Without Political Clout Women Lose Ground in High Tech

There’s no doubt that encouraging girls to take STEM courses is imperative to their higher representation as women in those fields.  But a recent Catalyst study of 6,000 MBA graduates from the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia indicates that it will take more to increase the number of women in high tech.  Women are far less likely to start their careers in these jobs and leave them more quickly than men.  Seventy-five percent of women in the study reported feeling like outsiders as compared to 17% of men.


A certain amount of that feeling is to be expected whenever women work their way into predominantly male fields.  The research findings, however, indicate a much larger problem than just being the new kid on the block.  The study subjects also reported a lack of role models and vague criteria for evaluation as main barriers.

Taken together these are largely political obstacles.  Vague and shifting criteria have long been useful ways to keep unwanted employees from thriving in workplace cultures that lack transparency.  Subliminal and overt signs of not being welcome keep the insiders in and the outsiders out, creating feelings of exclusion.  And it’s difficult to find role models when so few women stay in high tech and men are rarely rewarded for serving in that capacity.

Add to this unhealthy combination two additional challenges: (1) as indicated by a 2013 study reported by the Harvard Business Review, women generally show greater disdain than men for workplace politics, and (2) such disdain does not incline them to learn how to counteract and, as necessary, work within cultures common in high tech industries.

It’s imperative that those of us encouraging young women to enter high tech fields also emphasize the need to arm them with a keen understanding of workplace politics – mild to intense – likely to block their way.  For forward thinking companies this is also to their advantage.

It’s one thing to achieve high-level of competence in preparation to enter any field and quite another to function effectively within a dismissive and/or antagonistic culture.

Kathleen also blogs on politics and influence here.

photo:  Sergey Nivens/shutterstock.com

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