Every March we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD), and with it comes exciting new initiatives, events and the sharing of stories of what makes us proud to be women. And we see this heightened focus on representation and gender equality in the business world each year, especially in the tech sector.
It’s also around this time of year that we start to see new research and reports published that show the state of the industry in terms of female representation. While the majority of these show that there has indeed been progress, we are humbled by the fact there are still important strides we are yet to make.
In the past couple of weeks alone, we have seen such statistics published that show 1 in 5 women in tech are thinking of leaving their jobs (Ipsos) and the number of women in technology roles increased by just 2% year-on-year in 2021 (Tech Talent Charter).
We are at an important crossroads as an industry, we’ve reached a stage of learning to live with Covid, but are now dealing with the after-effects of the pandemic with things like the industry’s talent crisis. Taking learnings from the last two years in regards to flexible working, there are many steps organisations can be taking to not only encourage more confidence in those currently working in the industry, but also encourage women to return back into the sector to help achieve greater female representation and diversity in tech.
Confidence and conviction
I’ve found the key to my success in the tech industry is less about focusing on the types of obstacles that stand in my way as a woman, and more so on harnessing the necessary skills that will help me overcome any challenge. In business, having the confidence and conviction to make your case is fundamental – but often these two skills are what women in tech lack for a multitude of reasons.
As a female working in a male-oriented and male-dominated industry like tech, it means you will always stand out. Ten years ago, when I first sat on boards at different organisations, I was often the only woman. Paired also with the fact I was a good 30 years younger than the median age of the men sitting around me, it can be hard to stomach being treated in an unfavourable way just because of my age and gender – an experience I know I share with many other women. Encouragingly though, in the last three to four years, I have started to see more women at the boardroom table and this sort of positive representation does in fact encourage more women to think, “I can do that, too”.
In Ipsos’s latest Women in Tech Report, they found 58% of women said that visible role models are one of the things that attracts them to organisations, and 67% said access to mentoring was also important when considering whether to join an organisation.
This resonates with my own personal experience working in tech. One of my first volunteering jobs was working as a business mentor with the Prince’s Trust, which gave me a huge amount of confidence and skills that I could then take back to my own role. Through mentoring, I found I had exposure and access to so many more things I wouldn’t have normally during my ordinary day-to-day. Having that much broader view of the world and outside my industry gave me the types of skills and attributes that organisational boards look for when they’re searching for rising stars and future business leaders.
Sharing the onus
Solving gender equality in the tech industry is not the responsibility of individuals, or just women for that matter. We all have a role to play, and diversity and inclusion needs to start at the top.
Studies have shown that having more women on company boards leads organisations to perform better (NEOMA Business School), with the reasons for this being that typically women are more empathetic, more efficient, and are less excessive risk takers.
Whilst it’s promising to see initiatives such as the Government Equalities Office legislation, which requires UK companies with more than 250 employees to publish their pay gap, we shouldn’t be waiting for the government to pass laws for us to proactively tackle this issue. I think all companies should be doing this, as it gives greater transparency and creates a culture of fairness and balance.
At Somo, we’re at the beginning of our EDI journey, and whilst we know we’ve got a long way to go, we are really committed to change and making Somo as inclusive and as diverse as we can. We have established several councils with varying responsibilities including leading our strategic agenda, looking to external organisations for best practices and enacting them in our business, and those in charge of delivery, to make sure change happens.
There is always more that companies can be doing to be more inclusive. The pandemic certainly exacerbated the obstacles women face at work, and, during the pandemic itself, many found balancing working from home and childcare to be challenging. The flexible working arrangements that were put in place during the pandemic should continue moving forward, at the very least. This is now a standard requirement for new job seekers who want more flexibility, and this extends to everyone – not just women.
Creating opportunities for women to be included in business decisions is also necessary for companies to become more inclusive. Whether that’s getting more women in the boardroom or in senior positions, organising the appropriate training and career progression to ensure that key workers are getting the right support to become the next generation of leaders. Culturally as well, there should be safe spaces and trusted people within the business that can properly action any concerns related to gender discrimination, and work hard to stamp this out.
As an industry we should be proud of the progress we have made, but not rest on our laurels. There will always be more ways to promote and encourage greater diversity in the tech industry, and each new IWD brings with it new ideas on how to achieve this. As more organisations start to see the real impact and business benefits of having a diverse organisation, gender inequality at work is closer to becoming a thing of the past.