Tech companies’ efforts to break the glass ceiling have led to real but limited results. For true gender equality, it’s imperative to identify and dismantle the myths and obstacles that continue to impede women’s careers.

By debunking these myths, we bring attention to the underlying issues and foster a better understanding of the challenges faced by women in the workplace. Moreover, when decision-makers acknowledge the unspoken reality for women in STEM+ industries, they’re more likely to inspire change and eliminate the constraints imposed by the glass ceiling.

Data, not myths, can create working environments where everyone has equal opportunities to thrive and succeed.

In this article, we want to shed light on the persistent myths that sustain the glass ceiling, perpetuating discriminatory practices and hindering women’s professional advancement even today.

Myth: Women quit their technical careers to raise their families.

An illustration of a woman holding together a family walking together

False. For far too long work-life balance has been wrongfully considered the main reason women quit their jobs. In fact, 95% of the women are forced out of the workforce due to an unwelcoming culture, feeling undervalued, or lack of manager support. Only 5% leave for personal reasons. 

Raising a family is never a top reason women leave their jobs. Do women with children face more problems at work? Yes, mothers are more likely to face work discrimination post-pandemic. However, it’s not the decision to have children but a series of other issues that cause women to leave. 

Gotara’s behavioral research shows the primary reasons women stagnate or leave include:  

  • Not feeling included 
  • Having an unsupportive manager 
  • Dealing with difficult behaviors 
  • Lack of growth opportunities

Myth: Women are reluctant to step into high-pressure leadership roles.  

A black woman stands proudly in an office with coworkers behind her.

False. Despite the growing recognition of the need for gender diversity in STEM fields, many women still face significant barriers when pursuing leadership positions. The ugly truth is that women in tech don’t talk openly about their career plans because they’re likely to be penalized.

Women in STEM+ often feel compelled to downplay their career plans, fearing being perceived as overly ambitious, aggressive, or disruptive. This self-imposed silence undermines the potential progress toward gender equality in leadership positions. Moreover, it slows down innovation by not making room for the ideas that women can bring to the table.

Myth: Flexible work alone empowers women to break the glass ceiling.

An illustration of a woman working from home on a couch

There’s a lot to say about flexible work and leadership opportunities. In 2021, almost 95% of women in tech were forced to work from home or part-time — most probably because they were doing most of the housework and homeschooling. This added flexibility didn’t break the glass ceiling but had opposite effects on employee retention.  

That’s because managers are more likely to promote employees who go to the office, so working from home remains a luxury that women in STEM+ can’t afford. And many are aware of it — 97% believe that asking for flexible work arrangements will negatively impact their careers. 

Flexible work arrangements might help some employees, but they don’t change mentalities. More than work-life balance, women want recognition and real growth opportunities.   

Accenture estimates that if tech companies implemented more inclusive, empowering workplaces, the attrition rate of women in tech could drop by 70%, and the number of women in STEM could double by 2030.  

Myth: Men are better at technology

A woman engineer sorts through computer wiring in a STEM lab

False. No evidence suggests that men are naturally more adept at technology than women. The tech sector remains male-dominated simply because girls aren’t empowered to pursue higher education in STEM+.   

Only 16% of women have a career in technology suggested to them (compared to 33% of males). Women don’t opt for jobs in STEM+ companies due to a lack of role models and internalized gender stereotypes heard from the media, parents, and teachers. It has nothing to do with their abilities.  

And, for those women who do opt for a career in technology, Gotara’s research shows 40% dropout after 5-7 years due to unsupportive environments.  

Myth: Our society has moved past gender stereotypes.

An illustration of a woman worker playing tug-of-war with her male counterparts

False. Discrimination has become more subtle, but conscious or unconscious gender stereotypes continue to be widespread, especially toward women from historically underrepresented groups. As much as 90% of women of color in STEM say they have experienced sexism, while 81% report racism. 

Organizations in STEM+ industries need diverse leadership teams that offer role models and promote inclusiveness in the workplace. Moreover, they must continue to educate their employees and managers at all levels about the implications of unconscious bias.

Myth: There’s no inherent value to diversity. 

False. Companies with a representation of women executives exceeding 30% have demonstrated a 48% higher likelihood of outperforming their counterparts with less than 10% or no women executives.

Gender-diverse companies see tangible benefits from fostering gender diversity in executive positions, thanks to its impact on overall performance and success.

Myth: Working mothers aren’t ambitious and committed to their careers.

A remote working woman hugs her young child

False. In 2019, research by McKinsey revealed that mothers had higher levels of ambition than women overall, when 75% wanted a promotion.  

The pandemic has pushed mothers to downshift their careers or quit their jobs, but exceptional circumstances caused these decisions. The fact that they choose not to return after their kids return to school is connected to the lack of inclusive cultures among many STEM+ organizations.  

Myth: If the organization has an overall inclusive culture, everything will be fine. 

False. Gotara’s research shows the old adage is still true, “people do not leave their companies, they leave their managers.”  

The organization may have an overall culture conducive to supporting women, but the direct manager’s leadership style and focus on inclusion impacts the top reasons why women stagnate in tech careers or leave. 

The Unspoken Reality: Why We Can’t Break the Glass Ceiling

A remote working woman hugs her young child

Unsupportive environments and direct managers, unconscious biases and stereotypes, and discrimination continue to contribute heavily to the perpetuation of the glass ceiling. These factors delay or interrupt career progression for women in STEM+ by limiting their access to high-level positions. 

Traditional gender roles continue to play a central role in how women are perceived in workplaces. Beyond that, women must deal with a lack of mentorship opportunities, gender pay gaps, and limited access to networks and resources, all creating additional hurdles for anyone aiming to shatter the glass ceiling. 

To break the glass ceiling, companies must raise awareness about its existence. Once they acknowledge the problem, decision-makers can challenge gender biases, upskill and coach managers, and implement inclusive policies and practices to promote equal opportunities for women to rise to leadership positions.

For a deeper dive into this topic, check out our recent Taratalk, The Unspoken Reality–Why your STEM+ women are leaving you: