Though it may seem that more and more women are beginning to hold top roles in the tech industry, Sue Gardner, former executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, stresses that this, in fact, is not the case.
While serving as the director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Gardner addressed the issue of gender bias at Wikipedia, and she continues to advocate for women and other underrepresented groups, especially in the technology industry.
“Women’s participation in the tech industry peaked in 1989, and it’s been falling ever since,” Gardner said in a recent interview.
What the research shows, Gardner said, is that when the tech industry began making large profits, men rushed in and pushed women out of their roles. Gardner says companies need to be more open about their hiring practices.
“What my lived experience tells me, and also what the research says, is that, if you have rules in an industry or in a profession, it is more friendly to people who are otherwise going to be underrepresented,” she said.
In her view, tech companies need a more transparent hiring process.
“You are likelier to have a fair sort of level playing field type of experience that is to the benefit of women and people from minority groups because otherwise, they’d get shoved out. That is where tech is at right now—the shoving out phase.”
Gardner says people in power are in a position to make things better, and those in these underrepresented groups can form peer support and mentoring groups, too. However, this problem cannot be solved by individuals alone.
“It’s systematic. It’s industry-wide, and so it needs to get solved by a whole bunch of companies reorienting themselves and changing, fundamentally, at a deep level, their culture and their practices. And that is really hard, but that is the fix. It’s a structural issue, not an individual issue, and so it needs a system-wide fix.”
Named as the 70th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine in 2012, Gardner now is helping to develop a strategic plan for Tor Project Inc., a nonprofit organization that maintains free software for anonymous communication.
In addition to serving as the director of the Wikimedia Foundation from 2007 to 2014, Gardner served as director of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s website and online news channel.
Despite her concerns about the current status of women and underrepresented groups in tech, she’s hopeful.
“There are signs where things are changing a little bit. Usually it’s the CEO who changes them,” she said. “It really requires the CEO to make it a priority, and in the tech industry right now, that means it requires a number of CEOs across the industry to make changes.”
Pepper Taylor received a bachelor’s degree in communication with an emphasis in public relations. She is pursuing her master’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in integrated marketing communications at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi. She also serves as the graduate assistant to the Dr. Debora Wenger, assistant dean for Innovation & External Partnerships and associate professor of Journalism at the Meek School. Contact her at email@example.com.