Catch phrases such as “male allies,” “imposter syndrome,” and “implicit bias” were abound as over twenty-five women gathered in a New York University School of Law classroom to attend a panel discussion titled Gender Diversity in Technology. Hosted by NYU’s Law Women, Social Entrepreneurship & Startup Law Group, and Intellectual Property & Entertainment Law Society, the panel discussed the challenges that women face in the workforce generally, and in the technology sector in particular.
Prior to describing some of the more subtle struggles that women face today, Panelist Stephanie Abramson, the Director of Law and Business Experiential Courses at New York University School of Law, illustrated the explicit bias that was both prevalent and tolerated at the beginning of her career. Her anecdotes ranged from a man openly prohibiting her from joining him on a business trip, per his wife’s orders, to a dissatisfied client assuming that the assignment of two female associates to his matter indicated that he was receiving the firm’s “B team.”
As society has fortunately progressed in terms of its toleration of the explicit gender bias of the type mentioned above, the panelists focused upon the more prevalent struggles that some women in the work force face today. Moderator Susan Stehlik, Clinical Associate Professor of Management Communication at Stern School of Business, highlighted the damaging pervasiveness of “implicit bias.” Implicit biases manifest themselves in behaviors that reflect implicit stereotypes. As Ms. Stehlik elucidated, when a male boss overly compliments a female worker, he is implicitly acknowledging that he is surprised by her accomplishments, an example that seemed to resonate with many in the attentive audience.
Panelist Tina Mohanty, the Vice President and General Counsel of Plated, introduced the “imposter syndrome” that plagues certain women in the workforce. Because certain stereotypes about the working woman have been ingrained in women’s minds from a young age, some women may feel a sense of inadequacy compared to some of their co-workers, despite clear indications of capability. This feeling could create a fear of failure and discourage a female worker from asserting herself. Ms. Mohanty also expressed the feeling that while men typically receive the benefit of the doubt regarding their abilities, credibility for women in the workforce must be earned and is rarely granted.
Though the struggle for gender equality is ubiquitous in all professional fields, Panelist Emmeline Cardozo, the Associate Director for Partner Engagement at Girls Who Code, shifted the conversation towards the technology sector in particular. Girls Who Code is a national nonprofit organization founded in 2012 in order to inspire girls to close the gender gap in the technology and engineering industry. While technical jobs continue to grow, women are vastly underrepresented in the workforce. Cardozo cited Department of Labor statistics that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings, and less than ten percent of those jobs will be filled by women. Those numbers are particularly troubling because the technology field contains high paying jobs where the wage gap between men and women is minimal, and most importantly, it is currently an undefined sector, ripe for gender equality.
Because of the opportunities, Girls Who Code founded classrooms across the country, currently sixty classrooms in ten different cities, in order to encourage interested high school aged young women to further pursue an undergraduate education in computer science and engineering. Currently, the gender gap in technology is such that only 18% of undergraduate computer science majors are women. Cardozo explained the grave disparity as a result of the cultural stereotypes promoted in pop culture that math and science are simply not for girls. Girls Who Code, by encouraging such a path, actively aims to combat that stereotype and create a community of women who will support each other along what could be an otherwise lonely and daunting career path.
In all, the event was a reflection on the deep progress that has been made in the quest to combat gender inequality, in all of its various forms, but an even stronger acknowledgment of how much more still needs to be done.
Ari Pruzansky is a J.D. candidate, 2017, at NYU School of Law.