In the UK, women and non-binary people make up just 28% of those working in the sector, and just 22% of its senior leadership. Whilst more and more industry leaders are paying lip service to the importance of supporting women in tech, the figures make it clear that further action is needed.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme, #EmbraceEquity, provides the perfect place to start for organisations wondering what they can do to make their gender equality policies more effective. The focus on equity reminds us that equal opportunities aren’t enough – with women starting in a different place from men, it’s imperative that they are given active support to overcome the challenges they face. Organisations who take the time to really consider the obstacles standing in the way of women in tech will be able to put effective solutions in place and have the biggest impact.
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
Women face barriers to entering the technology industry from childhood. As Caroline Seymour, VP of Product Marketing, Zerto, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, explains, “as they’re growing up, girls can be subjected to biases (both conscious and unconscious) early on in their schooling and are often actively discouraged from pursuing science, technology, engineering, and maths.
“We need to do far more,” she adds. “Mentoring girls and encouraging them to pursue STEM coursework into higher education is a start. Opportunities such as classes and scholarships that cater to girls interested in the field are also important. It’s vital to support young women early in their life so they have the background, support, and confidence to overcome gender biases in STEM.”
MAKING A REAL COMMITMENT TO CHANGE
Encouraging women into the industry is one thing, keeping them there is another. “Organisations should reflect on how they are facilitating success for the women already in their workforces in addition to supporting those looking to start, or restart, their careers in the sector,” argues Caroline Mantle, Strategic Alliance Manager, Six Degrees.
“In doing so, they will be able to foster a far more equitable and inclusive workplace environment, whilst also reaping the essential benefits that come with female achievement and talent.”
One way organisations can achieve this is through creating employee resource groups (ERGs) specifically directed at women. Jennette Skaggs, Senior Field Enablement Manager and Progress for Her Co-Leader at Progress explains that these, “build the framework for continuous improvement throughout the company.”
Drawing on her own experience, Skaggs outlines the benefits they can provide: “My involvement with Progress for Her, Progress’s ERG dedicated to women’s empowerment, has broadened my global understanding of women’s issues. From current events to the evergreen topic of family leave, to the challenging topics of harassment in the workplace, Progress for Her has given employees a space to discuss, learn and take personal action. By encouraging discussion of complex issues, inviting women plus adding our allies to the conversation, we show that the group’s leadership and colleagues are invested in that professional, and sometimes personal, leadership-building growth.”
Developing and supporting these kinds of groups can be one way for organisations to demonstrate their commitment to overcoming women’s inequality. Another could be to make a company wide commitment to a set of tangible actions.
One example of this is at Fluent Commerce. “This year, Fluent Commerce has signed the MACH Manifesto for gender equality, a document developed by over 100 women in tech and a select few male allies,” explains Nicola Kinsella, SVP of global marketing at the company. “By signing this manifesto, we are committing to important issues such as equal pay, equality in hiring, combating unconscious bias and promoting a culture of respect and diversity. We also recognize the importance of representation in leadership and the value of allies and mentorship.”
FLEXIBILITY AS THE KEY TO RETENTION
Of course, one of the retention challenges for women comes with maternity leave, and the extended career breaks that often come with it. “What is missing in a lot of businesses is proper support to help these women catch up when they get back to the workplace,” states Hannah Birch, Manager Director – Digital at Node4.
She adds: “Recent government policy is helping to level the playing field on this issue. Schemes like Shared Parental Leave help to facilitate new ways of working and make it the norm for men to play a much more active role in their children’s lives. Hybrid working measures are having a similar impact, allowing both parents to split their time at home equally and share childcare responsibilities. But, businesses should also be implementing their own programmes that help women returners to bridge the gap and progress their careers at the same rate as their male counterparts.”
Ciara Harrington, CPO at Skillsoft, agrees. “Access to longer parental leave is key – longer leave means fewer women will leave the workforce or take a career break during those early years,” she argues. “Equal parental leave also creates a ‘new’ normal where the standard is that both men and women will take time off with their kids and removes the existing ‘stigma’ or more traditional view where this ‘time off’ applies only to women.”
Echoing these points, Dawn Broadbent, Sales Director – Account Management at Tax Systems, adds that “when life events impact an employee, organisations need to be flexible to accommodate interruptions in performance and encourage and guide them to success. A key example of this is maternity leavers or people that deliver care to others outside of the workplace. Employers that adopt an accommodating approach often see the payback and commitment of their employees.”
A MORE POSITIVE FUTURE
Whilst progress has been slow, the number of women in tech has increased in recent years. If organisations remain committed to improving the situation, and really take the time to consider the needs of the women in their employ, things will continue to improve.
As Liudmyla Suslova, Head of the QA Center of Excellence, Intellias, concludes: “Embracing equity and encouraging diversity and representation in the tech industry will create more opportunities for women to pursue their passions and thrive in their careers – something we should all support this International Women’s Day.”