The Good That Comes With More Women in Tech

Feb 24 • Case Studies

Iterators Employees at CIC

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) is one of the most important and timely topics companies are addressing today. HR departments are actively recruiting diverse talent and companies are hiring DE&I leaders, as well as training managers to build inclusive teams. Iterators LLC has recognized DE&I since its inception. We were founded on the principle that people with diverse backgrounds enhance and strengthen software testing outcomes. Being a women-owned small business (WOSB) presents both advantages and challenges in the technology field. Just as with people in neurodiverse groups, "traditional" companies often perceive women to be either less qualified in this field or to have received special treatment if successful.

In October 2020, we were contacted and asked to complete a request for proposal (RFP) for the software testing part of a satellite positioning project for the United States Air Force Air University. It was exciting as the RFP included a WOSB (the federal government's goal is to award five percent or more of contracting dollars to WOSBs annually [1]. Based on our experience, we thought we had a good chance of being awarded the grant.

Women are under-represented in the technology industry. In addition to the opportunity to work on cutting-edge technology for the government, we were thrilled that Iterators' diversity of testers (women, neurodivergent, and BIPOC employees) would augment the diversity of thought needed for a project like this. This diversity could further influence the field in coming years.

When there's a lack of diversity in the room, critical ideas and opinions can be missed. One example of that is, in 2019, information was leaked to The Guardian by an Apple Siri grader who found that “Apple has instructed those working on its Siri digital assistant to design it to ‘deflect’ questions about hot-button issues such as feminism.”[2] Sam Smethers, former chief executive of The Fawcett Society, a UK-based organization advocating for gender equality and women’s rights, said, "The problem with Siri, Alexa and all of these AI tools is that they have been designed by men with a male default in mind…. This won’t change until they recruit significantly more women into the development and design of these technologies.[3]

Only one out of four jobs in the IT industry are held by women, and women in the field earn 29% less than men in the same roles.[4] There are numerous reasons for this, including that women typically undersell themselves and continue to face sexism and challenges when having families in the workplace. Ultimately, this negatively impacts overall performance, as it denies access to a network of individuals with valuable thoughts and experiences.

One of the most impactful advantages of supporting a WOSB is the diversity of thought this additional perspective can bring. Many individuals read the word “advantage” to mean an edge or benefit that is unfair because programs such as WOSBs even exist, as opposed to the diversity of thought being an advantage for diversity, equity, and inclusion. As stated in a Harvard Business Review article titled Research: Small Wins Can Make a Big Impact on Gender Equality, “Many men seem to think sufficient progress has been made and that women now enjoy equal standing and opportunity. Women, on the other hand, still perceive a highly unequal workplace rife with systematic barriers.”[5].

Employee at Iterators LLC

Marketing and advertising firms recognize that women make more decisions regarding the home and products than men and, hence, cater their advertising to women of households as the decision makers. According to Marti Barletta, “Women already buy the majority of products in almost every category. They are responsible for 80% of consumer spending.”[6] Clearly, companies would benefit from acknowledging—and acting on—this wealth of diversity by employing more WOSBs and women to gain different points of view and insights that could positively impact their bottom line.

Employee at Iterators LLC

Going back to the RFP we submitted, we were not awarded the contract. Upon asking for a debrief, we were told all three RFPs submitted were technically acceptable and the company selected gave the best price. Determining who is awarded a grant solely based on the best price is just one example of the challenges of bidding for government contracts, especially when WOSBs and women are under-represented. The RFP defined the cost of the project at $100,000, and while we were under the not-to-exceed estimate, we were unaware the determination would be based solely on price.

I'm often asked as a WOSB owner and employer by competitors if we get all our work from “set-asides”. When I hear that, I perceive our work as being discounted, assuming we are not as good as our competitors, and receive special treatment. Thinking about the concept of small wins, a win might be if competitors cease to ask if our success is due to set-asides and simply say, “well done” when we finally are awarded a grant. And, because we know our worth, we’ll stick with our knitting, on pricing.

[1] Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program (sba.gov)

[2] The Guardian.businessinsider.com/apple Designed-Siri-to-Deflect-Questions-about-feminism

[3] Apple made Siri deflect questions on feminism, leaked papers reveal | Apple | The Guardian

[4] 17+ Women in Technology Statistics to Know in 2020 (leftronic.com)

[5] https://hbr.org/2020/11/research-small-wins-can-make-a-big-impact-on-gender-equality

[6] Blog | Marti Barletta | World's Foremost Expert on Today's Mightiest Market – Women

About the Author

Jill Willcox began her career as a registered nurse, working as a liaison between health insurance companies and patients with catastrophic-changing injuries. After moving to the greater New England area, Jill started a women-owned small business (WOSB) named Iterators LLC. Iterators LLC has been recognized for its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) efforts since its inception adding to better outcomes for their clients.

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