Gender Discrimination Continues To Haunt IT Industry

by Sohini Bagchi    Mar 14, 2018


The IT industry is seeing an increasing number of allegations of sexual harassment over the past several years, raising concerns on the status of women in technology sector. Recently, Microsoft received 238 discrimination and harassment, according to documents recently made public in an ongoing court case. These complaints pertaining to gender discrimination or sexual harassment were said to have occured between 2010 and 2016.

In the case with Microsoft, the documents show a string of internal complaints that plaintiffs allege are the results of persistent pay discrimination issues. Microsoft’s internal review found that only one of the gender discrimination cases had merit and was “founded.” The lawsuit, filed in District Court in Seattle, seeks class-action status which could add more than 8,600 women to the case. “Women in the class lost out on up to $238 million in pay and 500 promotions because of widespread discrimination, largely within the company’s performance-review process that determines pay and promotions for employees,” the report noted.

The plaintiffs argued that men in similar roles with similar job performance were promoted faster and given more raises than their female colleagues.

Microsoft that employs over 115,000 people worldwide maintains that there is no larger pattern of discrimination and that all employee concerns are taken seriously and that the company has a “fair and robust system in place” to investigate them. But plaintiffs claim that employees have “little faith” in the investigative process.

In 2017, Microsoft had a global workforce of more than 120,000 people and about 25.9 per cent was female. The technical employees were 19 per cent female. In December, a Microsoft intern was reportedly raped by a fellow intern, who was subsequently hired by the company. Despite that a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement, “Diversity and inclusion are critically important to Microsoft. We want employees to speak up if they have concerns and we strive to make it easy for them to do so…”

Microsoft isn’t the only tech company to be accused of wage discrimination. Google is currently facing a similar lawsuit and so is a ‘women friendly company’ like Salesforce that too was not spared from such atrocities. Not to forget, Uber went through a much publicized investigation last year after a former employee leveled sexual harassment allegations. Uber fired 20 people, 5 for sexual harassment and other related issues, like bullying.

Vast majority of women say gender discrimination occurs in the workplace, according to several study reports. However, men are twice as likely as women to consider claims of gender discrimination at work to be overestimated. An employee chat app Blind, for example, in a recent poll asked its users - who are all validated employees of specific tech companies - if they had ever experienced or witness sexual harassment. Some 1,139 people took the poll, and one-third of tech employees say they at some point witnessed the illegal and demeaning tactics that sexual harassers force onto their victims.

Read more: Women In Technology: Finding The Missing Link

Some IT organizations are making gradual progress to bridge the gender gap by introducing gender-centric programs on leadership and making the environment conducive for women within the enterprise. While research reveals that female leaders in the tech industry perform equally, and sometimes even better than their male counterparts, the percentage of women tech executives are relatively few in numbers.

It is also important for organizations to create a strong support system for women executives, believe industry leaders. According to Vinti Doshi, CEO and Co-Founder of AUtoncab, a mobile app which provides on-demand last mile connectivity to urban commuters, “A gap in a technology career puts an individual behind the rest, if she has to take couple of years off for family reasons. Retraining programs should be introduced and maybe special incentives or considerations should be introduced for hiring such individuals returning after a break. Companies should consciously encourage and help move the deserving woman candidate up the corporate ladder. Such steps will encourage more women to take on technology careers.”

Read more: Is Gender Gap In IT Getting Any Better?

Experts believe that companies also need to invest in training the managers on how to interact and support women in their team during this challenging phase in their career, like motherhood.

Needless to say, the problem of gender discrimination in technology was not created overnight, and the gap won’t be closed in a year or two. However, inclusive workplaces will expand opportunities not only for women leaders but also for businesses on the whole. As Mark A. Weinberger, EY’s Global Chairman & CEO, mentions, “Companies that advance women into leadership roles are going to have the upper hand, with more engaged workforces, stronger cultures and improved economic performance.” As we are aware that gender-balanced companies achieve better results, it is surely time for some action!