The tech industry promises the possibility for creative interventions and advancements in all facets of human life. It goes unquestioned that we live with technology and that algorithms, social media, and technological innovations structure our lives. Here exists a great possibility for powerful interventions that can lead to a more inclusive world for women and LQBTQ+ folks. That said, the tech industry needs to be gender inclusive, LGBTQ+ friendly, and support gender diversity if it wishes to re-engineer the world.
On one hand, the tech sector is known for being one of the more queer-friendly sectors, with protocols supporting gender diversity in tech and with many efforts to close the gender gap in tech. On the other hand, the industry still has a lot of work to do in terms of gender inclusion, and must work to find solutions to eliminate gender discrimination in the industry.
The Tech Industry and Gender Inclusion
Despite the tech industry having a progressive face, gender discrimination still characterizes the field. In the United States, women make up 47% of the workforce, however, it was reported that only 22.7% of all information technology professionals are held by women, while 77.3% are held by men (there was no data collected on non-binary folks working in tech). Additionally, for women working in tech, the promotional opportunities are few and far between when compared to men. Closing the gender gap in tech has never felt more urgent.
On the other hand, the percentage of adults who identify as LGBTQ+ in the United States is up to 7.1%, but they make up 11% of all technology professionals. This may be partially due to the tech industry being relatively young, with the average aged tech professional being 42.2 years old. We know that younger folks tend to identify as LGBTQ+ at higher rates, with over 21% of Generation Z Americans who’ve reached adulthood (born 1997-2003 roughly), identifying as LGBTQ+. Additionally, the tech industry’s hubs of Seattle, San Francisco and Atlanta all boast having LGBTQ+ populations of almost two or three times the national average. These external factors have a great impact in the demographics of these companies, but does that mean these companies have done enough work to disrupt gender discrimination in the tech industry?
Understanding Gender Identity and Gender Discrimination in Tech
What is gender identity and gender discrimination?
In order to create more inclusive work spaces, we need to first be on the same page about what some of the problems women and LGBTQ+ individuals face at work. Before we really get into it, let’s define a couple terms:
Gender identity: refers to one’s deeply felt sense of their own gender. It may or may not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. One’s gender identity encompasses their personal and psychological identification as a man, woman, both, neither, or another gender entirely. Gender identity is often an intrinsic part to a person’s self-identification and may not necessarily fit into societal expectations or stereotypes associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.
Transgender: transgender is an umbrella term that encompasses folks whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned to them at birth. For example, someone assigned male at birth who identifies as a woman is a transgender woman, and someone assigned female at birth who identifies as a man is a transgender man.
Gender non-binary: someone who’s gender non-binary, or simply “non-binary” or “genderqueer,” identifies with a gender identity that does not fall within the man/woman gender binary. Non-binary individuals may identify with a gender identity that is a combination of both genders, as neither male nor female, or as a different gender altogether. Non-binary people may use gender neutral pronouns like they/them or alternative pronouns.
Cisgender: is a term used to describe people whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Queer: is an umbrella term to describe individuals who do not conform with societal expectations surrounding gender and sexuality. Queer identity can be claimed by those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, or any other non-heterosexual or non-cisgender identity. The term has been reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community as a way to embrace the diverse identities and combat rigid categories and labels.
Gender discrimination: refers to the unfair or unequal treatment of individuals based on their gender, such as treating somebody less favorably or denying them opportunities, rights or privileges due to their gender. Gender discrimination may be explicit or implicit, but in all cases has real impacts on one’s well being and access to resources or opportunities.
Understanding gender discrimination in tech
Undoubtedly, the tech industry has taken many steps to support women in the field and make the industry more queer-inclusive, that said, there remains much work to be done to reduce gender discrimination in the tech industry. Gender discrimination in the tech industry can manifest in a variety of ways.
The pay gap
The “pay gap” is a phrase used to highlight the difference in earnings of different groups of individuals who work in similar roles, have similar qualifications or experiences, but differ in demographic. The most commonly discussed pay gap is the gender pay gap, which describes the differences in pay that women receive relative to their male counterparts while working in the same roles or are equally qualified. In 2022 the US Census Bureau estimated that women make $0.82 to every dollar a man makes in the tech industry.
Pay gaps reflect broader systemic inequalities, meaning it’s not a concept that’s exclusive to gender, rather something that impacts all workers differently depending on the worker's demographic and intersecting identities:
For example, Vox reported in 2021 that Black women in tech make $0.90 to every dollar a white man makes.
In 2021, the Human Rights Campaign published similar findings showing that queer workers make $0.90 relative to their non-queer counterparts.
And of course, if you’re at the axis of multiple intersecting identities, your pay may also reflect that as shown by women of color suffering the biggest pay gap in tech.
The pay gap must be addressed as we work to support gender diversity in tech and eliminate gender discrimination in the tech industry.
Lack of representation in leadership positions
If we look at gender diversity in tech statistics, a 2022 report from McKinsey clarifies any doubts we had about the gender gap in tech:
The report explains how women remain significantly underrepresented in leadership roles, with women holding 48% of entry level positions, but only 26% of upper level leadership positions.
Women in tech are promoted at a 52% rate in relation to male promotions.
Those numbers are lower for queer women, women of color, women with disabilities and the intersections of those identities.
Micro and macro aggressions
“Microaggressions” and “macroaggressions” are two terms used to describe different forms of discriminatory behaviors or actions. Microaggressions are said to be more subtle, these are everyday comments or actions that may not intend to be harmful, but have an impact on individuals or groups based on their gender, race, sexual orientation or other characteristic. “Diversity in Tech” reports that,
53% of LGBT workers have heard jokes about gay and lesbian people at least once whilst being at work, and 1 in 5 LGBT employees have reported that they have been told or it has been implied to dress more masculine or feminine.
These sorts of comments are subtle daily ways that queer tech professionals are told that their queer identity is unacceptable and may feel like they have to hide that part of them in order to be successful tech professionals. Addressing microaggression is necessary in building a safer and more inclusive workspace.
Macroaggressions, on the other hand, are outward or explicit acts of discrimination. Macroaggressions include hate speech, physical violence, or systematic discrimination. It’s possible to encounter both types of aggressions while at work, although microaggressions are most likely more common in workplaces. These actions must be addressed as one step towards eliminating gender discrimination in the tech industry.
Creating a More Inclusive Workplace
More and more companies are taking steps to ensure that their workplaces are inclusive and that gender discrimination doesn’t go unaddressed. We’d recommend the following actions at both the personal and organizational levels in order to eliminate gender discrimination in tech:
Diversity and inclusion protocols: companies should develop and enforce diversity and inclusion policies that include specific protections for women and LGBTQ+ employees. These could be anti-discrimination policies, gender-inclusive restroom protocols, or support for gender transition in the workplace.
Bias awareness and training: bias awareness training has shown to help increase awareness of unconscious biases and build a more inclusive mindset. Training on LGBTQ+ inclusion and gender diversity are important in giving employees the language and knowledge to foster a more inclusive workplace.
Inclusive communication and language: familiarizing yourself with inclusive language is crucial for communicating with gender diverse employees and clients. Learning to use gender-neutral language, introducing yourself or signing off on emails with your pronouns, and respecting names and pronouns of others will help create a safer workplace.
Addressing harassment and discrimination: companies need clear reporting mechanisms and protocols for addressing and reporting harassment. Ensuring that these channels are well established, easy to navigate, and lead to prompt responses to incidents reported will create an environment where tech professionals feel safe addressing harassment, discrimination, or microaggressions, and confident in the organization’s commitment to eliminating gender discrimination.
Creating a more inclusive workplace is important to a company’s success. Companies are realizing the importance of supporting gender equality in tech and many have taken action. These are just a few potential ways a company can work to reduce gender discrimination in the tech industry.
On technology and queer possibility
On a different note, advancements in technology have done wonders in transforming our understandings of the self, gender identity, queer possibility and a future where outdated understandings of gender and sexuality can be made obsolete. The intersection of gender identity and technology is an exciting one because of the prospect of harnessing technology to create a more gender inclusive future. Gender inequality and gender discrimination is still deeply embedded in tech and needs to be addressed, but there is hope. The emancipatory potential of technology and the tech industry remain the ever enticing horizon before us.