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Reviving Equality: the Rehabilitation of Women in Tech

by Marco van der Hoeven

In the world of technology, the role of women has a rich history that often goes unnoticed. Over time, various societal influences and shifts in the tech landscape have led to a dwindling presence of women in the industry. In a conversation with Johanna Spiller, CEO & Co-Founder at Alyx, Rocking Robots discusses the challenges faced by women in the tech sector, and the multifaceted approach needed to tackle these issues head-on.

“Historically, women have always played a significant role in technology’, says Johanna Spiller, CEO & Co-Founder at Alyx. “In the early 1900s, most tech-related jobs were predominantly held by women, making up over 70% of the tech workforce. These roles were perceived as administrative, like the ‘cable girls’. During the First and Second World Wars, with men on the battlefronts, women took on many of the jobs left behind, including those in technology.”

“However, as technology evolved, especially during the Cold War era, its importance grew. When the soldiers returned, they needed employment. By the time the 1970s arrived, with the emergence of tech icons like Steve Jobs and the tech giants we know today, there was a significant push to employ men in the sector. They often received higher titles and salaries for the same roles, gradually edging women out. This transition led to the misconception that women were never a significant part of the tech industry.”

Societal influences

During the 70s, 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, the presence of women in tech was scarcely acknowledged. Societal influences played a part too. “There’s a prevailing notion that math is for men while languages are for women. Presently, the challenge is twofold. Firstly, only about 10-12% of tech graduates are women, and there’s fierce competition among employers for this limited talent pool. Many of these women are recruited in their third year with attractive sign-on bonuses. To achieve a balanced workforce, there’s a need to enlarge this talent pool. Thankfully, retraining programs are now emerging to address this gap. Secondly, even when women enter the tech field, retaining them is another challenge.”

She gives an example out of her own experience “While I’m not a tech professional, I had the opportunity to work at global corporate tech company early in my career. Our department boasted 30% women in technical roles, a commendable statistic for that period. However, a concerning trend was the early dropout rate among these women. Many were the only female members of their development teams. This isolation, where no one shared their experiences or perspectives, often made them feel alienated. It fostered a sense of not belonging, leading many to question their fit in the tech world. I’ve witnessed numerous women leaving, exhausted from the constant effort to be acknowledged and heard.”


She emphasizes it is crucial to understand that the challenges women face in tech aren’t due to any deliberate antagonism from male colleagues. “However, many companies are hasty in their approach to gender diversity. They’re eager to hire more women without addressing the underlying cultural issues. Diversity, while beneficial, can be challenging to manage. Firms often neglect the internal adjustments required to genuinely foster an inclusive environment, mistakenly believing that merely increasing female hires will suffice. This approach is flawed.”

“Our trainees, who work with various clients, regularly share their experiences. Even in 2023, some recount instances of inappropriate conversations reminiscent of ‘locker room talk’. Intriguingly, blatant sexism isn’t always the primary concern. Many women feel patronized or ‘babied’,  which erodes their confidence and perpetuates self-doubt.”


Leadership plays a pivotal role in driving cultural change. “While individual managers might champion gender diversity, without top-down support, their efforts remain isolated. If a woman’s positive work experience hinges solely on a single supportive manager, transferring to another team could drastically alter her work environment, potentially prompting her departure.”

“What often transpires is that these companies invest in hiring women, but when these women leave due to an unsupportive culture, it breeds a sentiment of unreliability. The next time they hire, there might be an unconscious bias, questioning the commitment of female hires. This perpetuates a cycle. Worse still, some companies might resort to hiring women for lower-tier tech roles or non-technical positions, like tech support or business roles. It’s a skewed approach to meeting diversity quotas, pushing women back into supporting roles instead of core technical ones.”

This mechanism also affects other diversity challenges in the corporate world. “Despite being highly educated, some individuals have been long-term unemployed due to conditions like autism, ADHD, or mental health challenges. The pattern is strikingly similar. A manager might decide to hire someone with autism, perhaps motivated by personal experiences or influenced by stereotypes about their capabilities.”


“However, without proper preparation and support for the team, the manager, and the individual, the arrangement often fails. The individual might become overwhelmed, the team frustrated, and the manager left justifying the unsuccessful hire to senior leadership. This can lead to hesitancy in future diverse hiring, with comments like ‘Let’s just hire someone conventional; it’s less complicated’. This mindset isn’t exclusive to gender diversity but is prevalent in broader diversity contexts.”

To address these challenges a multi-faceted approach is needed, encompassing societal, organizational, and individual levels. “On an individual basis, we prioritize training our women, not just in technical skills — because that’s rarely the issue — but also in resilience. We pair them with senior women in tech, offering them a platform to discuss both their aspirations and any challenges they face. Even though they work at our partner companies, they return to us every other week for an ‘Alyx Day’, giving them the chance to share their workplace experiences.”

Her aim is creating significant impact. “We prioritize training exceptional women, ensuring they stand out in the tech market. Rather than scaling for quantity, our focus is on quality. By placing top-tier talent, we aim to challenge and shift existing perceptions. Currently, we have 20 active trainees collaborating with esteemed partners. As we expand, our goal is to be the market leader for diverse talent.”

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