How to Overcome Bias in Technology
By The Grace Hopper Team
How to Overcome Bias in Technology
In the U.S. as a whole, women make up almost half the workforce: 47%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In the tech world, however, women are not represented as much. This is due to a number of factors, including gender bias in technology hiring and employment.
In four of the largest technology companies—Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Apple—women comprise only 23% to 25% of employees, according to an analysis by market and consumer data website Statista.
Gender bias is just one type of bias in technology. Biases based on race and age can also hold people back at a cost to both tech companies and individuals.
Employees can overcome bias in technology by using a variety of strategies to fight back, move their own careers ahead, and foster equity in the tech world.
The Cost of Bias in Technology
Bias in technology hiring and employment affects not only workers, but also company bottom lines. A 2021 study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that, over five years, unfair treatment due to race or ethnicity cost U.S. businesses:
$172 billion in employee turnover
$59 billion in lost productivity
$54 billion in absenteeism
Discrimination by age (ageism) is expensive too. It reduces productivity in the technology sector by $44 billion a year, according to a 2020 study by AARP.
By contrast, the absence of bias in hiring and building teams can boost bottom lines. In a 2019 report, McKinsey & Company found that companies with higher ethnic and gender diversity tended to have higher profit margins than industry averages.
Gender Bias in Technology
In 2019, women made up only 26% of computer professionals, reports the National Center for Women in Technology. This underrepresentation results in a variety of workplace biases.
A 2020 survey by the tech employment firm Hired found that, 63% of the time, men received higher salary offers than women for the same job title at the same company. On average, men earned 3% more.
Another obstacle to women in tech is male-dominated cultures. In a 2021 survey of tech professionals by TrustRadius:
78% of women reported working in “bro cultures,” ranging from uncomfortable environments to sexual harassment or assault.
72% reported being outnumbered by men at meetings by at least a 2-to-1 ratio.
Women are underrepresented at the executive level as well as at the staff level. A 2020 report by Silicon Valley Bank found that only 41% of tech startups had at least one woman in a C-suite position. Only 37% had at least one woman on the board of directors.
Part of the problem is the lack of funding for female leaders. In 2021, just 2.6% of total U.S. venture capital went to companies founded by women, according to the private equity data firm Pitchbook.
In a male-dominated industry such as tech, being pregnant can hold a woman back. Pregnant tech workers have reported not being hired or being bypassed for promotions.
In one case, in 2019, 10,000 Google employees shared a memo from a worker who alleged her managers had disparaged pregnant women, and that she’d been penalized for going on maternity leave. The company later paid her an undisclosed amount in a legal settlement.
Racial Bias in Technology Hiring and Employment
In 2021, 13.6% of the U.S. population was Black and 18.9% was Hispanic. But in the world of tech:
Black workers make up 6.5% of tech professionals and 2.2% of executives, according to a 2019 analysis by the Center for Employment Equity.
Hispanic workers constitute 4.5% of tech professionals and 3.0% of executives.
Diversity experts point to some key causes of tech’s racial disparities.
Among U.S. graduates in computer science, Hispanic students make up 10% and Black students 9%, the Los Angeles Times reports. But tech companies don’t reach out to many of those students.
They recruit from elite universities and usually pass over historically Black institutions.
They rely heavily on referrals from current employees who are not diverse.
Even when tech companies diversify their hiring, new hires may not feel welcome, often because they have few co-workers who look like them. In a 2020 survey of tech workers by education and research company Wiley Edge:
81% of Black and 69% of Hispanic employees felt uncomfortable because of their ethnicity.
Discomfort caused 56% of Black and 58% of Hispanic workers to consider leaving.
When a company highlights a handful of underrepresented workers to make itself appear more diverse than it actually is, those workers may feel tokenized and devalued as individuals. Other examples of tokenism include:
Expecting an individual to serve as a spokesperson for their race
Making someone a manager without giving them the resources and corporate support to succeed
Some of the language of the tech world can potentially alienate workers of color. The Internet Engineering Task Force, a standards-setting group, is considering alternatives to terms like:
“Master/Slave” referring to relationships between pieces of hardware
“Blacklist/Whitelist” referring to users who are denied or allowed access to websites
Age Bias in Technology Hiring and Employment
Surveys verify the concept that tech is a young person’s industry. When the venture capital firm First Round polled founders of tech startups, 89% said older people faced discrimination. A quarter said age discrimination starts as early as age 36.
Older workers and executives can face a variety of obstacles.
Investor disinterest. First Round found that startups raised 40% less venture capital when their founders were over 45.
Coworker perceptions. Younger tech workers often see older ones as being out of touch and unable to handle long working hours.
Promotions. A 2022 AARP survey found 13% of workers over 50 had been passed over for a promotion because of their age.
Ways to Overcome Bias in Technology
Although biases come in many forms, similar strategies can help fight each of them. By banding together and gathering outside assistance, workers can beat biases in technology hiring and employment and advance their careers.
Support and Networking Groups
Forming and joining support groups can help workers overcome biases in a number of ways.
Giving and receiving emotional support
Sharing information on job and promotion opportunities
Receiving counseling from role models: older workers who have succeeded in spite of biases
Mentoring by managers and executives can help workers steer past obstacles. But when female, Black, and Hispanic executives are in short supply, mentors for those employee populations can be hard to find.
One remedy is for companies to enlist mentors and connect them with workers who need them. TrustRadius, the business research and review provider, found that 72% of female tech workers wanted their firms to provide more mentorship opportunities.
Specialized Academic Programs
Some educational institutions offer tailored programs to help students overcome biases of age, gender, and race.
For example, coding bootcamps for women and nonbinary individuals include coaching on how to overcome systemic barriers and seize opportunities to network with successful women in tech.
Some cities offer both academic programs and financial aid. New York City sponsors the following two cost-free coding programs for members of underrepresented communities who have no tech experience.
Learn More About How to Overcome Bias in Technology
Specialized academic programs can offer effective ways to overcome bias and help diverse candidates break into the tech industry. An intensive course like The Grace Hopper Program at Fullstack Academy can prepare women and nonbinary students in as little as 19 weeks for entry-level coding jobs.
Beyond academics, the program offers career coaching, networking, and strategies to combat systemic biases. Learn more about how such a program can help you pursue your professional goals and launch a rewarding career in the world of technology.