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The pandemic has disproportionately impacted women in the workforce – it’s crucial that we empower female leaders in tech

Teresa Carlson
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The last year has highlighted the incredible capabilities of technology.

Technologies such as cloud computing have enabled our workplaces, our governments, and our educational institutions to keep operational in the most disruptive and difficult circumstances. 

Meanwhile – and something we’ll be discussing at our upcoming annual AWS Public Sector Summit event – by deploying technologies such as data analytics, medical researchers are able to find new treatments and vaccines faster, helping to drive us towards a resolution to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following this year’s International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, it is a timely moment to acknowledge that the opportunities presented by technology mean that it’s even more important to have women fully represented in our sector.

PwC recently conducted research which estimated that increasing employment rates among women in the UK to above 60% would result in an 8.9% boost to the UK’s economy. Yet as of 2019, according to the Office of National Statistics only 16.4% of tech roles in the UK were held by women. Similarly, the New Statesman found that just 16% of directors at technology companies are women

There’s evidence that Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted women in the workforce, which risks stalling efforts to build a more diverse leadership and has a lasting impact on economic growth in the UK.

That’s why it’s more crucial now than ever before that we not only attract women to careers in STEM, but empower them to thrive – and lead – once they get here. 

Developing a pipeline

Encouraging girls and young women to pursue a career in tech is fundamental to developing the strong pipeline of female talent that we need.

AWS GetIT is an initiative designed by AWS to encourage girls aged 12-13 to consider a career in tech by inviting teams from different schools to an app-building competition to solve real issues faced by their school or community. Since AWS GetIT’s launch in 2018, the program has captured imaginations and grown rapidly: by the end of 2020, over 23,000 students from 136 schools will have taken part.

Proactive industry led programmes like this have a crucial role to play in helping to address the under representation of women in the sector. 

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As the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in the UK has shown, the Government has a role to play too. It established the UK’s regional Digital Skills Partnerships (DSPs), which brings together public, private and charity sector organisations to help increase the digital capability of individuals and organisations across England. We’ve been delighted to work with the local DSP and our collaborating partner, Generation to bring AWS re/Start to the West Midlands region.  This programme focuses on providing a more diverse audience of learners, including women, with the skillsets they need to thrive in careers in cloud computing.

How mentorship can nurture female leaders

But it’s not enough to simply increase the number of women in the tech sector – we also need more female leaders. And one of the most powerful means of supporting and developing female leadership in the sector is through mentoring – as I recently discussed with Indra Nooyi, at AWS re:Invent 2020.

Indra has had a fascinating career, working as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, before joining the board of Amazon. From her perspective, women benefit in particular from discussing their challenges and opportunities with female leaders.

I know that throughout my career, I have benefitted from great mentors who have seen qualities and characteristics in me that I didn’t necessarily spot. Now, I’m helping others as my mentors helped me. With mentoring schemes and dedicated workplace forums and groups, at AWS we seek to help female leaders to discover and reach their full potential. 

Leaders like Faye Holt, one of AWS’ Principal Account Managers who led a team supporting Government customers on the front line of the COVID-19 response to develop new services to meet the needs of the citizens they serve. The rapid response of her team meant local councils were able to react to the crisis quickly and at scale, creating and deploying new services that were used by thousands of citizens in a matter of days. 

Or like Nicky Murphy, our Head of Healthcare Public Policy who worked with the NHS, enabling them to scale up provision of care to patients, providing real-time data to support NHS decision-making, and accelerated the pace of research into effective interventions for COVID-19. 

Our ultimate goal at AWS is to create a business that reflects the diversity of the customers we serve. But we know that we all have much more work to do.

It’s up to all of us in the technology sector, and government, to proactively encourage and support our female colleagues, ensuring that they have what they need to succeed and fulfil their potential.

Teresa Carlson, Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector and Industries at Amazon Web ServicesTeresa Carlson, Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector and Industries at Amazon Web Services

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