“In order to address issues that face women in tech, we have to look at it holistically across the ecosystem from encouraging leadership support and institutional accountability, down to increasing awareness of opportunities for those early in their careers and academia.” — Becca Friedman, HTC Vive
In honor of International Women’s Month, Contrast VR has been highlighting women driven content and stories. For us, particularly as a women led team, we believe in the essentiality of supporting a diversity of opinions and perspectives in order to advance conversation on gender equality.
This week, we explore what it means to be a woman in a heavily male-dominated tech landscape. We spoke to Becca Friedman, the Content Acquisition Manager for Viveport, HTC Vive’s app store for virtual reality, who is responsible for supporting VR creators and developers and building HTC Vive’s global VR content portfolio.
CONTRAST VR: You work in the heart of the tech industry. What has been the biggest challenges, and successes, of navigating the gender disparities in this industry?
BECCA FRIEDMAN: The National Center for Women & Information Technology found in its 2016 survey, that only 26% of the computing workforce was women, and less than 10% of them were women of color. This percentage has been in decline since it hit its peak in the early 90s. At the same time, the rates of female interest and graduation in technically-driven baccalaureate degrees has been increasing in the last few years.
In my personal journey, I grew up with an interest in science and mathematics, however as I advanced in my education I found less support of that interest in my academic career. I was not made aware of most opportunities to apply my interests in tangible ways. And in several positions early in my career I was offered opportunities that leadership deemed more appropriate for my gender. In one experience, as I previously worked in film & television, when interning on a feature film I was offered a spot to shadow the wardrobe and art direction teams. My male counterparts were encouraged to shadow the grip/electric and camera departments.
Now that I work in tech, I have found that most of the gender disparities I’ve faced have been in the form of unconscious bias. It is not uncommon to take a meeting with men at the same level and feel a need to prove my value in order to be heard, or have male counterparts reiterate a statement I’ve made in order for it to gain acceptance. With that said, in my current role our female to male ratio is near 50%, and I am fortunate to have a strong female head of department and example of success in tech.
In VR I have seen many organically derived organizations for women, such as “Women in VR/AR”, and a growing number of females in the field that are greatly increasing the visibility of females in VR as well as perception that as a female I have both a community and chance for success. And with that, I have seen a large number of male allies participating in these discussions and working with women to fight gender bias in the workplace.
Why is it important for the tech industry to be more diverse? How can we decrease the gender gap?
“The tech industry represents innovation and possibility. It is difficult to determine what is possible without a healthy range of perspectives and experiences. As such, diversity in the tech industry leads to a broader variety of opportunities and ideas necessary for true innovation.”
In its 2016 update to the Women In Tech report, NCWIT found that the quit rate for women in tech hit 41%, more than double that of men at 17%. The study further elaborates that the reasons behind this quit rate were tied to workplace conditions, lack of access to key roles, and a feeling of being stalled in one’s career. Even before addressing any issues relative to entering the field, the retention rate is low.
A 2017 ISACA report looked at the barriers in perception and experience for women in technology. The study found that perception of tech as a male-dominated field, and lack of female leadership and role models was the largest factor in underrepresentation. Followed by a perceived lack of work/life balance, and minimal encouragement from educational institutions for girls to pursue tech careers. In terms of barriers, among the top five barriers for women in tech included lack of mentorship, gender bias in the workplace, and unequal growth opportunities and pay.
To decrease the gender gap we need to increase inclusion, and improve workplace environments and awareness of opportunities available to women. In order to address issues that face women in tech, we have to look at it holistically across the ecosystem from encouraging leadership support and institutional accountability, down to increasing awareness of opportunities for those early in their careers and academia. Companies should take a closer look at their recruiting process for intended and unintended biases, reevaluate their training and growth programs, and foster more inclusive communities.
Do you see a difference between the role of women in the larger tech industry and in the VR industry?
Though my personal frame of reference between VR and the greater tech industry is small, it’s not hard to see the numerical disparity in gender simply by attending any major tech conference. I have found that in VR, I have encountered a larger number of women, relatively speaking, than in the rest of the tech industry.
VR, with its potential in many fields, seems more connected to industries that historically do have higher quantities of women, like the arts, healthcare, education, and training, so bridging the gap is perceptively less challenging than other tech fields. VR is also a younger branch of tech such that there are fewer established barriers as we’re still developing the rules and figuring out what works and doesn’t.
And if we’re looking at stereotypical traits for women as being more empathetic and intuitive, with technology lauded by many as an “empathy machine,” it seems natural that woman may have the upper hand in development here.
How do you see the future role of women in this industry?
I’m optimistic about the future role of women in tech and VR. I moved into tech because I found female leaders/role models I admire, and discovered opportunities for inclusion in the greater tech community. Though much of this may be due to the fact that I was actively seeking these sources of inspiration, I have found — now that I’m here — a movement afoot to continue this spread.
The enrollment statistics for women in technical degree fields are encouraging, as are the observed emphasis on STEM education for females in schools as well as through toys, media, and other mechanisms. And especially having seen so many vocal and passionate women in tech and VR — many of whom I’m fortunate to work with in my role — that are leading the charge, the path has been forged for a more inclusive future. I look forward to seeing where we are in the next few years.