• Blanca Zaragoza

Fighting sexual harassment in STEM - with STEM

What does it mean to be a woman in tech? It means a lot of work needs to be done in order for this question to someday be irrelevant.

You are reading Part II of II. If you want to read Part I, click here.

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In the first part of this series, we delved into the causes of systemic gendered discrimination in STEM careers at an early stage. Now we want to analyse why the 55% of women that complete their Master’s degree in STEM do not continue to pursue their goals in this sector.

The news is filled with cases of anonymous reporting. Media is the perfect amplifier to give them visibility so that those who have experienced any form of harassment can get together. More than that, it encourages people to step out and tell their story too. Movements, initiatives and non-profit organisations are key players to this revolution.

The recent figures and stats have been a heavy weight, but always remember: you are not alone and most importantly, you are not wrong. There is, as they say, strength in numbers. Gender discrimination and sexual harassment are currently on the spot and it’s time for the tech sector to roll up its' sleeves, look inwards and address these issues head-on.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Systematic intimidation, belittlement, discrimination and sexual violence. These are only a few harsh examples of sexual and gender harassment that women in particular have to bear at work, or outside of it, on a daily. This is also why white-collar women who fought to be their own bosses at times find their careers derailed by abuse and discrimination.

In Spain, women earn 13% less compared to their male counterparts, for similar work. Furthermore, 20 years after graduating, half of these women are employed compared to 90% of men.

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, explored in a TED Talk why women usually underestimate their capabilities. She states that it is due to the patriarchal education and lack of mentoring received, the "impostor syndrome", as it is called. Additionally, oftentimes men attribute their success to themselves, while women attribute it to other external forces. This behaviour translates into 57% of men entering the workforce for the first time negotiating their salary, in opposition to only 7% of women.

“Women in tech won’t apply for a job if they don’t feel they’re 100% qualified or have exactly the right experience. As a result, women end up moving horizontally while their male peers progress.” - Nicola Anderson, MyTutor

Susan Fowler detailed the sexual harassment she experienced and subsequent retaliation while working for Uber. Now she has published her book Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber where she digs deeper into the consequential events of not being believed by the HR team at the company and how they tried to convince her that she was the real problem. They alleged that the offender was a “high performer”, that it was his “first offence” and that they did not want to ruin his career. Although she was transferred to another team, her male managers provided low performance reports that prevented her from being promoted.

Women still only represent 22% of the Board of Directors and despite the number of female CEOs on Fortune 500 hitting its all-time record, still only 37 companies entering 2020’s list are led by women.

It has been proven that, it is not only required to have more female leaders as CEOs, but at least three female roles in executive boards, to allow for their ideas to be heard and seen. Valeria Domínguez, robotic engineer and founder of eCommerce consultancy Felino, finds a direct association between why there are just a few women in tech and maternity.

Technologies to drive change

The traditionally male-dominated STEM industry has been making slow progress over the past years in order to integrate more women into the sector. But can tech alone impact such a deeply-ingrained problem?

Certainly, it does contribute to its eradication, but a change of mind is also needed in our society as a whole. Firstly, to allow emerging technologies to become regulated and funded for such a necessary cause and secondly, so that generations to come do not have to go through the same situations we did.

For example, Callisto is an innovative digital tool that allows people who have experienced sexual assault to report it safely. It is grounded by the fact that it creates a blockchained, confidential and time-stamped documentation, which is then eligible for reporting if the target wishes so. The software operates as follows: when a person is mentioned several times as a perpetrator, it will flag up their name.

Susan Ladd, the founder of Callisto, aims to provide the tool nationally in the U.S., but it will not be possible without funding. Only 3% of venture capital funding goes to all-female teams, and the pandemic has exacerbated this situation, Playfair Capital informs. They want to redress that imbalance.

This issue could also be solved with the female-created native VR, Uturn VR, a Virtual Reality tool that can be accessed freely through Oculus Store and Microsoft Mixed Reality headsets, which presents two angles of a story: male and female. The idea came to their mind as they wanted men to get involved in solving the systemic sexual harassment environment and gendered discrimination in tech, because it is also their problem. They found out that most men do not understand gender issues because they have not experienced them for themselves. This is their blind spot.

© Google Images

Uturn VR aims to reach the male audience while giving women a powerful voice in this format, as it could inspire other women and girls to be involved in technology. This medium could thus foster the dialogue around these issues by providing an inclusive and engaging environment.

But the key factor that is missing in this puzzle is a sense of community. This is why Google Developers of Georgia and UN Women brought together equality experts, IT specialists, web developers and designers to develop technological solutions to prevent and combat sexual harassment in the workplace as well as in public spaces.

And that is exactly the philosophy that we have created at Metta Space, a female-led company that integrates many different fields of study and promotes equal gender development opportunities for all.

We are also materialising tech-based solutions to help those who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, provide them with support post-incident and create a community so that no one has to feel alone.


Written By: Blanca Zaragoza, Research Ambassador at Metta Space

Edited By: Paula Koller-Alonso, Head of R&D at Metta Space

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