We are at the end of another year of disturbance and turmoil, which again left women with less and unequal opportunities to participate in all aspects of life. Much has been said on the topic, but almost nothing was done. Despite the public buzz and apparent global efforts to raise awareness on the topic of women empowerment and equality, this still remains just another trendy subject to discuss, when businesses, governments and organizations want to brush off and polish their image and performance. Indeed, for another consecutive year, women in the tech sector are again affected by unequal opportunities, silenced voice, and underrated presence. Sadly, out of professionality, fear of exclusion and desire for inclusion by ‘playing by the rules’, women in the tech and STEM sector (but also all sectors in general!) mainly remain quiet and leave the big issue unspoken, in order to be able to continue participating in professional ventures, even as second-rate players. It shouldn’t be a surprise who has been playing the main role in 2022!

As I constantly like to point out, it is high time for women to stand their ground and raise their voices for their equal share of the world! I said it in the beginning of 2022 and I regret to say it again at the end of 2022.

It is a very well-known fact that women are underrepresented in numerous significant spheres of our lives. A survey of more than 700 respondents conducted at the Women in Tech Lounge, sponsored by Toptal, at Web Summit – the largest tech conference in the world – found that equality and empowerment for women in the workplace is still lacking in 2022. 
Toptal is a network of the top freelance talent in business, design and technology and the largest remote workforce in the world. The company has a global network of talent in 140+ countries and serves more than 21,000 clients – from Fortune 500s to some of the biggest start-ups. It is no surprise that such a company is a great savior for women professionals, seeking both professional and personal realization.

Some very important findings come from Toptal’s survey. For example, regardless of the high demand for and necessity of work flexibility and opportunities for continuous learning, respondents state there is a lack of both in their professional endeavors. Moreover, based on the data collected during the survey, it can be concluded that businesses, governments and organizations need to put a lot more effort in creating equitable environments.

The results from this survey bear the after-effects of COVID-19 and can be interpreted in terms of the recent return-to-office mandates, high profile lay-offs and the trends of ‘silent quitting’ and ‘silent firing’. It is not to underestimate the effect of these phenomena, economic and social alterations and changes on the quality of work-life balance for women professionals in the tech field. This means lack or minimal existence of equitable opportunities for women in the field to be able to re-join the working life after COVID struck, without leaving their personal life duties and responsibilities.

In the light of the return-to-office mandates in 2022, women in the tech and STEM fields are again left with not much options, but to choose to sacrifice one or another aspect of their lives. As data shows (see charts below) work flexibility remains one of the biggest concerns. It is important to point out that, regardless the numerous facts and statistics, which clearly demonstrated that during the lockdowns the work-life balance of women and their performance in professional activities significantly improved because of the enhanced flexibility, offered by the out-of-office work, most companies have neglected these facts and have again tightened their remote work and flexible work policies.

The survey results also show that continuous learning presents another key gap area (scoring highest as self-reported importance to women in tech).  The current situation at the workplace in regards to this criterion is a huge disappointment for the female employees. As per Toptal’s data charts, the continuous learning gap occupies the second place for survey respondents, which means that employers and organizations not only can do a lot more to ensure equitable work environment, but also that they need to focus their efforts on assuring more learning and development opportunities for women in the workplace are created and made vastly available.

More findings from Toptal’s survey show that for women in technology the other key areas of importance are the presence and participation in high-visibility and high-impact projects, bias-free environment and access to female mentors, even though women respondents tend to value results more than optics.

The main propositions from Toptal’s Women in Tech survey suggest that companies can focus on creating better work conditions and achieve greater satisfaction in their female employees in the tech sector by offering flexible work policies, in order to attract and retain more female talents in the tech sector. More, employers should put greater focus on programs offering continuous learning and professional development in the workplace, so that they gain advantage over their competitors on the market. This can be achieved by crafting, for example, personalized learning paths and offering tuition reimbursement for women in the tech field.

A data chart from a survey by Toptal at the Women in Tech Lounge at Web Summit in 2022
A data chart from a survey by Toptal at the Women in Tech Lounge at Web Summit in 2022

The results of the Toptal survey are not able to clearly indicate that certain progress has been made in the last year. These facts reveal that a bigger change still needs to be achieved.
There are certain steps and actions that should be taken by everyone involved in the ecosystem, in order to overcome the existing gender inequality in the world and in the domain of technology and STEM specifically.

The first step is to break the stereotypes. The stereotypical thinking is at the root of the problem of misconception of the role of women in society, the jobs and activities that are ‘appropriate’ for them.
The second step is bridging the gender gap and it presents the next big challenging shift that must be called for. The gender gap exists notably in career opportunities and this is easily noticed when comparing the number of women studying and graduating in the STEM field and the number of women who manage to land jobs in the tech field and achieve real-life professional realization in the tech area.
A significant part of the existing gender gap is the pay gap. Still, the gender pay gap provenly exists even in the most advanced countries. Thus, the third step is rooted in overcoming the pay gap for women in tech and STEM.

The need for equal learning opportunities is one of the major pillars for the foundations of women equality. The issue of the absence of such opportunities is strongly interlinked with the deeply-rooted stereotypes concerning not only gender, but also geographical region, social status, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. When the efforts for breaking stereotypes and ensuring equal learning opportunities are successful, there will be more girls who choose to study STEM and later seek professional realization in the STEM field. A crucial means for achieving this aim is based on supporting and mentoring young talents – by both moral and financial means. Such support should start from the family, but society should also be highly active in aiding and supporting the future female professionals in the tech and STEM area and the aspiring female leaders of the world. 
There are already many positive examples of organizations which give women and girls access to educational resources and offer a lot of learning opportunities, thus the good example is already set in this direction.

However, real opportunity equality can’t be achieved without assuring greater work-life balance for all employees, especially when it comes to female professionals. The work-life balance should be improved by adequate parental leave policies. Employers should be urged to support new parents and allow flexibility when they return from leave. This can be only achieved through appropriate legislation, which is valid also as a means to overcome the pay gap.

Another step towards assuring equality and women empowerment is providing actual equality in terms of hierarchical growth for women. Seeing more women in top management and leadership positions is a vital part of the equality, diversity and inclusion movement. Sadly, the share of women in managerial positions is particularly low in occupations that are traditionally dominated by men.

To summarize, a slightly positive move towards increase in the number of women and girls in STEM can be witnessed over the last years. However, to reach the required level of maturity in the development of the human civilization, it is time for more power to be given in women’s hands, so that the world can become a more pleasant place to live in.
As I like to say, women are gentle and fair and such is their power, such would be also the world shaped by their hands!