Gender Bias in Tech

 In 2016, the HR leaders of a Midwest-based global manufacturing company were concerned about the paucity of women in IT. They had taken some steps to recruit more women and people of color into the department but were still falling short on their recruitment goals.

Gender Bias in Tech
More troubling was the fact that they were not seeing any progress in terms of retention and career advancement in tech. Only one woman was in senior management, along with a few in high-level management positions—but all of them were near retirement, and there were no other women who were ready to step into those roles.

Susan, the HR director, noticed that workers had commented during performance evaluations and exit interviews about how disappointed they were that there were so few women in positions of power.

While no one had lodged a formal complaint, she decided to conduct a climate survey focusing on the “I” part of D&I (diversity and inclusion).

The results showed that women felt unable to move up for a variety of reasons, some systemic and some based on comments from men. For example, the women reported hearing remarks that reflected gender-based stereotypes, such as “I didn’t think you’d be interested in moving for a promotion since you have small children” and “You’re too emotional.” They also received feedback about their appearance that made them feel uncomfortable: “You look better in skirts,” or “Try wearing your hair long; that’s much more attractive to men.”  

The women who shared these comments didn’t classify them as sexual harassment, but they believed that training on unconscious bias was warranted. 

Susan agreed and led the company to take affirmative steps, including:

Changing its practices on promotions by ensuring that women were on interview committees to draft relevant and fair questions, participate in interviews, and help make promotion decisions.

Providing training on how implicit bias affects decision-making. For example, many reports were about men assuming that women with small children would be unwilling to make a move even though they had no similar concerns about men who had kids.

Implementing a robust mentorship program that included both male and female leaders as mentors, and engaging in succession planning to identify high-performing talent from both genders and provide cross-training.

As a result of these actions, the company saw an increase in the number of entry-level women coming into the IT department and a dramatic rise in the selection of women into higher-level positions. 

Lesson Learned: Being proactive was key here. Many company leaders don’t address gender discrimination unless there is a formal complaint of wrongdoing. But Susan took the time to listen to what employees were saying and then gather the necessary data to find out more. 

What are the different types of sexual harassment?

What is “Quid Pro Quo” Sexual Harassment?

Quid pro quo sexual harassment normally involves a person who acts as a supervisor to other employees asking them to do sexual favors for them in exchange for some type of employment benefit.  

For example, quid pro quo sexual harassment may occur when a supervising employee requests that a lower-ranked employee do some kind of sexual favor for them. In return, the supervising employee will then receive a perk, such as extra pay, a higher-ranking position, or more seniority within the company. 

This form of sexual harassment differs from hostile work environment sexual harassment. This is because it must involve a coworker of a higher rank than that of the employee being sexually harassed. Generally, it only requires a single incident of sexual misconduct in order to bring a sufficient claim, as opposed to a pattern of this type of behavior. 

What is “Hostile Work Environment” Sexual Harassment?

Hostile work environment sexual harassment can occur when someone who is working at the company does one of the following things: makes intimidating or threatening comments, jokes, or repeated sexual advances, which then impacts the ability of an employee to do their job properly. 

This kind of sexual harassment is focused more on the hostile and offensive nature of the conduct that pollutes the work environment, when an individual or group of individuals harasses a colleague or group of colleagues.

Examples of hostile work environment sexual harassment may include:

  • Repeatedly telling dirty jokes or sexual stories;
  • Creating images, statues, pictures, dolls, or icons that are sexual in nature, or have a sexual undertone to them; 
  • Communicating in writing through work documents, such as memos or emails, that include details that are sexual or imply sexual advances;
  • Using insults or discriminatory remarks towards an individual or group of individuals that are of a sexual nature; or
  • Repeatedly behaving in a manner that is inappropriate, such as touching, rubbing, or groping someone. It may be that the sexually-oriented behavior was not welcomed or done with permission. Alternatively, if it is consented to, then it might be creating a hostile work environment for others who are aware of it.