THE TECHNOLOGY industry is often presented as a supporter of progressive causes, good pay and relaxed working conditions. But underneath this veneer, sexism and inequality run rampant.
As of 2020, women made up 17% of the workforce in IT and frequently have less experience and lower pay than men working in the industry. One reason for this is the fact that only 21% of computer science students are women which, in an industry that frequently demands degree level education for entry, massively limits the number of women that can be hired.
Even within the industry, women make up a lower percentage of the more ‘skilled’ roles such as programming and are more likely to work in ‘supporting’ roles such as project management and analysis.
Another cause of gender imbalance is the fact that in many roles, the work expectations are directly at odds with any kind of family life. Long hours and overwork are the norm in an industry that ruthlessly exploits young workers, regardless of gender. Part-time work is almost unheard of, and women frequently find their careers stymied and blocked when they return from maternity leave, seeing their male peers promoted ahead of them.
At the start of the pandemic, the industry quickly pivoted to work from home policies as companies sought to continue to make profits during the crisis. This has seen the double burden of work and domestic labour faced by many women taken to an extreme form, with no escape from family life and a constant expectation of work with no respite. Even in many families with both parents working from home, there has been an expectation that women will continue to perform the bulk of domestic labour.
All of this is before we even start to talk about the casual misogyny and sexism, both overt and concealed, which is inflicted on women within the workplace. All of these factors compound to create an industry that is hostile to women, with the majority of them remaining in the job for fewer than ten years.
Thankfully, in recent years we have seen the beginnings of a drive to build a more inclusive industry, as companies strive to stave off unionisation drives. With unions such as Unite and the CWU (United Tech and Allied Workers – UTAW) beginning to make inroads in the industry, all workers should sign up.
In all workplaces, they should push for demands such as: ‘equal pay for equal work’, ‘zero tolerance for sexist behaviour’; ‘for the right to part time working’; ‘no crunch, no unpaid overtime’; and ‘free childcare for all workers regardless of location’. These demands can bind us together to achieve improvements to working conditions for all.
Fundamentally though, a large number of the obstacles to women in the tech workplace are systemic. Underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects and the double burden of childcare and work are not things that can be changed by workplace organisation; these issues will only be resolved by a socialist revolution which places society as a whole under the democratic control of the working class and creates a fundamental change in our relationships to work, and one another.