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Invisible Barriers to Women’s Advancement in IT Sector

IT fields have long been recognized as domains of innovation and progress. As more women earn degrees in math, technology, and engineering, there is a visible transformation in the dynamics of these fields. This change is encouraging and reflects the evolving landscape of the STEM professions. 

Underneath this progress, however, is a persistent challenge – the unaltered unconscious perceptions and attitudes surrounding women, which have not kept pace with educational advances. These biases play out in various ways in the workplace, creating challenges for women to advance in their professional roles. Here are some of them:

No-win Scenarios:

The double binds impacting women in professional settings arise from conflicting demands tied to social norms and workplace expectations, making it difficult to respond without facing repercussions. For instance, women in leadership positions may encounter a double bind where they are expected to be assertive and authoritative but are also penalized for breaking the gender norm if their assertiveness is perceived as ‘bossy’ and ‘aggressive’. 

This leads to a no-win situation. They are ‘damned if they do’ by facing criticism for assertiveness and ‘damned if they don’t, as conforming to traditional gender norms may limit their effectiveness as leaders.

Stereotypical Assumptions:

Women working in IT often encounter stereotypes that can impact their experiences and opportunities in the field. One common assumption is that they are “naturally” less skilled or knowledgeable in IT-related tasks or less likely to possess leadership qualities in technical roles. Women are also stereotypically perceived as having better interpersonal and communication skills that can pigeonhole them into certain roles. They are also assumed to be more likely to step in as team helpers and mediators, regardless of their professional expertise. 

Such stereotypes oversimplify the diverse range of women’s personalities and reinforce gendered expectations that may not align with individual aspirations and restrict women’s development opportunities.

Absence of Role Models:

The need for more women in top positions in STEM fields can make it challenging to find mentors or suitable role models to emulate. Since we still associate authority with men, the default way a person in power should speak or behave is still based on the image of a man in power. The mentorship from experienced women in STEM can address the challenges, expanding the acceptable range of behaviors for women in leadership roles and supporting a more inclusive and dynamic work environment. 

Women leaders in IT bring diverse skills, communication styles, and problem-solving approaches. Their presence in high-ranking positions is pivotal for creating an environment where everyone can thrive and explore their unique managerial styles without fear of judgment.

For decades, organizations have created diversity and inclusion programs to help women redress the balance. And while these efforts should be applauded, more is needed. It is in the best interest of everyone to teach managers and corporate leaders how to eliminate unconscious biases. But this won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, women need ways to overcome obstacles to prepare for the right roles and opportunities.

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