By Klaris Chua

Picture the typical software engineer. You’d probably describe him as someone in his early twenties, wearing a hoodie, and munching on Doritos while typing, his entire screen filled with endless lines of gibberish code. Doing a search for this term on Google Images also reveals a lot. Out of the first 10 results showing pictures of real people at work, only two were women.

This shouldn’t be the case anymore, given that recent statistics show otherwise. Analyses from data company 500 Miles showed that representation of women in tech has improved from 30.5% in 2011 to 33.5% in 2016 among startups and private tech companies. This number includes women in both full-time roles and internships.

When you take a look at the top of the corporate ladder though, the number of women arguably becomes smaller. Even with the extensive efforts to break the gender imbalance, information technology has largely remained a male-dominated field. If girls don’t choose careers in IT, how much more would they be able to take on leadership roles in IT?

It’s comparable to the chicken versus egg situation. There are fewer females in IT because they don’t take up IT programs in university, which makes their credentials inefficient for IT jobs. Fewer females in IT jobs means fewer promotions and fewer leadership opportunities for women in the tech sphere.

Tied to certain IT roles

Although businesses practically begged for female workers in the last few decades, certain jobs in IT are still often associated with men. A 2016 study from the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) revealed that the top tech occupations for men, which includes software engineer, systems administrator, project manager, IT management, and applications developer, differ significantly from the top roles chosen by women: project manager, business analyst, other IT, QA tester, and technical recruiter. While this disparity could just be a direct result of the personal choices for each employee on either gender, it can’t be denied that a lot of women are not going into the more “hardcore” route in IT.

Martha Heller, high-profile headhunter and author of the CIO Paradox, says that there’s a serious disconnect between decision makers and the women who pursue technical careers. Companies are saying they want women in the VP or directorial levels, but the women she talks to say they are not privy to those opportunities, it’s as if they’re not being considered for those roles internally. Oftentimes, women are discouraged to take on bigger roles because they don’t understand their options or don’t recognize why they deserve to be in those roles.

Need to be included

IT organizations need to understand that just like men, women want a truly desirable, developmental, and inclusive place where they can build their careers. They need to start feeling that they’re not in an entirely male-dominated world.

It’s not just a matter of increasing the number of females in the workplace. Simple actions such as creating spaces designed for women, drawing out clear rules or guidelines to prevent inappropriate office behavior, and creating more professional training programs can all be good places to start. In other words, the workplace environment also needs to change in order to make technology roles and positions more attractive for the ladies.

Need more role models and sponsors to push them forward

In the same NCWIT study mentioned above, it was revealed that women with technical backgrounds identify the lack of mentorship or sponsorship as one of the key barriers to their retention and advancement. Nearly half of the U.S. women in SET jobs surveyed felt that they lacked not just role models, but also sponsors – or people who would help make themselves and their accomplishments visible within the organization.

As such, the creation of informal networks and events that can pull women together so they could mingle and network with other women in the same field would be very ideal. These groups also need to include high-level executives and senior employees who have the authority and can be tapped to speak in order to help make women realize the professional and economic impact of an IT background in a woman’s career.

Kira Makagon, EVP of Innovation at RingCentral, has this to say for women who want to break the entrenched stereotypes about female tech leaders in an article from Dice:

“Be yourself and pursue your dreams… Don’t worry about gender and focus on doing the best job you can in whatever you do. But if you are not comfortable among a male-dominated environment, think again if you want to be in tech, because it is today. It will change, but change is not fast.”

While it’s good that gender is already on the agenda, there still needs to be a great shift in opinion regarding women in IT leadership roles. For now, probably the best thing to do is to keep the conversation going and back it up with more data and stories. For women, it should be to strive doubly hard to ensure competitiveness in their technology careers, regardless of clichés and stereotypes.

Klaris Chua is a digital content marketer who has written many pieces on startups and small business communications. She used to be a reporter for a business newspaper but the conventional path of a writer didn’t appeal to her. You can connect with her on Twitter.