This year’s International Women’s Day observes the theme #BreakTheBias, aiming to raise awareness of gender bias and inequality within many industries including tech. Despite a bright light being shed on diversity gaps, and a number of initiatives aimed at driving real change, women still account for just one fifth of the tech workforce and remain largely underrepresented in boardrooms across the globe. From attracting female talent in the first place, providing opportunities for training and development, and creating a more female friendly culture, technology companies that commit to change can experience first-hand the benefits of a diverse workforce.
With this in mind, IDG Connect spoke to industry experts to learn how prospective and current female tech employees can be better encouraged and recognised, while challenging bias and inequality, on International Women’s Day and beyond.
Equality starts at school
One of the main barriers to women’s equality in tech is attracting talent in the first place. “Young girls face notable obstacles from very early on in their schooling, whether that is unconscious bias, or being actively discouraged from STEM subjects,” starts Caroline Seymour, VP of Product Marketing at Zerto, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. “By the time they are making career choices, many have not taken on higher STEM education and therefore do not have the necessary qualifications to enter the science and technology sectors as easily as their male counterparts. We need to start doing far more to mentor girls and encourage them to maintain STEM studies into higher education,” she urges.
“The key to this is early education, exposure, and flexibility,” notes Anne Tiedemann, SVP People & Investor Relations at Glasswall. “Engaging and sharing experiences with students and other young women will inspire them to follow suit and highlights that women can have successful technology careers.”
Branka Subotic, Principal Data Consultant at Ascent, agrees that we need to engage with young people early on and educate them in the ‘art of the possible’ when it comes to their future life, adding, “real diversity is much wider than gender alone. We need to work with all young people as they are our future leaders and recruiters. Therefore, the earlier we instil the right values in terms of diversity, the earlier we will start to tackle the problems we see today. Let’s create together a different world, full of opportunities for the next generation.”
Focus on the here and now
Many recognise that changes need to be made all the way back to school to encourage more girls to go down the STEM route. “But with very few women in senior leadership roles, exactly what are they aspiring to?,” Jen Lawrence, Chief People Officer at Tax Systems, questions. “The industry needs more immediate changes. It needs the women of today, not just the women of tomorrow, to be considering a role in the tech sector.”
“The world needs meaningful changes now,” agrees Dominique Fougerat – EVP People & Culture at Axway. “Creating a more female-friendly tech industry will require fundamental changes at the level of companies and employers.”
Lawrence suggests, “it is about being proactive and removing the barriers that turn people off from applying to working with you. Putting the policies in place, taking the right approach, being open and communicative about what you have to offer, and encouraging engagement that opens the door to those who need flexibility, which traditionally are women.”
Invest in women
Organisations should appreciate that women want the opportunity to learn and develop in their jobs, says Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft. “Globally, 86% of women in tech rank professional development opportunities as very or extremely important to them, but they are not always given the support or infrastructure needed to succeed in the same way as their male counterparts.
“Mentoring schemes and networking opportunities can supplement professional development opportunities by offering employees the opportunity to connect with other women as they move along their career journey – making progressing in such a male dominated industry much less daunting.”
“Career progression is key to encouraging and supporting the next generation,” agrees Hugh Scantlebury, CEO and Founder of Aqilla. “There is a clear need for more senior female role models and having just a few female leaders won’t inspire younger women to enter our industry.”
Mariam Karamyan, Associate Software Development Manager at HelpSystems, reflects on the impact that seeing female role models at HelpSystems has made on her career and aspirations.
“Until I was able to see and admire people who looked and sounded like me in leadership positions, it was difficult to believe that I could one day make it that far. This International Women’s Day I want to encourage organisations to focus on what more they can be doing to promote female role models and celebrate the women they currently have in leadership positions.”
As a society, we have just experienced a ground-breaking period of social reckoning around all aspects of diversity, including gender, economic and education inequality. Markeith Allen, Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Mission Driven Organisations at Diligent, observes: “We are all being called upon to lead in a new, technologically and globally-inclusive world where issues of inequality are at the forefront – and gender, racial and economic disparities must all be eradicated.”
The question is, how can we all lead in our individual and collective roles to affect these changes?
“At Aqilla, we are committed to Corporate Social Responsibility — and an important part of this is encouraging gender equality and empowering women,” notes its CEO and Founder, Hugh Scantlebury. He highlights how technology can help women in the workplace: “IT automation shows strong potential for removing some of the admin burdens on women working within the finance function. In theory, it should free up more time to focus on higher-value tasks such as financial and business analytics that will raise their profile within their organisations — and hopefully lead to much-deserved promotions.”
Adeline Fernandez, VP Finance at Fluent Commerce, argues that understanding bias is the first step to making real change. “At Fluent, we’ve introduced unconscious bias training into our learning and development programs and it’s now part of our onboarding process. DE&I needs to be ‘baked into’ career frameworks, our recruitment and talent retention strategies and all company policies. We need to take DE&I initiatives beyond conversations and for companies to take conscious steps within their organisations to break the bias.”
Having women in decision-making roles also has the power to dismantle widespread societal biases. Speaking about the transportation industry specifically, Krishna Desai, senior global marketing manager at Cubic Transportation Systems, reflects how “while women are using public transportation as much in their daily lives as anyone else, they’re dealing with a system not designed for them. Pricing, accessibility, and safety are some of the many barriers keeping women from being as mobile as their male counterparts.”
“The only way to affect change is to put women in the driving seat and give them the power to make a direct impact,” she urges. “Giving women a seat at the table will help transit agencies better meet the needs of female travellers and ensure they can get to where they need to go safely and efficiently.”
As HelpSystem’s Karamyan concludes, “men and women see things differently and bring unique ideas to the table. With true diversity of thought, we can achieve better problem solving and boost performance at the business unit level.” This International Women’s Day, the benefits of shifting the balance for women in tech are duplicitous.