International Women's Day: PhotoShop, Google Docs and the quest for diversity

There's still a long way to go before we close the gender gap, but some progress is being made.

"At the Huawei not-at-MWC keynote and as usual, there are almost no women here," tweeted tech journalist, Kate Bevan, earlier this month. "I can see four including myself in the audience; the other women work for the PR/events company. This is so incredibly depressing. Tech publications, do better, please."

And it's the same story across the technology industry. At events, men speak - and men attend - in all capacities. WISE, the UK campaign for gender balance in science and engineering has revealed women still only make up 16% of IT professionals and this general trend has remained the same for a decade. The Tech Talent Charter (TTC), dedicated to raising gender balance in the UK, has stalled with gender diversity actually dipping during 2019. While TrustRadius' 2020 report on women in tech provided the usual raft of sobering stats.

Yet, for all the stagnation and depressingly low numbers, things have definitely changed over the last few years. Way back in 2013, IDG Connect conducted a research study which showed 22% of men surveyed thought the gender imbalance was a good thing. This was a shocking stat back then - and still feels shocking now - but these days it hardly holds true. Today, companies desperately want to address the balance, even if they're failing miserably, while women in technology are doing all they can to blow the whistle on prejudice and drive change.

So, to celebrate International Women's Day, here a few symptoms of all this from the last year.


PhotoShopping women in

Tech companies are now so anxious to look inclusive that last June BuzzFeed News revealed that some people were trying to pull the wool over people's eyes by simply faking it. A photo, published in GQ, showed 15 mainly white male executives and two women — only the women, Lynn Jurich and Ruzwana Bashir - had actually been PhotoShopped in.

An open spreadsheet of women's salaries

Salaries are still the last taboo, so this January, Lizzie Kardon, who works for WebPress hosting company Pagely, started a Google spreadsheet for women in tech to ‘talk' openly about theirs, in a bid to address the gender pay gap. As of writing, nearly 2,000 women have filled out the spreadsheet which invites professionals to share their job title, salary, location, additional company benefits and years' of experience.

Books reveal the sordid details

Statistics may provide insight, but stories really bring it home. And now books offering women's perspective on technology companies are becoming big business. In 2018 Emily Chang released "Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys' Club of Silicon Valley" where she described sexual harassment, online trolling and sex parties. This year, the hype is all about "Uncanny Valley" by Anna Wiener, which paints a portrait of bullies, greed and sexism in Silicon Valley startups.

Silicon Valley is not the be all and end all

This month, Smart Asset released its 2020 list of the best US cities for women in tech. Silicon Valley was conspicuously absent from the roundup, but it did reveal a myriad of places which might not instantly spring to mind. Baltimore, MA, topped the index, while Washington, DC, had the highest percentage of women in tech (with 39% of positions filled by them). This showed that the biggest cities are not all always the best places - Chesapeake, VA, came fourth on the list, for example - and demonstrated that while some regions get all the hype, things are not the same everywhere.

Lessons from other industries  

News this week that Unilever achieved a 50/50 gender balance across its global leadership has a received a lot of press coverage. And although from classrooms onwards female representation in technology does tend to lag behind, these changes elsewhere do gradually make their mark. In fact, as far back as 2016, HP demanded  - and succeeded - in gaining more diverse agency staff on its advertising campaigns.

Rise in technology events for women

The number of regular technology events attended by women may not have changed all that much, but more and more bespoke events for women are springing up annually. Women of Silicon Roundabout, which dubs itself as the largest conference for women in tech in the UK, launched in 2016 and has gone from strength to strength. While a raft of other gatherings have newly emerged such as the Women in Tech Festival UK which had its inaugural assembly last year.