Trying to be Barbie in Ken's Mojo Dojo Casa House
Lætitia Avrot and I co-presented "Trying to be Barbie in Ken's Mojo Dojo Casa House" at PGConf EU in Prague this week. Lætita has published the amazing, very pink slides that she created and I'm publishing the transcript here. We really hope to present it again at other conferences, partly because it was so much fun, but mainly because we both feel passionately about the topic and want to raise awareness.
Many thanks to Tomas Vondra for this photo capturing the moment!
Who are We?
L: I’m Lætitia Avrot. I fell in love with Postgres in 2007 when I was asked to write an extension for Postgres able to find a French town name even if it was misspelt. (If you studied a little French, you will understand how difficult it is.) I have several hats as I’m a committed Postgres community member (I’m the treasurer of PostgreSQL Europe, the Founder of Postgres Women and a recognized Postgres contributor). I’m also a Field CTO working for EDB (Field CTO means I do all the techy interesting parts of the CTO job without the boring administration stuff). Finally, I’m a university teacher, teaching Postgres and databases at the University of Lyon.
K: I’m Karen Jex. I started my tech career 25 years ago. I spent most of that time as a database administrator before becoming a database consultant and I’m now a Senior Solutions Architect at Crunchy Data.
And I’m a woman. I don’t usually include that piece of information when I’m describing myself, because I don’t think it’s particularly relevant to the job I do or to the talks I give. But it’s a slightly different story for this talk.
(And don’t mind the blond guy, he’s just Ken.)
What are we talking about?
We’re here to talk about what it’s like for women in tech. But before we begin, I’d like to make a little disclaimer. This is a sociology talk. In sociology, it’s enough if it’s true for the majority of cases to make it a truth, because it’s based on statistics. So, if you happen to think “But I’m not like that” (and it will happen because we are all human beings there), remember it’s about statistics.
Taking inspiration from Barbie, the most popular movie of 2023, we unravel the challenging journey of women navigating a male-dominated tech world.
We’ll share real-life examples of gender bias and sometimes overt sexism (although names have been changed to protect identities), giving insights into the persistent hurdles that women encounter.
We hope to create awareness, encourage reflection, and inspire action to create a more inclusive and equitable IT landscape for everyone.
Join us for an eye-opening exploration that paves the way for meaningful change in Ken’s mojo dojo casa house.
Why is this necessary?
“The real world is forever and irrevocably messed up.”
Much as it’s fun to dress up and do something a bit different, I’d actually be much more comfortable up here giving a tech talk.
So why are we doing this?
The Barbie movie was eye opening to me. I didn’t learn anything about patriarchy or feminism in this film. Those notions are quite obvious to me. But I saw that a vast majority of the population was not aware of that! I’ve seen a lot of talks about the lack of women in IT, and trying to explain why. The Barbie movie made me realise we had to explain what women are facing on a day to day basis, so others can understand how tiresome it can be.
Life is hard as a woman in tech. I’ve been in the industry for 25 years and I absolutely love the work I do, but I’m exhausted, and I’m angry, and I’m sad that I haven’t been able to do more to change things for the women who are still (fortunately for all of us) coming in behind me.
I still often feel like an outsider after all this time. Conference lineups - still, in 2023 - with all male presenters don’t help me to feel welcome in the only industry I’ve ever known and the only career I’ve ever wanted to pursue.
And just a note to the event that felt the need to invent 2 female speakers to give the impression of a more diverse line up: no, that doesn’t help.
Women are underrepresented in tech: in 2022, women occupied only 22 percent of all tech roles across European companies .
This is even more evident in certain areas of tech, for example in open source projects such as Postgres. Of the 96 people listed as “contributors” to the project, 4 (~4%) are women. Of the 41 “major contributors”, 2 (~5%) are women. The PostgreSQL Global Development Group core team is composed of seven members, all (white) men. There has never been a woman on the core team, and new core team members are appointed by existing core team members.
(our very own Lætitia is one of those contributors)
Don’t make me blush!
There’s a tech talent gap (estimated to reach 1.4 million to 3.9 million people by 2027 for EU-27 countries) which could potentially be closed by doubling the share of women in the tech workforce.
But the share of women in the workforce is lowest in the tech roles that are growing fastest, such as DevOps and cloud  and over half of women leave the tech industry 10-20 years into their careers (double the rate of men) .
Which means that the share of women in tech roles in Europe is actually heading toward a decline to 21 percent by 2027.
Women in tech experience gender bias or discrimination in the workplace: for example reported by a staggering 76% of respondents to a 2023 Women in Tech survey 
Let’s try a bit of audience participation to illustrate the scale of this issue. If you’re willing to share, please raise your hand if you’re one of those women who has experienced discrimination in the workplace.
We’re sorry you’ve experienced that. We hear you. Thank you for sharing.
[Note that Karen and Lætitia both raised their hands that this point, as did a large number of women in the audience]
Women in tech are paid less than their male counterparts: In the UK, for example, the tech industry’s gender pay gap is 16% , which is higher than the national average of 11.6%.
Diversity has been proven to be good for everyone - it enhances creativity, leads to better business decisions, and even increases productivity and profitability 
Why did we decide to base the talk on the Barbie film?
Barbie’s an unlikely ally, but when the film came out earlier this year, it seemed to resonate with so many women.
There might not be anything new or groundbreaking in the actual message, but the film says out loud what so many of us think and feel, and presents it to the world in a fun, accessible way.
We hope to do the same in this talk.
“Thanks to Barbie all problems of feminism have been solved.”
At the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to “Stereotypical Barbie” (played by Margot Robbie) and her fellow dolls who are living happily in Barbieland.
In this matriarchal society, the different Barbies hold prestigious jobs such as doctor, lawyer, and politician, while the Kens do “Beach”.
The Barbies live blissfully in a bubble where the problems encountered by women in the real world just don’t exist.
Some girls are fortunate enough to be brought up hearing the message that they can do anything they want and be anything they want.
In fact, according to standardised science and maths tests conducted at different age levels across multiple European countries, girls perform as well as or slightly better than boys in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects during primary and secondary education.
Alice, one of the women who shared their stories with us, told us that she “went to a progressive all-girls school where we were constantly told that girls can do anything” but that it was a shock to the system when she realised later that things weren’t always so simple.
Things aren’t idyllic for all of the Barbies. Weird Barbie, for example, is a Barbie who was played with a little too roughly. She lives in her "weird" dreamhouse and is treated as an outcast by other Barbies.
It’s an uncomfortable truth that women aren’t always kind to other women. We expect that women who become successful in tech will want to offer help, support and guidance to younger women colleagues, and that they will want to challenge the status quo to make things better. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily the case.
All of us, even women, are sexist because we are raised in a sexist world.
The Harvard University Implicit bias tests  are a good way to become aware of our own unconscious sexism, or other bias. The results can be quite surprising - we may think we don’t subscribe to gender stereotypes, but find out that we (like many people) associate males more with science and career, and females more with liberal arts and family.
There’s a behaviour known as “The queen bee phenomenon” where
“women leaders assimilate into male-dominated organisations by distancing themselves from junior women and legitimising gender inequality in their organisation.” 
the behaviour is explained as
“a response to the discrimination and social identity threat that women may experience in male-dominated organisations, and is not a typically feminine response but part of a general self-group distancing response that is also found in other marginalised groups.”
In less academic terms, think “Mean Girls”
We obviously need women to support other women! A great sentiment here is: “You can’t compete with me…I want you to win too”
Although this talk is specifically about what it’s like to be a woman in tech, and a lot of the experiences we describe are universal to all women, it’s really important for us to acknowledge that we’re speaking from a position of privilege.
Women who also belong to other under-represented or oppressed groups; for example women with disabilities or women of colour can face discrimination related to each of these identities and therefore will often face additional struggles.
And although we mainly use the words “women” and “men” in this talk, we’re aware that these issues also impact people with other gender identities.This fight has to be for all of us!
“I would never wear heels if my feet were shaped this way.”
One evening whilst dancing with her friends as usual, Barbie suddenly experiences thoughts about mortality. Overnight, she develops bad breath, cellulite, and flat feet, making her day slightly less than perfect for the first time ever.
She turns to Weird Barbie for advice, who tells her that to fix things she needs to go to the real world and find the child playing with her.
Barbie sets off on the long journey in her convertible, only to find that Ken has stowed away and insists on joining her. Barbie initially says no but eventually agrees.
That’s surely a metaphor for women not feeling able to set boundaries, to say “no, in the workplace.
Instead of leaving Barbieland to head to the real world, girls are turning their backs on STEM subjects, and women are leaving their tech roles in droves.
Despite the fact that girls perform as well as boys in STEM subjects at school, there is a significant drop off (18 percentage points) in girls going into STEM disciplines when they go to university.
The drop is even higher (31 percentage points) when you take into account just ICT (information science, computer science, and technology) disciplines.
There’s also a small but steady decline in women STEM graduates over time - one to two percentage points from 2016–20 
Some of the reasons for this drop off are:
secondary-school girls get significantly less teacher, parental, and peer support than boys do for pursuing STEM careers 
Girls are told that they aren’t good at STEM, often communicated in "subtle but debilitating behaviours, such as teachers in STEM classes calling on boys more than girls" 
With only 19 percent of ICT bachelor students being women, the resulting isolation is often another reason women drop out of these classes
There’s a second “dispiriting and significant drop-off in the percentage of women who transition into tech roles after graduation. Only 23 percent of women STEM majors end up in tech roles, compared with 44 percent of men” 
Although not the focus of this talk, we also have to acknowledge that there are critical, basic needs that prevent girls from achieving educational goals in many countries around the world. Many adolescent girls do not attend school during menstruation, for example, because of a lack of adequate sanitation, cultural taboos or stigma. 
My friend Houleymatou in Conakry, Guinea, experienced a drop in the proportion of girls in her school from 30% to just less than 20% between 6th and 7th grade. This was due to them getting married during the Summer of their 12th birthday!
According to a 2022 Women in Tech article , over half of women (56%) leave the tech industry 10-20 years into their careers, which is double the rate of men.
Some of the reasons that women are leaving their tech roles:
Few opportunities for progression
(or the glass ceiling)
In the UK, women hold 32.8% of entry-level positions in computer science-related jobs, just 22% of tech directors are women, and only 10.9% of CEO or senior leadership roles .
However, as many as 68% of men in tech believe women have equal progression opportunities, and 35% of men believe there are enough women in senior positions in technology.
This "may", of course, be contributing to the issue - if men are unaware that there’s a problem, they don’t see that there’s anything to fix. A 2021 Harvard Business Review Article  describes how feedback provided to women tends to be less actionable and less useful for leadership progression than feedback given to men, making it less likely that women will advance to more senior positions.
Imposter syndrome/preparing to fail
(and also the glass cliff)
Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern that causes chronic self-doubt and overwhelming feelings of inadequacy, often despite repeated success and accomplishments.
A report by The Hub Spot  showed a shocking 90% of women suffer from imposter syndrome. This can be particularly prominent for women in tech. One outcome of this is that tech workers overwork themselves due to competition and demanding workloads.
Lack of certain employee benefits
A lack of certain employee benefits can also be a huge reason some women choose to leave their company. This can especially be the case in the tech industry as the majority of those in the tech industry are men and so might not understand or appreciate why certain benefits may be a necessity for women.
Flexible working, remote working, maternity leave and pregnancy loss policies are examples of employee benefits that can be particularly important to women. Flexible and remote working can help women for multiple reasons, for example if they are going through menstruation or menopause. They may be more comfortable working from home or if they are suffering badly, they may be better off taking time off when symptoms are bad and making the time up later when they are feeling better.
The company culture
It's not surprising that the company culture in a lot of (tech) companies is very male-dominated. Women can feel on the outside at work due to their work environment being mostly men.
There are a few experiences that stick in my mind related to this, but one in particular was when I was the only woman on the team during a team-building exercise - an escape game. We worked together to solve the puzzle and everything seemed to be going well. When it came time for the group photos, one of my colleagues found an “adult magazine” and thought it would be fun to open it at a particularly explicit page and include it in the photo. None of the others said anything. All I could think of to say at the time was “really?” and I didn’t mention it to anyone afterwards because I had no idea what to say and whether or not anyone would take it seriously.
Christie tells us :
“I was once asked [during a job interview] if I was in the process of losing or gaining weight, and asked to pose for a photo which the hiring manager showed to other male members of the team to make sure I was pretty enough to join.”
If you’re willing to share, could you raise your hand if you’ve had an experience that made you uncomfortable because of the male-dominated culture in a company you’ve worked for?
Keep your hand up if it’s happened more than once
More than 5 times?
So many times that you’ve lost count?
Thank you for sharing
[Note that Karen and Lætitia both raised their hands and kept them raised throughout this exchange, as did a significant number of people in the audience]
Lack of female role models or mentors
The longer it takes to increase [the in tech-related jobs], the longer it will take for there to be a significant amount of female role models for the younger generations to look up to and have the desire to follow in their footsteps. Role models are important as they can be a powerful force for social learning and can help influence their decisions. They also play a large role in motivating people to achieve their goals as they can see that it is possible. 
Low pay/gender pay gap
As we saw, in the UK, the tech industry’s gender pay gap is 16%, which is even higher than the national average.
In particular, recent studies  have shown that the largest gender pay gap in tech is in early careers, with women under 25 earning on average 29% less than males their age.
The Real World
“We fixed everything in the real world so all women are happy and powerful.”
Arriving at Venice Beach, Barbie starts to feel uncomfortable as she notices men staring at her. She punches a man for groping her, leading to her and Ken's brief arrest.
Mattel's CEO is alerted to Barbie and Ken’s presence and orders their recapture.
Barbie tracks down her owner, a tween girl named Sasha, who criticizes her for encouraging unrealistic beauty standards:
“You have been making women feel bad about themselves since you were invented”
Barbie is shocked to realise that she didn’t actually change the world through inspiring women to do anything, and to find out that unlike Barbieland, women don’t run the real world.
Unfortunately, as women out here in the real world, we’re all too aware of that.
For example, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been spoken over in meetings. I’m not alone in this. Many respondents to the 2023 Women in Tech survey  reported feeling overlooked or interrupted by the men in the company.
One said: “I am the only female manager in my company’s management meetings – yet I am frequently spoken over, cut off, or not given the time to raise my concerns.”
I heard at least twice in my career "We tried hiring a woman for that role and she was not good, so we won't hire a woman again."
20 years into my career as a DBA, my role on a project was the “database expert” (not a title I gave myself). Despite that, and the fact that I was constantly given glowing reviews for my work, a (male) colleague from a different project was called into a meeting by the (male) project manager because they “needed some database expertise”.
As a database expert, I know some things. If I don’t know, I simply say it and look for the answer. I had a project manager who, each time I said something about databases, called a colleague to double check. The colleague was embarrassed because he was less qualified than myself and he knew it.
Irrepressible Thoughts of Death Barbie
Barbie discovers that it was Sasha’s mother Gloria, a Mattel employee, who inadvertently caused her existential crisis. Gloria was playing with Sasha’s old Barbie toys whilst upset about her strained relationship with her daughter, and began designing new dolls such as “Irrepressible Thoughts of Death Barbie”, and “Crippling Shame Barbie”. It was these thoughts that found their way into Barbieland.
As we saw, a huge majority of women suffer from imposter syndrome, and this can be particularly prominent for women in tech.
A 2022 BBC worklife article  discusses the links between imposter syndrome and a high risk of burnout and research that indicates “ingrained biases and a lack of diversity” can mean that “under-represented and ethnic minority groups are particularly affected” 
Put in a Box
The Mattel executives attempt to put Barbie in a toy box for remanufacturing, but she escapes with Gloria and Sasha's help and they travel to Barbieland with the Mattel executives in pursuit.
Putting Barbie (literally) in a box, to put her back in what the Mattel executives thought was her rightful place, is a very clear metaphor for women being put in the box demanded of them by society.
Even where girls and women aren’t subjected to actual discrimination, they’re continually bombarded by unhelpful gender stereotypes. We’d be here all day if we tried to cover all examples of this, so let’s stick to a couple that are specifically careers-related.
This is a careers special that my kids were sent a few years ago as part of their “Petit Quotidien” children’s newspaper subscription. Just on the front page, we see a female dressmaker, a male fighter pilot, and a movie set where 10 out of 11 roles are illustrated as men. As you can imagine, it doesn’t improve as you go through. And this is still on sale, “educating” our children!
A few years ago, I was excited to hear that the BBC was airing a couple of episodes of a program called “Girls Can Code” as part of their “Make it Digital” season. What I wasn’t expecting was to find myself shouting at the TV because (a) there was no coding involved and (b) they chose things like jewellery, fashion and makeup to show why tech could be exciting for girls.
One way in which women are frequently stereotyped is by being assumed to be responsible for the majority of childcare. I was constantly asked about my family and family plans during job interviews, even though it is totally illegal. Questions very direct like “Do you have children? How many?” Worse than that, my engineering school trained me to have the “correct” answer to family plan questions!
I was lucky enough to only be asked once in a job interview in my twenties if/when I was planning to start a family. On the other hand, I was often asked things like “who’s looking after the children?” when I was away on work trips.
Meanwhile, during Barbie’s capture and escape, Ken discovers the patriarchy and feels respected and powerful for the first time. People suddenly call him “sir” and ask for his advice or help.
When Ken learns that he can’t just walk his way into a job as a banker or doctor without any qualifications, he decides that if he can’t participate in the patriarchy in the real world, he’ll bring the philosophy back to Barbieland.
Back in Barbieland, he redecorates Barbie’s Dreamhouse into what he dubs his Mojo Dojo Casa House and he persuades the other Kens to take over and turn Barbieland into his Kendom.
The Barbies are indoctrinated into submissive roles, such as agreeable girlfriends, housewives, and maids. Barbie arrives home and is horrified. She tries, and fails, to convince everyone to return to the way things were and becomes depressed.
Unfortunately, women in tech often experience sexism in the workplace.
I was hired to a company that was particularly toxic. They had noticed something was wrong and decided out of the blue that adding a woman to the team would smooth things up… Guess what? It didn’t work.
In this company, interns went very often to ask me questions. It was very basic questions, but as a database expert, I took the time to answer all of them… Until a colleague told me to stop because the interns were actually testing my skills!
Gloria’s frustrated monologue about society's conflicting expectations of women raised cheers in cinemas around the world:
"It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong."
"You have to be thin, but not too thin...You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass."
"You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time."
"You have to be a career woman, but also always be looking out for other people."
"You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood."
"But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful."
"You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard! It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you!"
"And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault."
"I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us."
In our tech roles, we often don’t feel good enough, so we work harder, take on more responsibility, volunteer more… and end up burning out and being seen as weak or “too emotional”.
Gloria’s speech restores Barbie's self-confidence, and with the assistance of Sasha, Weird Barbie, Allan, and the discontinued dolls, Gloria's speech deprograms the Barbies from their indoctrination.
We all, whatever our gender, need to unlearn our internalised sexism and stereotyped ideas. We can start by being aware of it (for example by taking the implicit bias tests mentioned earlier) and by challenging ourselves on it whenever we notice it.
And there are things we can do as women to help reprogram ourselves. One example is to avoid taking on too much and becoming overwhelmed. I only recently learnt about the “4Ds of time management”, and I think that this is a great mantra:
Delete, Delegate, Delay
- Delete tasks that won’t help you achieve your goals
- Delegate tasks that can be handled by someone else
- Delay (or Defer) important tasks that aren’t urgent
- (Finally, the 4th D, Do the urgent and important tasks on your list)
In the duchess group, one of the women in tech groups I belong to, we created punch card for each member, so that when they reached 10 times they had said no in the workplace, they were entitled to cheers and an ice cream.
Let’s help each other to reduce our workload here and now. You can just have a think and make a mental note:
What’s something on your to-do list that can be deleted?
How about something that can be delegated to someone else?
What’s one thing that you can delay because it’s not as urgent or important as other things on your list?
“When I found out the patriarchy wasn’t about horses, I lost interest anyway”
Fortunately, Ken’s easily distracted by acting out war games with the other Kens, so the Barbies are able to prevent the boys from enshrining male superiority into Barbieland's constitution, and they can take back Barbieland.
There are some things we can do to help women to gain power:
The Cambridge dictionary  defines allyship as
“The quality or practice of helping or supporting other people who are part of a group that is treated badly or unfairly, although you are not yourself a member of this group”
It goes on to say that
“Allyship means using your power, position or privilege to uplift others”
Men in leadership positions can show allyship by advocating for gender equity or for a particular woman colleague.
Both male and female mentors can help empower women in their careers
Allies can use their voice to make sure women are heard, for example advocating for Karen in a meeting by saying something like “Karen had a great idea about that. She said…”
Amplification goes one better. An ally could encourage others to listen to the only woman in a meeting by saying something like: “I’d love to hear what Sonia has to say about that”
Barbie and Ken apologise to each other, acknowledging their mistakes. Barbie encourages Ken to find his own sense of purpose and identity without Barbie - to be Kenough.
Having now experienced systemic oppression for themselves, the Barbies resolve to rectify the faults of their previous society, emphasising better treatment of the Kens and all outcasts
Still, when the Kens ask to be a part of the Supreme Court, the Barbies say no, but they can have a smaller leadership role. This is historically a message that women have been told!
Although we still have a long way to go in our imperfect real world, things are gradually changing. Not so many years ago, pretty much all of the faces returned by a Google image search for “software developer” were men. When I did a similar search last month, 7 out of the first 24 faces (almost 30%) appear to be women.
Meaningful Change (in PostgresLand)
There are some good initiatives in the Postgres community aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion:
There’s a PostgreSQL Code of Conduct, overseen by the PostgreSQL Code of Conduct Committee  . There are three women on the CoC, including the chair.
The US PostgreSQL Association has a Diversity Committee  with a mission to “promote an inclusive environment in the PostgreSQL community through outreach programs and the support of educational endeavors for underrepresented PostgreSQL users in the United States.”
Some PostgreSQL Conferences, for example pgDay Paris, work to encourage as many women as possible to submit talks and to be a part of the organisation and talk selection committees. The 2023 pgDay Paris organisation team was all women, and the speaker lineup was 50% women. Other conferences, for example this one (PGConf EU) have made childcare available  to encourage inclusivity.
Postgres Women  is a group without any legal existence that aims at encouraging and supporting women to become active members of the PostgreSQL community and fostering recognition of their contribution to PostgreSQL.
The speaking at PostgreSQL conferences has increased significantly over the past 10 years. To create this chart, I’ve looked at information available on the websites of PostgreSQL community conferences across Europe. I’ve tried to identify the percentage of women speakers based on knowledge of the speakers or best-guess of gender (since we don’t actually ask speakers or participants to share their gender or other information that would help us to track how well we’re doing in terms of representation).
Meaningful Change (in Tech)
Other tech communities have educational programmes aimed at encouraging girls and women to pursue careers in tech. A good example of this is Django Girls .
“Django Girls is a non-profit organization and a community that empowers and helps women to organize free, one-day programming workshops by providing tools, resources and support.”
Unfortunately, some programmes, although well-meaning, still don’t get it right. Isabelle Collet (a professor at the University of Geneva) recently shared that she was invited to speak about “girls in tech” at an event in Paris. She noted that of the 5 people in the illustration advertising the event, 4 (including the instructor) are depicted as white males. A black girl appears to have been added as an afterthought, partially cut off the edge of the image.
Gloria wants to see an ordinary Barbie. A Barbie that reflects the everyday struggles of women. Ordinary Barbie isn’t the president, or an astronaut, or a supermodel - she just “wants a flattering top, and to get through the day feeling kind of good about herself.”
The message that girls and women can do anything and be anything is supposed to be empowering, but causes so many of us to believe that we should always be aspiring to great things and that we need to do everything.
I want "normal" role models as it's too difficult to identify with a genius like Marie Curie, for example!
Let’s embrace being good enough, and getting through the day feeling kind of good about ourselves.
I’ve often said “I’d like to work with more mediocre women”
Of course, we don’t necessarily aspire to having mediocre colleagues, but it would be nice if our fellow women in tech didn’t always feel the need to excel, to shine, to stand out. It would be amazing if they (we) could just quietly get on with being ordinary.
“I want to be a part of the people that make meaning, not the thing that is made.”
Obviously, Barbie is a Hollywood movie, so there’s the usually schmaltzy “everything turned out perfectly” ending. Barbie, still unsure of her own identity, meets with the spirit of Ruth Handler, Mattel co-founder and creator of the Barbie doll, who explains that Barbie's story has no set ending.
Barbie decides she wants to become human and return to the real world, saying “I want to be a part of the people that make meaning, not the thing that is made.” The Barbies, Kens, and Mattel executives all wave her off and wish her well.
How can we forge our own Hollywood ending?
The authors of Women in tech: The best bet to solve Europe’s talent shortage  acknowledge that
“This [the level of representation of women in tech] is a tough problem to solve. However, although there are no silver bullets, four interventions—redressing bias in the workforce, improving retention rates, reskilling women into tech roles, and bolstering girls in STEM classes earlier in their educational process—can have a significant impact.”
Even if we don’t have all the answers, now that you’re aware of some of the reasons that girls/women turn their backs on STEM subjects and some of the reasons that women are leaving their tech roles, we can all make sure we have conversations about those things and start finding ways to remove some of the barriers.
We saw some of the reasons that girls turn their backs on STEM subjects :
Girls get less support than boys for pursuing STEM careers
Even if you’re not a parent or teacher, there are things you can do to support and encourage girls who are interested in pursuing tech careers. Maybe you could create or support an organisation that encourages girls to consider a tech career? I enjoy helping RightsTech Women, an organisation based in Geneva, to run robotics or coding workshops for girls.
Girls are told that they aren’t good at STEM
I hope that teachers will gradually become aware of and work to challenge their implicit bias. If we want girls to consider careers in tech, we need them to believe in their abilities in STEM subjects.
Women ICT students feel isolated
Building a sense of community, a sisterhood, through initiatives such as women in technology groups could reduce feelings of isolation for women ICT students and help them to feel supported, included and safe.
And we saw some of the reasons women leave their tech roles:
Few opportunities for progression
We saw that many men believe there are already enough women in senior positions in technology, even though women are still very much in the minority in these roles. Raising awareness that there’s a problem will mean that people are more inclined to find ways to fix it.
The authors of the 2021 Harvard Business Review Article  mentioned earlier offer strategies for managers to overcome their own (often unconscious) gender biases and help both their male and female reports achieve their leadership potential.
Workers who are provided with regular positive and helpful feedback on performance, who feel able to discuss their challenges in an open environment and who have ready access to coaching and mentoring may find that imposter syndrome is lessened.
Lack of certain employee benefits
Organisations that offer benefits such as flexible working, remote working, maternity leave and pregnancy loss policies may find themselves more able to retain their workforce. Having a diverse group of people discussing benefits may help with understanding which benefits are particularly impactful to women.
The company culture
Being aware that the company culture in a lot of tech companies is very male-dominated and making an effort to make women feel welcome, comfortable and included can go a long way.
Lack of female role models or mentors
Female role models are important, especially for younger generations to aspire to. We can all take the time to share the accomplishments of the many amazing women in tech and to amplify their voices to make them more visible.
As women in tech, we can offer our services as mentors to encourage others to follow in our footsteps.
We can encourage more women to speak at conferences, and encourage conference organisers to challenge their unconscious gender bias when selecting a lineup so that more women are on stage sharing their experiences and expertise.
Gender pay gap
The gender pay gap is a complex issue and not one that we’re going to fix quickly, but let’s at least encourage open discussions around salary so that people are aware of the differences and know that there’s a problem to fix.
Careers coaches or agents could also be a useful tool for women to help them to know (and to believe in) their own worth, and to identify and achieve their career and salary goals
“It is the best day ever. So was yesterday, and so is tomorrow, and every day from now until forever.”
Things aren’t always easy for women in Ken’s Mojo Dojo Casa House. As we’ve seen:
- Women are underrepresented in tech
- Women leave the tech industry
- Women in tech experience gender bias or discrimination in the workplace
- Women in tech are paid less than their male counterparts
Maybe we can’t aspire to every day being the best day ever, but there are things we can do to help make the tech landscape a bit better every day for women and for all of us.
ReferencesAnd of course, because we're data people, we share references to the various papers, articles, reports and other resources used during the creation of this talk:
McKinsey Women in Tech - Solving Europe’s Talent Shortage
Article: 6 reasons why so many women leave tech jobs
Women in Tech Survey 2023:
Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace
Belle Derks, Colette Van Laar, Naomi Ellemers, The Leadership Quarterly, Volume 27, Issue 3, 2016, Pages 456-469, ISSN 1048-9843