Women in the IT Industry: Most Common Challenges & How to Stay Relevant

Climbing the career ladder in the IT field is not easy. Of course, if you are motivated and devote sufficient time to studying the discipline, it is possible to achieve your goals in the tech industry. However, the path to the top is more complex for women, especially if they are planning a family or already have children. 48% of women in STEM jobs report discrimination in the recruitment and hiring process.

Real stories of women in the tech field help understand the situation in the industry more clearly. Asta Adomaitytė has almost 30 years of experience in the IT industry. Now, she is a ECM developer in “Cognizant.” Asta agreed to share her career story, challenges she faced, and tips on how to act in job interviews and stay relevant in the industry. 

I was always, from early childhood, interested in technology, processes, constructions and always raised questions ‘how this is built,’ ‘how it could be constructed/done more effectively.’ My career path was related to my interests, and this is how I ended up in this position. I like to analyze problems and requirements, discuss needs, build long-lasting solutions, and not put temporary ‘patches’ on serious issues.

The most unpleasant is when you meet gender or family-related discrimination. The situation now is far better than 25 years ago, but still, discrimination exists. And this is not only about salary differences but also about responsibilities and career development. You can hear: “Oh, your CV and achievements are great and this is exactly what we are looking for, but we prefer a man in this position..”, “You have kids…”, “We need to promote him because he is a man, you know..” This is a strong signal to start thinking about changing a job then or refusing a job offer from this kind of company.

The most important thing is curiosity and being passionate to analyze. It is a common myth that programming languages are difficult to learn. Different programming languages could be mastered in 2-3 months, but you need to build business area knowledge and look at the problem from different perspectives. I would compare this with sculpture art. It is not enough to know how to use a kitchen knife if you want to carve beautiful sculptures, right? It is easy to switch to IT if you know what and why you like to do. AND is a huge benefit if you are switching from another area – you will have a different angle of view to a problem, you will have the advantage of knowing some business or industry. 

Curiosity and the IT industry can also lead you to learn completely unexpected things. For example, since I have been working with Norwegian companies for many years, I decided to learn the Norwegian language, which turned out to be a huge advantage. Communicating with clients in their native language helps solve various issues. So working in the IT field can help you improve yourself not only from the tech side – you have to be hungry for knowledge all the time in order to achieve great results.

I will talk from a woman’s and a mother’s perspectives. It is still a ‘stigma’ to be a woman in a technical specialty; it is still a ‘less worthy employee,’ especially if she has kids. 

Some employers or managers still think: ‘she will lose her skills while on maternity vacations,’ ‘she will possibly take sick days for her baby often,’ ‘she will not be able to dedicate herself fully for a job all the time’ and so on. Loudly or silently, this thinking with all consequences manifests. It directly impacts women (lower salary, no promotions, no participation in new projects, lower learning financing, or no financing at all). It’s not surprising that she loses interest in her job or education and does not want to be part of the constant learning process because she becomes demotivated. And she becomes ‘outdated’ then. The circle closes. I have no statistics on the situation with ‘fresh graduated’ women now, but I know that less than 50% of those who graduated 25 years ago stayed in the IT industry. And most of them left right before or after they gave birth to their firstborn baby.

It is crucial to withstand such psychological pressure and break the circle. Women can do everything in IT, and usually, they are better disciplined and tend to organize their work effectively. Most women are natural multitaskers and have good empathy, making them very valuable while working directly with clients and analyzing their problems or needs. Suppose it’s impossible to change the opinion about women and the atmosphere in your current job or promotion is something to dream about. In that case, you can always change your career or switch to another company.

I think constant buzz on the internet and social networks ‘you must get this certificate,’ ‘you have to learn this or that; otherwise, you will lose your job this year’ does not help feel safe as well. In reality, certificates become useless papers in a few months if you are not working in a particular area. It is easy to become a victim of advertising and feel irrelevant again because the outcome (of investing in learning and getting certificates) is far away from expectations.

When you have a job interview, it’s important to ask questions about the company’s vision. You should also pay attention to:

  • Are they asking questions if you have kids or are married? Why?
  • Do they support the working from home option? If not – what is the reason?
  • How many women work in the company, and in which positions?
  • What are the manager’s opinions about work/private-life balance?
  • Does the company care about employees’ health and how? 
  • Is the employee allowed to use up to 10% of his work time for self-education?

This will help you build quite a good picture of your future in this company. 

These would be my suggestions if you want to stay in IT for a long time:

  1. Find out which tasks & areas in IT you like to do best.
  2. Get to know which business area/industry is attractive for you.
  3. Build your business area/industry knowledge, constantly update and broaden it.
  4. Find out what IT could do more, how it could help solve the business area problems, and choose the right IT tools and methods.
  5. Learn and use UML and algorithmization.
  6. Master IT tools, software, and hardware relevant to the business industry and learn how to build solutions.
  7. Teamwork and soft skills are a must. Work on conflict management.