Gender Bias in IT – are we still facing barriers?

Wednesday, May 22, 2024


Gender bias in the IT sector remains a deep issue with far-reaching implications for both individuals, organisations and the wider society. Despite advancements in technology and some change in societal norms, women continue to face significant barriers in accessing equal opportunities and fair treatment within the tech industry. From subtle biases in recruitment processes to systemic disparities in career advancement and compensation, the manifestations of gender bias are varied and deeply ingrained. This blog investigates the complicated nature of gender bias in IT, exploring its impact, underlying causes, and strategies for mitigation.

Table of contents

  • What is gender bias?
  • Gender bias in IT
  • Is gender bias a social issue, cognitive or ethical issue?
  • Mitigating gender bias
  • Conclusion

What is gender bias?

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) states that gender bias is a problem present worldwide, across regions, income, development levels and cultures. Gender bias in the workplace is defined by International Labour Organisation as “unintentional and automatic mental associations based on gender, stemming from traditions, norms, values, culture and/or experience”.  These automatic, often implicit and unconscious associations of people are quick assessments based on one’s gender and lead to favouritism toward or prejudice and stereotypes against other individuals.

Gender bias hinders growth

Gender bias perpetuates inequalities and hinders opportunities for marginalised groups. The UNDP’s report The Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI), which covered 85% of the world’s population, showed that close to 9 out of 10 men and women have fundamental biases against women. Next to this, 2 of 5 people believe that men are better business leaders compared to women. And let’s not forget about intersectionality. April Miller, a contributing author of HackerNoon sums it up well by saying “women who are part of ethnic or sexual orientation minorities are at an even bigger disadvantage because they face double the discrimination”. This multiple discrimination is based on their gender and on their ethnicity and/or sexuality.

Gender bias in IT

IT and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields are not immune to gender bias. Gender bias in IT manifests through various workplace aspects, from recruitment and promotion processes to workplace culture and project assignments. A 2024 report produced by SPR shows 73% of women in tech have experienced gender bias in the last year, and 1 in 4 women in tech experience gender discrimination monthly. This report states “the most common experiences of gender bias include interactions with coworkers, promotion or professional advancement, and salary”. Examples of these experiences include workplace gender-based harassment, women are being passed up for promotions even though they have more experience, and they get paid less compared to their male colleagues. Reflecting on the mentioned statistics, it is not surprising that 1 in 3 women in tech plans to leave their job in the next two years, underscoring the urgent need to promote gender diversity in the tech industry to harness diverse perspectives, mitigate turnover rates, and cultivate an inclusive and supportive environment for women to thrive and contribute.

Gender bias in AI

Studies have also highlighted disparities in the representation of women in STEM fields, including computer science and engineering, reflecting deep biases and systemic barriers. Moreover, implicit biases can influence the evaluation of technical competence, with women often facing skepticism or scrutiny regarding their abilities and contributions. These biases are sometimes worsened by advancements in technology, like generative AI, which have been shown to perpetuate gender bias. For instance, an UNESCO study examining various generative AI platforms, including ChatGPT by OpenAI, and Llama 2 by META, revealed clear evidence of bias against women in content generated by each of these Large Language Models. Analysing the content of generative AI, the study showed that men are typically allocated a wider array of esteemed positions, like engineers, while women are frequently confined to roles historically deemed less important or socially frowned upon, such as “domestic servant”. These findings show the need for conscious efforts to address and mitigate gender bias both in technology and in broader societal contexts.

Is gender bias a social issue, cognitive or an ethical issue?

Gender bias in the IT sector serves as both a significant social issue and a cognitive bias deeply rooted within human thinking patterns. Despite some progress toward gender equality, disparities persist in employment and advancement opportunities, salary gaps, and leadership representation, reflecting broader societal attitudes and systemic inequalities that women face. Implicit biases shape decisions and interactions, influencing hiring practices and career trajectories. In addition, gender bias is an ethical issue, highlighting concerns about fairness and justice, as individuals are unfairly treated or disadvantaged based on their gender. Addressing this issue demands efforts to break up institutionalised discrimination, promote inclusivity, and uphold principles of equality and dignity for all individuals in professional settings.

Mitigating Gender Bias

Addressing gender bias in the IT sector requires a broad approach which includes policy reforms, cultural shifts, and individual accountability.

Pay equity

Organisations need to prioritise gender pay equity by conducting regular audits, implementing transparent salary structures, and providing training to mitigate gender bias.

Inclusive recruitment

Secondly, inclusive recruitment and advancement practices are essential to broaden the gender diversity in the historically male-dominated IT field.

Mentorship and role modeling

Thirdly, mentorship and sponsorship programs can facilitate the career growth of women in IT by pairing them with experienced mentors and advocates. Additionally, investing in training and role modelling, fostering a supportive organisational culture, and providing networking opportunities are crucial for promoting gender diversity and equity in the IT industry. RightBrains provides such a platform for women to network and participate in mentorship, and it is a place with fantastic role models.

Environment and culture

Finally, fostering a culture of transparency, accountability, and allyship is essential in challenging discriminatory behaviours and promoting a more equitable and welcoming environment for women.


As we navigate the complexities of gender bias in male-dominated fields like IT, women in tech must overcome various obstacles beyond their job duties alone, facing unconscious and conscious stereotypes as well as systemic barriers to their advancement. This highlights the urgency for conscious action, a wider cultural transformation, and a commitment from individuals, organisations, and societies to foster an inclusive environment where women can thrive and contribute effectively.

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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.