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What’s holding you back? Debunking misconceptions around women in tech

Back behind view photo of programmer lady look big monitor check id-address work overtime check debugging system wear specs casual shirt sit table late night office indoors, coding, women in tech

By Magda Domagala – Experience Strategist @ UNIT9: global brand innovation / Tech Co of the Year 2020 & 2021

Growing up, I was completely wrapped-up in the Internet and gaming culture.

My teenage years were defined by evenings spent alone in my room, just me, my laptop and the infinite opportunities waiting to be explored behind the screen. I was a passionate tech user. Yet it never occurred to me that a career in tech could be for me. Tech roles seemed too complex and unattainable, and the industry too male-dominated.

After an education in an advertising-related field, I landed my first job at a consultancy agency during my last year of university. While I felt satisfied with the cultural field, I missed the excitement of tech. It wasn’t until last year, when researching sexism in the tech industry for an article, that I got the opportunity to speak to some female tech leaders. They painted a picture of an industry filled with curiosity, creativity and passion, telling me there were some challenges they experienced as women, but how they overcame them to find joy and fulfilment.

This completely changed my perspective and helped me unpack the misconceptions that held me back from working in tech. These conversations changed my own career path: I’m now two-months into a new role as an Experience Strategist at award-winning tech company, UNIT9, and any past apprehensions have been allayed. If you’re considering a job in tech, but something is holding you back, I’ll let you in on some of the myth-busting that helped me:

Misconception 1: I need to be highly knowledgeable about tech before starting a career in this industry.

The clue is in the heading  – you are starting a new career, and no one expects you to be an expert.

The tech industry, with all its intimidating jargon, is sometimes seen as impenetrable without insider knowledge. But I’ve found you can learn the language very quickly. Colleagues are extremely welcoming, curious and forward-thinking people who are genuinely excited about creating great work and helping you along the way.

Technology is constantly evolving, so a tech career comes with continuous learning. Unless you’re considering a role closely tied to something very niche, like a specific programming language, there are plenty of opportunities open for exploration – providing you are curious and willing to learn. A keen interest is just as important as past knowledge or experience and justifies your place as much as anyone else’s.

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Misconception 2: The tech world is almost exclusively a ‘boy’s club’.

Whilst the tech industry does have a reputation for being male-dominated, it’s certainly not exclusively so.

With only 22 per cent able to name a famous female working in technology, it’s important to remember that history paints a different picture. The first person to publish an algorithm designed to be executed by a computer back in 1843 was a woman: leading programming engineer, Ada Lovelace. In 1952, Grace Hopper laid the foundations for modern programming languages with the first compiler that translated mathematical code into a machine-readable version. And Hollywood star, Hedy Lamarr, is perhaps more notably the inventor of the technology that forms the basis for today’s WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth.

That said, more work definitely needs to be done to close the gender gap. A recent report from PWC found women make up only 15 per cent of STEM roles in the UK. The cause can be traced right back to school, where girls are far less likely to study STEM subjects than boys – a trend that continues into higher education. Impactful interactive initiatives such as the Ad Council’s She Can Stem Minecraft activation are helping to drive change and encourage young girls to seek STEM careers. This will hopefully help us paint a different picture in the coming years.

Misconception 3: The bar will be set too high for me to keep up.  

Even though it’s hard to swallow, there seems to be a common feeling amongst women that we are simply not good enough for certain roles.

Internalised social constructs are to blame. Take neurosexism – the misconception that there are indisputable differences between male and female brains – which leads to the perception that women are inferior and unsuitable for certain roles, including those in the tech industry.

Imposter Syndrome is also prevalent, and it’s ironically regularly recognised amongst high achievers. The term, coined by psychologists, essentially describes a feeling of inadequacy and shame about ‘fluking’ your way to success – acting the part rather than earning it. This tends to take its grip at key moments within a career – especially when starting a new job. A recent study by KPMG shows 6 in 10 women have experienced this phenomenon during transitions to new roles, and it seems to be a gendered issue.

Reframing these psychological traps can be challenging, but we deserve to go after what we want. Next time you’re doubting your abilities, ask yourself if you actually have a reason to, or if it’s just your inner critic fuelled by one of these misconceptions. Women are more than capable of forging their own success in the tech industry. We just have some extra obstacles to overcome along the way.