Gender disparities in the tech industry have been a hot-button issue — there are articles, studies, and discussions focused on gender equality. Software engineering is a great industry for women because of its high compensation rates, good hours, and advancement opportunities, but being a female software engineer may present more challenges than being a male software engineer. Let’s explore some of those challenges as well as tips to overcome them.
Women in Software Engineering: The Landscape
Historically, white men have made up the majority of software engineers. Even with more awareness around diversity in software engineering, this is still true for the most part today. The percentage of women in software engineering roles has been growing, but this number still doesn’t illustrate equal representation.
A 2022 global survey of software engineers found that men made up 91.88% of the field — only 5.17% of those polled identified as women. And in the United States, only 22% of software engineers are women.
These numbers are even lower among Black women and Hispanic/Latinx women. According to the National Centre for Women & Information Technology, Black women make up only 3% of the entire female workforce in technology. And a 2015 study found that Hispanic/Latinx women only make up 2% of the software development workforce.
Challenges of Being a Woman in Tech
There are many benefits of a career in software engineering for both men and women, including advancement opportunities, work-life balance, and high salaries. But there are several challenges of being a woman in tech that men don’t have to face.
1. Lacking Mentors/Role Models
Like in any position, a mentor or role model can be a source of guidance, encouragement, and opportunity. Unfortunately, men can usually easily find a male mentor, while this isn’t such an easy take for women. This is mostly due to the small percentage of female software engineers already in the field.
Stanford University’s Department of Computer Science conducted research on the topic of why fewer women chose to major in Computer Science, and they found that a lack of role models was a major factor.
2. Facing Gender Bias
Many women in software engineering have to fight the false assumption that they lack the interest or aptitude for technical work. The feeling can be compared to having to swim upstream to be viewed as equally skilled as their male counterparts.
A 2017 study found that gender bias is prevalent in the tech industry. When asked if they’d ever encountered gender bias on the job, just 8% of respondents said they hadn’t. Discrimination can manifest itself in a number of ways, including being ignored in meetings, having one’s idea ignored, or being passed over for promotions for no apparent reason. In the poll, 27% claimed they “often or always feel gender bias.”
3. Unequal Pay/Growth Opportunities
Even when education, years of experience, and specific occupations are taken into account, women in the tech sector in the United States earn less than men. Numerous studies have verified this disparity. For example, data based on 2022 reports show that women make only 96 cents on the dollar compared to men in the field.
Some of this wage gap is due to the fact that men often hold more senior positions than women, which raises another issue: lack of growth opportunities for women. Most women who enter the technology sector say there’s no clear path to promotion. As a result, half of them quit the industry before the age of 35. Two-thirds of those who quit report that they left because of low advancement opportunities.
4. Different Standards
Being a female software engineer means you’re often judged on a different set of standards than your male peers. The most common challenge is that people expect women not to be technical. Women often feel like they have to “prove themselves” to their coworkers to see their opinions as valuable. Many women in software engineering are also relegated to non-technical tasks such as scheduling, presentation preparation, note-taking, and team representation.
This can be frustrating as many women feel that they’re not seen as “real engineers” and are not important enough to contribute to their team. When they do contribute to a project, their code may be criticized or rejected altogether.
5. Different Standards
With such a small percentage of the software engineering population being made up of women, there are often fewer women, possibly even just one, on a team of software engineers. Combined with all the challenges listed above, it’s easy to see why women may face imposter syndrome at work.
Because women are challenged and feel like they have to work twice as hard for recognition, they may feel inadequate to employers who regularly receive praise, which can lead to imposter syndrome. They may also feel like, no matter what they do, they won’t be recognized for their skills or accomplishments.
Alumni Series: Virginia Chen on Being a Women in STEM & Fighting Imposter Syndrome
How to Overcome Challenges for Women in Software Engineering
By understanding the challenges of being a woman in tech, you can be better prepared for your journey on this career path. Here are a few tips to overcome certain challenges.
Building a Support Network
Whether you need advice on a technical issue, or you want to share some exciting news about your project, it’s important to find someone — or multiple people — who can relate. Building a support network is one of the most effective ways for female software engineers to overcome challenges and thrive at their jobs. You need to have people who understand what you’re going through and can help you manage your frustrations.
Your support network can be made up of family members, friends, mentors, or even coworkers. The important thing is that it’s made up of people who will listen when you’re feeling overwhelmed or discouraged. One great way to do this is to join a professional association for women in your field (like Women Who Code) where you can meet other women who want to help each other succeed.
Speaking Up in the Workplace
One of the biggest challenges for female software engineers is speaking up in the workplace. You might feel like your opinion isn’t valued, or you might worry that your male coworkers won’t take you seriously. But the best way to overcome this challenge is to just do it.
Make sure you give yourself permission to speak and share what you think. No one else will hear your opinion or ideas if you don’t speak up. So be confident in your own thoughts and opinions, and keep them coming! The more comfortable you get speaking up, the easier it will become.
Becoming Your Own Advocate
As a woman in software engineering, you must become your own advocate. Becoming an advocate for yourself as a woman in software engineering means being aware of the challenges and biases that affect you, then taking steps to overcome them. It also means speaking up when you see something that isn’t right and asking for a change.
Be willing to stand up for yourself when someone is being unfair or disrespectful towards you. Don’t feel like you have to prove yourself, and remember that you’re an expert in your field. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be treated as such.
Prioritizing Professional Development & Learning New Skills
Whatever stage you’re at in your career, it’s important to prioritize professional development and learning new skills. Keeping up with what’s going on in the industry prevents you from missing out on opportunities for growth and advancement. You’ll also feel more confident in your ability to provide valuable insight on projects and during meetings.
Look for scholarships, courses, or other growth opportunities that focus on women, since it can be a great opportunity to grow your skills and network at the same time!
At App Academy, Diversity is Important to Us
There are challenges of being a woman in tech, but at App Academy, we’re working to minimize those challenges and help close the representation gap of female software engineers.
To learn more about our programs, explore our curriculum or get in touch with an Admissions Specialist. To learn more about our diversity initiatives, visit our Diversity & Inclusion page.