By: Imogen Usherwood
Relatively speaking, gender equality has made a lot of progress in the last decade alone, from campaigns for awareness to an increased number of prominent women in politics, sport, academia, the arts and STEM. Of course, women continue to face obstacles in the workplace, particularly in technology-based companies.
While working in Microsoft technology is certainly a rewarding experience for anyone with an interest in the sector, it is worth being aware of the potential problems a woman in such a role may face, both for the women championing one another in the sector, and the male allies supporting gender equality.
1. Finding yourself in a minority
In 2015, 24 percent of Microsoft employees were female, and in 2018 this was approaching 27 percent. Women working in Microsoft technology remain a minority within a slow-moving (but productive) attempt to rectify this imbalance. But until then, women in Microsoft continue to face an inherently male-dominated culture which will never be preferable to a more diverse workplace.
2. A lack of role models and mentors
In 2018, Microsoft reported that young women with role models in technology are more likely to take up a job in the sector; 52 percent who had a role model (real or fictional) in technology were interested in a job in STEM, whereas only 32 percent who could not think of a role model said the same. An inherent conundrum of a male-dominated industry is that female role models are less prominent, but are needed in order to encourage more young women to see themselves working in the technology sector.
3. Maternity leave as a disadvantage
Regrettably, parental leave has always been problematic in businesses, particularly in a sector where most workers are male, and so maternity leave is not as high on a technology company’s list of priorities as it ought to be. In 2015, The Guardian reported on a survey of 32,000 women, of whom 20 percent had experienced negative comments from colleagues after returning to work following maternity leave, and 7 percent were pressurised to hand in their notice.
While there is no evidence of this happening in Microsoft of technology in particular, a fast-moving industry like STEM, in which Microsoft technology and data is constantly in development, means that even a few months away can put a woman returning to work at a disadvantage, and provisions are not always made for this.
4. Assumptions and stereotypes
Gender stereotypes are still everywhere, however indirectly that might be. Schools and advertising continue to reflect certain careers like engineering and IT as ‘nerdy’ male jobs, and such an attitude remains prevalent in a lot of workplaces. One woman working in STEM recalled how “I've turned up to sites and been faced with hesitation around whether I could actually fix the problem or do the job that was needed… earlier in my career it made me question whether I was in the right career.”
You could ask more or less any woman working in business or technology, and she would certainly have a story about casual (or possibly blatant) sexism in the workplace. Women working in Microsoft – and STEM more broadly – often find themselves developing a thicker skin to combat these unhelpful stereotypes.
5. A need to prove oneself
Connected to the idea of stereotypes: within a male-dominated sector or company, even one making a conscious attempt to employ more women, as Microsoft does through numerous campaigns, events and initiatives, female workers will always face some kind of need to prove themselves beyond the requirements of their role.
This can be a positive and confidence-boosting experience: “I was able to build up the confidence to get in and prove to the sceptics that I wasn’t just capable, I was the best person around for them”, noted one woman working in STEM.