired to “be the CEO of IBM.” While her plan didn’t come to fruition, Chou has done well. She got an MBA from Harvard and opted to take a job at Hewlett-Packard, even though it wasn’t the highest-paying offer she received.
“Out of nine offers, I took the lowest-paying [job] because I wanted work-life balance,” she explained. “My story is all about trying to have balance with a fruitful career at the same time.”
At HP, Chou had a lot of lateral roles because she did not want to travel while her children were young. She left HP and worked at two hardware startups, and was eventually offered a vice president role, which was “a big jump.”
But after having to lay off about half of the staff at one of the companies, she said, “I learned very quickly I didn’t want to work at a startup.”
Besides an unwillingness to travel, Chou believes she also didn’t advance in her career sooner because she was reserved and didn’t speak up. “I didn’t have a voice at HP, and no one tried to solicit that voice for about nine or 10 years,” she said. “I was known as a great individual contributor, although that wasn’t my desire.”
Chou credits HP for placing her into an advanced development program where she was assigned a mentor who helped her find her voice. She was required to give presentations and gained skills like communication and confidence. Chou learned that “my voice is very important” and the technology has to meet the business goals.
One of Chou’s biggest professional challenges was when she was leading an engineering team of about 400 people at VMware. She hadn’t worked as an engineer in years by that point and said the team didn’t support her. It took six months of one-on-one meetings to overcome their skepticism, which Chou said she understood.
Be proactive about your career development
Mandell got a degree in computer science and went to work at a startup as the company’s first female software engineer. “I got along well with the guys I worked with,” she recalled. “I didn’t feel at that time that I was treated any differently, and people gave me tools to make things work.” Eventually, Mandell became a leader on one of the more important parts of the tech stack they were building.
“I always invested in myself to continue to evolve and wasn’t waiting for anyone to do that for me,” she said. “I stayed abreast of technology and programming languages and operating systems.” Now, her career has come full circle since she started out in networking and is back in networking as Juniper’s CIO.
In Mandell’s case, “I was the person who went to train myself. Periodically, I’d raise my hand and ask for it. I wasn’t shy.” She added that “having a strong sense of where I wanted to go and what skills I thought I needed to invest in certainly helped.”
That always showed leadership that Mandell was interested, curious and wanted to do more, she said. That’s not to say she never had a negative experience, she added.
Overall, Mandell feels she was supported by her male colleagues and managers in most of the places she worked, but she is also aware that many women in tech have had different experiences.
Be specific about your ideal job role
Alvina Antar, CIO of Okta, said that as a woman executive in technology, “it’s not lost on me how far we have to go in lifting up women, elevating their careers, and continuing to give them a voice.” She added that she is “passionate about eliminating the gender gap in tech” and works with important organizations that have the same mission.
Antar suggested that women look closely at all of their experiences, clearly define what differentiates them, and be specific about what they want out of their careers. This includes understanding the industry, company size and culture they want to be a part of.
“Sometimes, people don’t want to be specific because they feel they are limiting their possibilities, but the issue with that is that your network can’t help you if you can’t be specific about your ideal role,” Antar said. “Your experiences should give you the confidence and clarity to pursue the perfect opportunity.”