Whilst women now make up 47% of the UK workplace, in most companies, the board room is still predominantly male, with women holding just 29% of FTSE 100 board seats in the UK. And, experts have warned that the coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating impact on gender equality that could set women back decades.
Women’s Equality Day is rooted in celebration of the day that American women were officially granted the vote in 1920 and when the 19th Amendment was added to the US Constitution.
Globally, it is now an opportunity to recognise and honour women’s suffrage, as well as inspiring a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. Now, we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, in commemoration of its history, but also as a hopeful catalyst for change in the present and future.
Roles within science, research, engineering and technology fields have seen a 26 per cent increase overall since 2010. This is broken down into a 25 per cent rise in women in these roles and a 75 per cent rise in men. IT specialist roles have risen since 2010 by 34 per cent with 19 per cent of this women and 81 per cent men.
Since 2016, IT specialist roles, science, research, engineering and technology, and web design and development are in the top five areas of growth for women in work. Women in IT specialisms and web design and development roles have increased since 2016 by more than seven per cent, with web design being one of the largest areas of growth for women in tech (+9%).
One of the largest growing tech sectors is TV, video and audio engineering, that has grown an average of 22 per cent since 2016, of which only two per cent is women and 98 per cent men.
The tech industry simply cannot be a ‘man’s game’, seven experts from within the industry spell out what needs to change, and four ways to make this happen:
1. Shifting perceptions
Paula Jory, EMEA Messaging Supervisor at Commvault, shares her own experience working in tech and how the gender gap may actually be instigated by a lack of encouragement:
“My own experience working in technology has been very positive. I think that’s partly due to the fact that women naturally possess many qualities and skills essential for success working in the sector: empathy, patience, multitasking and pragmatic thinking. But along a similar vein, perhaps a stereotypical lack of assertiveness (which women often have) may be holding some girls and young women back from pursuing a career in the field. In technology, you may need to be more assertive than you are comfortable with at times, but you must try to be confident in your own abilities and trust your instinct. Working in technology is rewarding and there are so many new and exciting opportunities too great to miss.
“I think it’s important to remember that the education system fundamentally offers the same opportunities to both genders – male and female – and that it is making a concerted effort to encourage young women into technology. I believe that the reason for the gender gap is actually rooted in a lack of encouragement from parents, friends, etc. Parents bear most of the responsibility to encourage our daughters to pursue their interests that they are passionate about. The options are there; we just need to gently guide young women to follow their heart.”
The need to shift perception of young girls’ passions is something Emma Leigh, Partner Manager at Aqilla, echoes:
"I've been told in the past that I was 'emotional', 'loud' and 'aggressive', whereas my male colleagues got to be 'passionate', 'zealous' or 'plain-talking'.
"It's our job to help and nurture young women coming up in the ranks, encouraging their ideas and opinions day in day out. We've come this far, let's not stop now."
2. Educating wider and deeper
Liz Matthews, Head of Community and Education at Mango Solutions, looks into the gap in education and how organisations can help to counteract it:
“From an education perspective we’re still quite some way from achieving gender parity. Globally, only 3% of students joining ICT courses are women, increasing to 5% for mathematics, and 8% for engineering. This low proportion of women studying STEM subjects in higher education means that the overall STEM workforce can only claim 12.8% as women – there is so much that can be done to counteract this.
“Companies are now, more than ever, investing in data-driven digital transformation, meaning that there is an increase in the amount and range of roles and opportunities available. To help in filling this corporate need, it’s imperative to increase investment in training for women, encouraging them to enter the world of data science in order to begin closing the skills gap. When it comes to training we can also look beyond just the corporate world and seek to align with organisations such as Women in Data and R-Ladies which both promote gender diversity in the data science and R communities.”
3. Sharing stories
“As a woman in tech, an early challenge I faced was working in an environment where I was one of the few women in a largely male-dominated industry. I found that the key to success was gaining confidence – confidence in myself as a person and confidence in my abilities. As women, we need to empower one another and share our experiences of overcoming challenges.
“Women’s Equality Day allows us to celebrate women and raise awareness of gender equality for a healthier, wealthier, and more harmonious world. I encourage organisations to hire people of different genders, backgrounds and viewpoints. In the end, it is our differences that truly make us stronger.”
Marilou van Doorn, COO at Leaseweb Global, also looks back on what it was like for her entering the tech industry:
“This year, Women’s Equality Day is an opportunity to remind ourselves that we need to get more women in tech. Just because an organisation currently doesn’t have an equal ratio of men to women shouldn’t be a reason not to apply for a role, in fact, it should be the opposite. When I first joined the tech industry, I was the only woman. After a while, my CEO confessed that he had noticed a positive change in the team, the atmosphere and the overall way of working. My advice is to apply – don’t feel intimidated, be the cultural change the organisation needs.
“It starts by focusing on quality recruitment. Through the right search, screening and hiring methods, organisations can expand their talent pool and increase their inclusiveness. Key to this is to take away the unconscious bias when it comes to advertising job vacancies and the selection process. For example, use more gender-neutral terminology, allowing women to feel encouraged in applying for a role in tech. Organisations also need to ensure they are not just increasing the number of women they hire to fill the so-called 'pink quota', check that the people you hire, of all genders and diverse backgrounds, are being hired because they are the best fit for the role.
"An organisation’s leadership team also plays a significant role in future talent wanting to grow and develop themselves in tech. We as a generation need to see more female role models come forward and show both the current and next generation that women can and will succeed in tech. It’s not just a man’s game. Women can also be the next CTO, COO or CEO."
4. Moving forward
Donna Cooper, Global Marketing Director at WhereScape, ruminates on how the past can and should influence the future and change for good:
"It's amazing to consider how far women's rights have advanced in the past century. Just over 100 years ago, women weren't able to apply for a credit card or loan, work in a legal profession or even inherit property. Generation X women were the first women in their families to be able to go away to university, or to live on their own, launch a career and have the option to choose to stay home with their children. Despite the change in policies, there is still a fundamental issue that still needs to be addressed – the mindset that women don't belong at the IT table.
“The technology field itself does not necessarily need to change. The gender-typical attitude that women have of themselves needs to be the roadblock that is addressed. This is hardly surprising when you consider the thousands of years of training and mentality that needs to be undone. We need to remind women that no matter how they feel, who they are and what unique values they bring to the technology table that they should be treated equally. It's important that women trust their own mechanics when entering a role in the technology field, keep on learning and moving forward."
Dalibor Siroky, CEO and Co-Founder at Plutora, ties everything together with a more objective view on why diversity in the workplace is important:
“It is important that every organisation or team be made up of the best possible selection of people to achieve success. The way to do that is to bring together people of different backgrounds, perspectives and genders. By combining diverse voices, you create a stronger team and encourage an environment of acceptance and equality.
“With diversity being front and centre and a positive force in nearly every aspect of our lives, it’s more important than ever to ensure that women’s voices are elevated and being heard. Isn’t that what Women’s Equality Day is about in the first place: commemorating the passage of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote? With that barrier legally removed, we need to be aware of more subtle and cultural obstacles like unconscious bias and lack of diversity. It’s no secret that the number of women in tech are lower than we’d like to see, and we need to find ways to change that by integrating the voices of those in our industry equally. If we can do that, we all benefit.”