Answers from Michaela Neatherton, the Director of Marketing at 5thColumn. The boutique cybersecurity firm serves companies in both the public and private sector. Its specialties include managed services, security assessments, and risk and compliance.

What are the biggest issues facing women in the tech industry today?

Women in tech are up against a lot. Tech companies here are predominately male and most (from what I’ve seen) tend to have this old-school mentality. Every woman I know in the industry (not just here, anywhere) has dealt with “that coworker” that speaks down to them, is disrespectful, comments on their appearance and so on.

I’ve had a former superior email me at 11 p.m. telling me that I’m smarter than I look, another told me I would close more deals if I wore more makeup, and another told me it was okay if I wanted to go to the gym during the day and come back without doing my hair — as if I needed his permission. The list goes on. We’ve all dealt with it or are currently dealing with it, even if it’s not discussed. Women have to work twice as hard as men to prove ourselves at the same job while earning less, we have to stand up for ourselves in a professional manner that won’t offend anyone (which is very difficult), and we can’t show that any of this gets to us.

How is your company addressing these issues?

When I was hired at 5thColumn, I was the only female employee. Our CEO tasked me with making sure we have an environment and culture that women are comfortable in and we’re doing a great job. We have a very relaxed, comfortable culture here. No matter your title, gender or race, every employee at 5thColumn is treated with the same amount of respect that we treat our CEO. If they feel otherwise, we empower them to address the matter without fear of backlash or repercussion. We have an open-door policy to discuss any concerns that may arise and a zero-tolerance policy for any type of disrespect.

How is the industry as a whole changing to solve these issues? Or what could it be doing to help solve them?

Last year, it felt like the tech industry as a whole was really moving forward. You were hearing about more female executives getting hired, women were speaking out and taking a stand against their male counterparts, equal wages and paid leave were major topics during the election, and more women were applying for developer and engineer positions. But so much has happened in the last several months. The fire behind equal pay and paid leave seems to have died out, sexual harassment isn’t going away, and sexism is being normalized. It’s happening and denial isn’t doing anyone any good. The tech industry needs to acknowledge that these problems are real issues and step up to change them. Make sure we’re paid fairly, train your staff to treat women as equals, don’t make maternity leave a punishment. Tech needs women and we’re not going anywhere.

You can read the full article on Built in Chicago here.