Women In Montana's High-Tech Sector Talk Gender Disparity

Sep 24, 2018

Women make up about 40 percent of the nation’s overall high-tech workforce; including positions in marketing, accounting and human resources, according to Christina Henderson, executive director of the Montana High Tech Business. But that figure shrinks to 15 percent when it comes to high level executive and specialized technical positions.

Three Montana women talk about what it's like working in the state's high-tech sector.

Montana High Tech Business Alliance’s Christina Henderson says men in the high-tech industry have always treated her respectfully and professionally.

“I will say that I have been in rooms where I was the only woman, and it’s very uncomfortable," Henderson says. "You feel like the minority. Gender influences the lens through which you view the world. Sometimes when you’re in a room full of men, you feel inundated with that male perspective; a masculine energy if you will.

"It’s helpful to have other women present to provide better balance, both from that personal experience and from the research that’s out there that organizations and boards that have a better balance of gender or a diversity of perspectives make better decisions, create better products, have more successful businesses.

"I think there’s both a business imperative to do this, that we’ll be more successful as a state. Also, I think people will have a better experience sitting in those rooms and having those conversations if there’s a better balance.”

Advanced Technology Group’s Holly Foster says some guys refuse to listen to female colleagues.

“Sometimes a guy has to repeat what you say for it to be heard," Foster says. "I’m working with a lot of young women now. I’ve had people come to me a say, ‘I really feel like while interacting with this person, they’re not listening to me, at every meeting my male counterparts have to repeat what I say.’

"I can’t just let it go. It's not just a 'deal with it,' because I’m supporting these women and their career growth and their development and them feeling like they’re an equal part of this organization. So it's really pushed me to go from, ‘Ah just suck it up, that’s how it is,’ to, ‘I have to address this and take action.’ That includes our organization and our clients as well, which can get really tricky if we have a resource that says ‘this guy is saying things that’s making me uncomfortable (or) he’s not listening to me. We have to go talk to a client resource because I can’t have that. It’s really tough."

Edward O'Brien: And then when you do, are you 'The Bitch'?

HF: I think I was actually called that by those exact words in a call that (a colleague) was on, so yeah, it’s happened.”

Foster has an undergraduate degree in biology and likes to analyze things from an evolutionary perspective.

"When you look at what men needed to do to hunt and survive and beat each other and go kill things, and how women needed to get along together in the cave, I think we’ve evolved with very different habits and mindsets. In the professional world where we're now equals, that translates to different attitudes about confidence, ability, value and worth. It’s a well-known fact that a man is going to think he’s worth more salary-wise, typically, and ask for more and demand more. That’s where we end up with some of the pay inequality. They’ll apply for jobs they’re not qualified for. We won’t unless we can check all the boxes. I think there are a lot of things there where we are wired differently, but now we’re playing in a world where we’re doing the same stuff and all equally as capable. In some cases women more capable. There’s evidence that women code better. As long as their name isn’t on the evaluation of their code, they get a higher score, but as soon as her name appears she gets a lower score. I think there’s a lot more gender bias than we think there is."

Montana businesswoman Liz Marchi believes women are certainly competitive, but tend to work more collaboratively than their male counterparts.  Marchi adds that women are very effective consumers.

“We buy things, therefore we can create and we think differently about these things," Marchi says. "I came here from North Carolina 20 years ago where underwear companies – all the designers for women – were men. That does not make any sense. Really? We’re getting beyond that, but there’s still a long way to go.” 

Women Underrepresented In Montana's Tech Industry