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What’s happening with women in tech? Can we talk about the gender gap?

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Have you ever been called bossy? Have you ever undermined your accomplishments? Have you ever refrained yourself from a job opportunity because you felt like you didn’t meet all the requirements? If you answered yes to most of the questions, you’ve experienced some of the problems women face in the workplace.

The idea of writing this article originally popped up during the “Women <Code> Festival” which took place this month in Brussels. The goal of the festival is to attract more women to join digital sectors and to be a forum for women to share their experiences.
But are there really so few women in Tech? Well, in comparison to other industries, less women are applying for entry-level positions in tech companies. For instance, in the US, there are 36% of women at entry-level position in the technology industry in comparison with around 60% of women at entry-level in the retail industry, or even 73% in the healthcare industry. This clearly shows the struggle for Tech companies to attract women.
As a consulting company that specializes in digital transformation, this topic is of utmost importance to us. So we seized the opportunity to send three consultants to attend some of these workshops and conferences, during the “Women <Code> Festival”. These consultants have gathered for you some hot topics and eye-opening facts. They’ve investigated the roots of the gender gap and its impact on today’s tech industry, bringing you some actionable points to resolve this issue.

A boys club

It’s no secret that tech has always been perceived as a boys club. Early video games were marketed almost exclusively towards men. Over the years the male geek archetype has become a mainstream hit in pop-culture with the success of shows like ‘The Big Bang Theory’ or ‘Stranger Things’ where all members of the AV club are boys.

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As the number of women is increasing in most academia fields, more women than men are getting their bachelor’s degrees. However, Computer Science seems to be the exception since only 15% of the graduates are women. The domain has witnessed a significant drop of women’s enrolment around the year 1985.

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Source: National Science Foundation, American Bar Association, American Association of Medical College

What happened at that time? The drop coincides with the rise of home computers and the release of an ad for the best selling personal computer, the Commodore SX-64 which sold over 17 million units.

This ad was airing more than 30 years ago but the given gender stereotypes are still very much alive, causing the general assumption that men are better developers than women. This has been debunked by a GitHub study. The analysis of nearly 1.4 million GitHub users suggested that women’s coding skills actually exceeds men’s.
Therefore you might ask yourself why we’re not seeing more women in these development roles? In fact, As long as our society perceives technology as a male dominated field you’ll witness some kind of gender discrimination. For example, Facebook’s’ targeting tool allows recruiters to target by gender, resulting in discrimination in online job advertisements and less women applying.

When technology forgets about women

But what happens when women are not included? Our technology is not gender neutral. Some products carry unexpected flaws or biases because they were built by a male dominated environment.
If you work in an air-conditioned office you might have heard women complaining of the temperature. They are freezing cold while men walk around with their sleeves rolled up. It has been proven that the ideal office temperature for women and men are different. As the workplace used to be male dominated, the default temperature had been set to their needs and was never adapted.
Another staggering example of gender biased technology is Amazon’s 2014 artificial-intelligence tool for automatic recruiting. Unfortunately, it turned out to be biased against women, concluding men were preferable. A surprising result as we consider robots to be neutral. This issue occurred because of the data on which the AI was based, predominantly male résumés submitted to Amazon over a 10-year period. As Amazon’s engineers couldn’t be sure the AI wouldn’t find new ways to discriminate, the project was abandoned at the beginning of 2017.
Yet another example of gender discriminating technology is Google Translate. In Turkish, you have a single gender-neutral pronoun “o” instead of “he” or “she”.  When you want to translate sentences into English, the un-gendered Turkish sentence “o is a nurse” would become “she is a nurse” while “o is a doctor” would become “he is a doctor”.
World of DigitsIn such examples, women’s needs were forgotten or gender discrimination was subconsciously fed. These kind of problems can be tackled in advance, by having a more diverse team. A diverse team gives you more ideas, more insights and different opinions. Valuable digital experiences requires having diverse teams! It has even been proven that companies with more women directors outperform other companies by 53%.

Let’s take action

These days, there are solutions to promote gender equality in the workplace. As a consequence of dramatic events, Rwanda has witnessed an increase of its number of women in the workplace and they have done a lot to promote more gender equality in the country.  A law passed in 2010, ensures 30% of government seats are held by women.
In Iceland, they have implemented an obligatory parental leave of the same period for both women and men. This ensure equal chances for both moms and dads.

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Your company can also take action to include more women at every levels of the hierarchy.

  • Set up a global strategy backed-up by top management: Managers need to walk the talk. Why not starting with clear objectives of having a specific percentage of women at all levels by the end of the year? Hold the management accountable for having tangible results.
  • Educate your workforce: Incorporate training that raise awareness regarding the gender diversity issue. Make them realize the importance of having a diverse workforce. Prevent the bias of choosing people that look like you. Equal proportion of men and women at all management level should not be a “nice to have” but a “must have”.
  • Review your HR process: Practically, to get women at higher levels in your company, it all starts at the recruitment level. Therefore, make sure that your HR team attracts the right talent without being biased. Make sure that reviews and promotions use clear, consistent criteria for evaluating candidates.
  • Ensure a work-life Balance: Your company should emphasise the need for employees to have a work-life balance, and could offer longer maternity/paternity leave, or even on-site child care.

It goes also without saying that gender diversity is not the the only inclusion problem in the workplace. Indeed, race diversity is also an omnipresent problem. The above tips can therefore be implemented for any minority group which is not represented enough in the workplace, and especially at top management positions.

Fear of self-promotion

In addition to these action points we should start changing the way we present ourselves, being more proud of our accomplishments and making our successes more visible.
Self promotion isn’t something women are particularly good at. This inability stems from a deep-rooted cultural reality that women are frown-upon when they talk about their accomplishments. They are considered to be arrogant and full of themselves, being modest is more ladylike. This social trend leads them to only apply for jobs when they believe they meet 100% of the requirements, whereas men tend to do so when they only meet 60% of the requirements. This generates unequal advancement opportunities for women, even in a context where there are seemingly no discriminations.
Furthermore, senior-level women who negotiate more often than men at the same level in the hierarchy, are far more likely to receive feedback that they are “intimidating,” “too aggressive,” or “bossy”.  This could discourage other women to promote themselves.

“A man who is getting mad is a tough leader while a woman who is getting mad is a bad manager”

Please remember that self-promotion isn’t bragging if it’s based on facts. Do yourself a favor: rally for yourself and encourage women in your network to do same, thereby breaking modesty norms and glass ceilings. If you find it difficult to ‘self-promote’ , or you consider it to be too egocentric, don’t call it that way. Think of it as ‘making your work visible’ instead. That’s a much more comfortable framing for many women.
Another tip we can give you is to participate to Google  #IamRemarkable workshop as we did thanks to the The “Women “Code” Festival”. #IamRemarkable strives to empower women worldwide, to speak openly about their accomplishments in the workplace, and beyond.

In a nutshell

With the rise of the home computer targeted to men, and the inherent gender stereotype of Computer Sciences being a boy’s club, a cultural shift is needed to acquire an equal number of women and men at all management levels, in all industries, especially in IT, in the years to come.
The inclusion of women in Tech can only benefit us as research has proven that women can be excellent developers and that companies with more women on the board perform better. But note that you don’t necessarily need to code to end up in an interesting Tech role.
Some actions can be taken at your own level, but we definitely need to be supported by top management team from our company, and eventually from the government too.
Being three positive women, we believe in change. Starting with ourselves, we’ve made a pact to not diminish our accomplishments, and to acknowledge the successes of all women around us. Will you do the same?

Written by Jolien Van Puyvelde, Valentine Coget, and Aurélie Waeles

World of Digits Consultant




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