From education to employment

International Women’s Day: Investing in growth to make real change

women sat around meeting table

The focus of this International Women’s Day is investing in women to create stronger economies, improve innovation, and ensure a better world for future generations. With this in mind, we have spoken to thought leaders working to promote female talent in their respective companies and sectors about what needs to be done to ensure real change within the STEM industry.

Nurturing talent

Businesses must take it upon themselves to nurture talent and hire a variety of people from different backgrounds. Julie Kae, VP of Sustainability and DE&I at Qlik emphasises that “As business leaders, it is our responsibility to inspire inclusion within our organisations. This is particularly pertinent as new technologies are developed. This speaks to a bigger ongoing issue of gender imbalance in technology, right from STEM education at school, and it is imperative that we do whatever we can to balance these numbers.”

Nurturing talent can come in the form of mentorship which Nicola Downing, CEO of Ricoh Europe, says is a powerful tool within the workplace. “Connecting junior colleagues with women in more senior positions at the outset of their careers provides them with inspiring role models to aspire to. These internal role models not only foster ambition but can offer valuable guidance, advice and support to other women navigating their careers.”

Hayath Hussein, COO of Com Laude echoes this sentiment, saying: “Supporting women into senior leadership roles and staff-led gender equality initiatives with real decision-making power is necessary to ensure gender equality progress continues. However, with women occupying only 32.9% of roles at technology companies, it is clear that there is still work to be done.”

Meagen Eisenberg, CMO of Lacework agrees. “Initiatives and networking events, like AWS Cloud Women, give leaders the chance to talk candidly about their journeys in the technology industry, and the challenges they’ve faced. This is an important step in helping reduce barriers, having honest conversations about the state of the industry and encouraging participation from the next generation.”

Leila Pourhashemi, CIO at G-P, states: “At G-P, I’ve witnessed firsthand the importance of democratising opportunities and empowering talent worldwide. In a fiercely competitive international market – especially in smaller economies with limited available roles – the opportunity to work for a global company allows people to pursue a wider variety of career paths that might be more suited to them. For women in particular, it enables them to seek employment in markets that might provide better pay structures and progression opportunities without compromising personal life choices.”

Learning through effective training

To enable career progression, there must be access to training programmes to help women move up the career ladder. Paul Anderson, VP UK&I at Fortinet highlights: “Training and upskilling can benefit both those at an entry level as well as those with more experience, and by delivering training programmes, organisations are not only investing in their own talent but also encouraging and inspiring future generations of women and girls to join the industry.”

Dr Cat Hicks, VP Research Insights at Pluralsight said, “According to our research, we found that even women on software teams, who think that AI technologies are important, are still less likely to be upskilling in AI than men. While there are probably multiple reasons for this, previous research suggests one important reason may be that women feel less supported in the workplace to take explicit time to learn, and fear more harsh and unfair judgments from others.”

Lindsey Rowe, Head of Purpose Programmes & Sustainability GTM at SAP UK&I, notes that “Heading to university can be an invaluable experience, but it’s important to remember that this is not the only path for women and girls considering a career in STEM. Many programmes, including our newly launched Apprenticeship Scheme, do not require a degree and instead offer the opportunity to gain hands on, real-life experience within a range of disciplines in the technology industry.”

Flexibility promoting work-life balance

The changing world has had an impact too. The introduction of work from home policies means employees are no longer chained to a desk and can adjust their working hours. This has, in many ways, benefitted female employees.

Fiz Yazdi, Managing Director, Consulting at Sopra Steria Next, shares, “I’ve spent my whole career working part-time so I can manage a chronic health condition and have felt the positive impact flexible working has on my wellbeing and productivity, alongside the space and opportunities it creates for those around me. Leaders need to recognise the value of each team member, distributing responsibilities and encouraging a collaborative environment. Organisations that truly understand and respond positively to the issues women face, are also able to create an environment and culture where everyone can pursue their career aspirations and be successful.”

Showcasing a flexible company culture enables businesses to become more diverse with their workforce, which can lead to better business outcomes according to Brigette McInnis-Day, CPO at UiPath. “Providing women with greater opportunities to start and expand their careers is vitally important, particularly with skills shortages in fields like AI and regions worldwide where aging populations are shrinking the workforce. We need to think and act differently.”

Breaking the glass ceiling

International Women’s Day highlights the achievements of women, celebrating those who have broken the glass ceiling. Pam Maynard, CEO of Avanade, recalls experiences where she felt unheard in meetings and didn’t have the space to share ideas. “Thanks to the advocacy and allyship from my manager, I was able to carve out space to showcase my ideas, which ultimately set me on the path to where I am today. That experience shaped who I am as a leader, and I feel a deep responsibility to foster a culture of advocacy across my teams.”

Eduarda Camacho, COO of CyberArk, echoes this sentiment, saying, “In my first interview to work for a US tech company I was told that – although my experience was great – being a foreign woman without a background in engineering would limit my potential. However, I was determined to push back against those stereotypes to ensure they wouldn’t hinder my success.”

Ultimately, women are working hard within STEM to make their voices heard. However, more needs to be invested, both time and money, to make the industry more inclusive for women with different backgrounds, educational experiences, and personal commitments.

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