Breaking down systemic barriers in tech

Thursday, February 22, 2024

In the tech world, systemic barriers present challenges to achieving equity and inclusion, especially for underrepresented groups like women. In acknowledging the complexity of women's experiences in tech, it's essential to recognise that women are not a uniform group. They represent a diverse array of backgrounds, identities, and experiences – but for the sake of this post, we will focus on a broader discussion of women in general. We aim to honour the diversity within the women's community while recognising that our focus may not capture the full spectrum of individual experiences. It's crucial to continue exploring and amplifying the voices of women from all walks of life to ensure a more inclusive understanding and representation.

In this blog post, we'll delve into what systemic barriers are, how they manifest in the IT industry, and strategies to overcome them, all in the context of empowering more women to pursue careers in tech

Table of contents:

  • What are systemic barriers?
  • Systemic barriers to equity and inclusion
  • The systemic barriers in IT
  • How do you overcome systemic barriers?

What are systemic barriers? 

Systemic barriers refer to ingrained structures, policies, and practices within societies or organisations that systematically disadvantage certain groups while privileging others. They are often deeply ingrained in the fabric of society, promoting inequality and hindering equal opportunities for all individuals. Systemic barriers intersect with other forms of discrimination, such as race, ethnicity, sexuality, and ability, which increases the challenges faced by different minorities. By amplifying inequality and limiting equal opportunities for all individuals, systemic barriers not only hinder social progress but also undermine the principles of fairness, justice, and inclusivity. Addressing systemic barriers requires a comprehensive approach that involves challenging ingrained beliefs and practices, implementing inclusive policies and initiatives, and fostering a culture of diversity and equity within societies and organisations.


Systemic barriers to equity and inclusion

Systemic barriers to equity and inclusion encompass a range of structures, policies, and practices within societies. Women, for example, encounter barriers such as gender bias in hiring and promotion processes, lack of representation in leadership positions, and limited access to resources and opportunities for career advancement. According to the United Nations, only 67 countries have laws against gender discrimination in hiring practices. In addition to discrimination in hiring, women also face unequal pay. Changing this would benefit world economies tremendously. According to the United Nationsif women played an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much as US$28 trillion, or 26 per cent, could be added to the global annual Gross Domestic Product by 2025”.


The systemic barriers in IT

The field of Information Technology (IT) is not immune to systemic barriers. Despite efforts to promote diversity and inclusion, women remain significantly underrepresented in IT roles in many markets. The lack of female role models and mentors, coupled with a culture that often prioritises technical knowledge over “soft skills”, further complicates this. Additionally, workplace environments that tolerate or perpetuate sexism and discrimination contribute to a hostile climate for women in IT.

All these barriers create a difficult environment that discourages women from entering or staying in the tech industry, perpetuating the gender gap. Breaking down these systemic barriers is essential for creating a more inclusive and equitable tech industry, where women can fully participate, contribute, and excel on equal footing with their male counterparts.


How do you overcome systemic barriers?

Overcoming systemic barriers requires a multifaceted approach that addresses both individual and systemic factors.

Overcoming systemic barriers on an organisational level

Organisations must prioritise diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, implementing policies and practices that promote gender equality at all levels. This includes proactive recruitment strategies to attract diverse talent and implementing bias-free hiring processes. Organisations should also ensure that women receive equal pay and opportunities for advancement within IT organisations. They should conduct regular pay equity assessments and address any disparities to ensure fair and equitable treatment for all employees. It is also important to offer flexible work arrangements, such as remote work options and flexible hours, to accommodate the diverse needs and responsibilities of women in IT, including caregiving responsibilities and work-life balance. Companies should also advocate for increased representation of women in leadership positions and decision-making roles within IT organisations. It is important to highlight the achievements and contributions of women in the industry to challenge stereotypes and promote positive role models.

Furthermore, creating a supportive and inclusive workplace culture is essential for retaining women in tech. This involves fostering internal mentoring programmes, as well as cross-organisational programmes like the RightBrains Growth and Mentor Programme, which provides opportunities for skill and career advancement, and actively challenging stereotypes and biases within the organisation.

Overcoming systemic barriers on an individual level

On an individual level , women in tech can also take proactive steps to navigate and challenge systemic barriers. People often think they don’t have the power to change the system. Alice Walker, renowned author of the beloved novel ‘The Color Purple’, summarises this well by saying: "The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any." Networks and platforms for women in tech, including RightBrains, can help women find a safe supportive community where women can share their experiences and knowledge, can help women realise their collective potential and move the needle in addressing systemic barriers. 


Systemic barriers pose significant challenges to achieving gender equity and inclusion in the tech industry. However, by recognising and addressing these barriers head-on, we can pave the way for a more diverse and inclusive future. Through collective action and commitment to change, we can create an environment where women are empowered to excel and contribute their unique perspectives to the field of technology. Let us continue to strive towards a future where systemic barriers are a thing of the past, and all individuals have an equal opportunity to succeed in tech.

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By Milica van Leeuwen Bobic

Milica van Leeuwen Bobic is a contributing author for RightBrains and supports our mission of promoting gender balance in digital technology. Holding two Master's degrees and with years of working in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) space, she offers a unique perspective on topics like social justice and organisational D&I.