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I was wondering if women working as software developers often face more positive/negative bias in IT than in other fields?

The only reason I ask this question is because personally I have noticed that most managers in IT/software development are guys, is it more likely for women not to get promoted to management positions largely because the team consists of mostly males etc etc?

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I'm software developer and I had a woman manager (she was software developer too before) and I don't see any problem with that. Instead I liked her work as manager. –  Patrizio Rullo Jul 17 '11 at 17:21
In my experience there is a far higher women to men ratio in software development management and business analysis than on the dev side. Female executives seem rare however. Almost all women I have talked to that left the dev side say they would just rather be primarily dealing with people and interactions between them than code. –  Nash0 Aug 3 '11 at 22:51
There's was decent talk about this at the recent ruby conf in Scotland –  marflar Dec 18 '11 at 11:56
Yahoo's CEO Marissa Mayer is women it think :P –  عثمان غني Feb 28 '14 at 12:01

8 Answers 8

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Obviously I don't think there is a lot of data on this particular topic, but being a woman in a technical management role, I can give you my opinion.

As a woman, there are certainly biases that can hinder your opportunities - I once had a person on my team ask to be placed on another team because in his culture it was insulting to have a female manager. Although most biases are not that obvious :)

However, my experience has been that if you work hard, do your best and put yourself out there (i.e. letting your manager know your goals) that you can earn your way into most roles. And if you are good at what you do, people will still like working with you (I hate saying "for you" since management really should be working for their teams).

There is a shortage of talent for great software developers/managers, and I can't imagine anyone discriminating on gender if the person is qualified.

Hope that helps!

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Did they comply with this insane request and move him to another team? –  Morons Jul 17 '11 at 14:04
It's hard to break cultural upbringing. If there's the possibility (ie. a free position elsewhere), I'd rather move them, than to have a disgruntled worker. –  Patrick Georgi Jul 17 '11 at 16:28
@Morons yes, they did actually! I was really offended at first, but I have developed a thick skin now and don't think it would affect me the same way (that was almost 6 years ago). –  katemats Jul 17 '11 at 20:10
Agree with working hard & being proactive. Oh and congratulations to you! –  Adel Jul 17 '11 at 20:10
@Adel "If you work twice as hard, you will be deemed equal" ;-) –  quant_dev Aug 3 '11 at 17:36

The Department of Commerce issued a report just today (8/3/11) that covers women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs. After skimming the report, I don't see specific data about bias for or against women in management positions, but the information in the report is still interesting and I think relevant to this question.

It's quite clear both from my personal experience and from the data in the report that women are significantly underrepresented across the board in technical jobs. A couple previous answers suggested this as a likely reason that you don't see many female managers in software development, and I it's inescapable that that's at least a significant factor. However, we must not accept that as an excuse. Many colleges and universities have programs aimed at encouraging women to enter technical fields; they're often called "WISE" for "Women In Science and Engineering." If you work in software development, encourage your company to support the WISE program or its equivalent at the nearest school.

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There is no bias nor discrimination.

As a successful female programmer and IT, I have never encountered any problems or discrimination. I agree that there is a decline in women.

  • The vast majority of technology positions are purely equal opportunity. Not sure about other countries, but in the US, it's illegal to refuse to hire because of gender.
  • There are subtleties in gender wages - but they are very small, if at all - and for a variety of reasons.
    • The primary is that women are less aggressive/assertive and less likely to ask for a raise than their male counterparts (sorry I lost this link!)
  • What you're seeing is the more general problem of fewer women in the field (for lots of reasons) (and lots more reasons). A few points outlined in those links:

    • More and more women don't consider IT good jobs
    • "Geek" culture surrounding the field
    • Traditional/societal culture and upbringing
  • If anything, outside of the general stigma of females != IT, there is more encouragement for females than males (list of organizations), and even resources . When was the last time you saw a conference for only male programmers?

(See also: StackOverflow is Male Dominated)

Women and Promotion

Based on all of the articles, statistics, and facts above, women face no greater challenges then men do when it comes to promotion and opportunities. If you have the skills and experience, there's no reason why you wouldn't be considered for the available spot.

However, the biggest reason women don't receive raises and promotions is because they didn't ask (article). So, do ask : )

Sexism and Equal Opportunities

If you are stuck in a spot because of a sexist manager who refuses promotions based on gender, then you've got yourself a legal case. However, once you draw a court case against your company, your career there is pretty much over (more info). (In a nutshell, HR seeks to protect the company's reputation and finances and will try to get rid of you quietly, usually by overworking you). This goes for any sort of legal case, not just equal opportunity infringements.

As stated before, there really isn't any bias or discrimination. On the very slight chance you are experiencing this, there's no reason to stand for it. You'll be properly valued and fairly treated everywhere else, don't let yourself be a victim.

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"There is no bias or discrimination"? It is great that you consider your professional life to be free of any discrimination, but don't make generalising statements when there is plenty of evidence for sexism, wage differences, sexual harrassment in the industry which many women fight against every day. –  vegansmarties Aug 12 '13 at 12:58
@vegansmarties I gave references (many contained stats). Where are yours? –  rlb.usa Aug 13 '13 at 21:12

I'm involved in hiring at our 20 person startup. Our CEO is a woman, and we seriously consider and actively seek female candidates for our technical positions. Certainly none of us have any problem working with a female boss, or we wouldn't be here!

The sad thing is that the ratio of men to women among technical candidates, especially 'hard' subjects like C++ development, is very high.

Our company has no choice but to hire the best qualified person for each and every slot, we are too small to discriminate based on irrelevant factors like gender, race, religion, etc.

I'd say that in our organization, being a woman might break a tie between two candidates with similar qualifications.

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Breaking ties by trying to be gender/race balanced is something I've never heard of. Sounds a little bit like University acceptance policies. –  rlb.usa Aug 3 '11 at 17:47

I don't think you can generalise answers here.

My wife worked in IT for 20 years, and for most of that time she had female managers. Much of this time was for Universities and other parts of tertiary education, in the IT depts that provide services like payroll, records, and so on.

The tertiary education sector IT services groups tended during that period to have roughly equal split (about 50:50, but it varied, maybe 60:40 in some places) males:females.

Promotion was a hit and miss affair. Sometimes people were promoted from within, frequently senior management appointments were made from external applicants. A great many of the successful external applicants were women, my recollection is that over 50% of the managers during that period were female, and a majority of them were external appointments.

There have been other comments here about IT tending to be a meritocracy: it certainly seemed to be that way in this case. Mind you, it is also the law that this be the case.

UPDATE TO ANSWER A QUESTION: Most of this was development roles, eg writing and modifying systems software, later on acceptance testing of a large software supply contact, and later again as a DBA.

[The experience of women working for female managers is a the subject of a completely separate discussion.]

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I think human behavior IS relevant here. Yes the IT industry is mostly men, and they don't have the best social skills(I'm included).

And if a company has 27 men and 1 woman, unless that woman is REALLY outstanding, the men simply wouldn't feel comfortable being under her. Unless she is that hot Russian prof I forget her name :p .

But statistics is relevant too - if the IT field is 70-90% men, the chances of a woman manager are slim anyway. But if you're a woman and that's your goal, yes by all means strive and do it!

Also, managers in general should be older(i.e, a 24 year old isn't such a great pick as manager) because generally more respect is given to people older than us.

Bottom line - we are working on it(i.e, look where we were 30-40 years ago)! We need women in this field!

Here's a relevant article : [Perceptions of Female Managers in Male-Dominated Industries: Effects of Gender Rarity, Performance and Diversity Justification]

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I know the plural of "anecdote" is not "data", but in my experience, the gender distribution is actually a lot more balanced at the IT management level than it is in the trenches. I've certainly had a higher proportion of female managers than co-workers. –  Carson63000 Jul 17 '11 at 23:41
@Adel Please expand your answer to include the article. Don't let it sit unseen in the comments. :) (That said, barring generally work-inappropriate attrire, men's inability to handle themselves around a woman is not the woman's problem. What you said in your comment there is offensive to both men and women.) –  Anna Lear Jul 18 '11 at 1:13
@Adel I think that saying women should dress/behave differently just to please (as in "not distract") men around them is offensive to women. I can't speak for the men, of course, but I would say implying that they can't handle themselves around a woman is also disrespectful towards them. –  Anna Lear Jul 18 '11 at 3:59
Most workplaces, IT included, require appropriate attire and clothing. –  rlb.usa Aug 3 '11 at 17:41
'if a company has 27 men and 1 woman, unless that woman is REALLY outstanding, the men simply wouldn't feel comfortable being under her.' My company has a strong female CEO. Of about 15 technical staff, only 2 or women. Fortunately for us, our men are strong self-confident types who are not threatened by talented women. If the guys you work with are scared of working for or with women, then perhaps they should seek therapy to deal with their low self-esteem issues. –  Jim In Texas Aug 3 '11 at 21:01

I think you are looking at it incorrectly.

I have noticed that most managers in IT/software development are guys

This may be because the industries (for historical reasons) is male dominated. But the real question is what are the ratio of female managers to female engineers (or whatever pool they promote managers from) and is this ratio similar to the ratio for male managers to male engineers. I would hope it is similar (all things being equal they should be similar (given enough time to and a large enough sample pool)). This should be the first test you apply to your employer to see if things are harder for females.

Through the years I have had many managers most men but some women. And I have never felt that these individuals were treated as anything but managers (from us underling engineers :-). We engineers are (as a stereotype) are very quite and just enjoy doing our job. As long as the manager does there job (stops people from annoying us and provides clear specs) we care very little about their personal traits (if they are a bad manager then you will get some justified stick).

Unfortunately I don't have the ability to talk about their promotion prospects of female employees (no first hand experience). Average managers are everywhere, but good managers are rare and attract a loyal following and rise quickly. Become a good manager and you should have no problem (no matter what your other traits).

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+1 for giving insight into how female managers were treated IT –  rrazd Jul 17 '11 at 13:26

The new President of my company is a woman and a former programmer, our management is about 50/50 and many are former programmers. Our programmer staff leans heavily male but not so much as it used to be. I think it's still a male dominated field but you can find companies that have a proven track record of promoting based on talent and not gender.

I suspect that would draw in more than the average amount of women applicants and give the company a competitive advantage.

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+1 Thanks for sharing the ratio @ your company although it does seems quite unusual for IT i think! –  rrazd Jul 17 '11 at 13:28
I've found that software development is more of a meritocracy than other fields. I've always been recognized for my abilities, as have the other women I've worked with. –  Amy Anuszewski Jul 17 '11 at 20:17
@Amy - that;s a great point, this is a skill-based field! –  Adel Jul 17 '11 at 23:54

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