The tokenism of women in technology and 7 things companies can do about it

In order to boost the figures about women participation in the technology industry some organizations have started campaigns that tokenize women in the industry and pay little favour to the #womenintech movement. This post explains what this tokenism is about and gives 7 examples of things organizations can do about it.

Wikipedia says:

Tokenism is the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to be inclusive to members of minority groups, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of racial or sexual equality within a workforce.[1][2][3] The effort of including a token employee to a workforce is usually intended to create the impression of social inclusiveness and diversity (racial, religious, sexual, etc.) in order to deflect accusations of social discrimination.[4]

For the last 10 years, as part of a feminist wave, some tech companies have made a genuine effort to be diverse. Think of companies like Thoughtworks, Buffer, ClefFacebookGoogle,… and the individual efforts of people like Cindy Gallop or Sheryl Sandberg.

As a collateral effect, the promotion of women in technology got them and other women in tech recognition, and a lot of milestones were achieved. More women in C level positions, more visibility, more balanced teams. Some great products came out of that move to include more women in software teams.

Unfortunately as with most successes the copycats entered the scene and blew it off. Some companies started recruiting women for the sake of recruiting women. Not all of them did it right, and it has resulted in a growing tokenisation of women in the industry.

Gender can weight more than skills if you work in the digital world.

The problem is much deeper than some see and it won’t be fixed just hiring more women It’s about making sure the children who have access to and understand about technology are of all genders and places and backgrounds. About safe learning environments and education that’s preparation for the real world. The kids of today are the candidates of tomorrow. The C-Levels and policy makers of the day after tomorrow. And if only boys talk computer then we’ll be pushing the same rock up the mountain in 25 years.

Here’s an 8 point checklist you can use to review your efforts to bring more women in tech.

  1. Inclusive Language
    Use inclusive language as your very first, smallest step. The way we talk is related to the way we think and the way we act. You don’t need to review every single line you ever wrote, but make a conscious effort to use inclusive language and make it part of your communications guidelines. Start with things like using non-gendered pronouns as much as possible in your user manuals or avoiding words that have a high testosterone load, such as ninja, in your recruiting materials.
  2. Genuine Interest
    When you speak with a female candidate prove you have checked her background and know about her skills and past professional accomplishments. It makes you sound very superficial when you say “so, what was it you do, again?” and even more when you say “wait, so you are not actually a programmer?”.
  3. Diverse Hiring pool
    Hire outside of your confort zone. Don’t hire just amongst your friends, linkedIn contacts or monthly JS user group. Most likely your network is a reflection of your current diversity, and a lot of women in tech don’t go to mainstream tech events, but there are other events they go to. If you have no access to women interested in IT, I recommend you look for local Rails Girls, PyLadies and similar groups.
  4. Women-friendly products and services
    Make products women love to use, and hire amongst your users. Contrary to what a lot of men believe, we don’t all love pink and purple, and it usually makes things look like a period tracker. If you have women in your team they will tell you. It’s about good design, sizes that work for smaller hands and bodies…
  5. Flexible and remote work
    Offer flexible or remote work to accommodate for women’s bodies weirdness. I am not talking only maternity leaves. I am talking every day flexibility that allows for a healthy work-life integration. Yes, we are affected by our periods, pregnancies and kids. Last year women in the UK took 17 million days off due to PMS.
  6. Female visibility
    Have female leaders and involve female middle-managers and recruiters in the interviewing process. Not only does it showcase your commitment to diversity, it may also help female candidates get comfortable with speaking about certain topics.
  7. Code of Conduct
    Write and distribute a code of conduct that makes your company a safe and comfortable place for women and everyone else. How does your company intervene when things get nasty? Set and defend limits.
  8. Coherence
    The moment you make a comment like “you know how women are with impulse” or speak about another entrepreneur as an “ugly woman” you lose your credibility. Don’t do it. If you feel the impulse, however, ask yourself why 5 times.

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