Career Woman

Women in technology: Have we really advanced?

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The topic of women in technology and the issues they face is no secret. We only have to look at Google’s infamous memo or Amazon’s AI recruitment faux-pas to see that the industry’s gender inequality is becoming more and more high-profile by the day.

By now, we know that a large part of the problem is due to girls being perpetually discouraged from studying STEM subjects at school and college. This number has increased over the last five years from 6.5% to 11.8%, which shows we are heading in the right direction, but these figures are hardly inspiring and show that problems are still very much there. The low number of women pursuing a career in tech then leads to a cycle where young girls lack the role models, inspiration and support system to help them succeed in the tech workforce.

While things are improving and there’s definitely more awareness around women in tech, it’s still a man’s world and equality isn’t where it should be. A study this year by Statista on female employees in large tech companies revealed that female employees make up only 31 percent of the total workforce at Google, and 43 percent at Netflix. These are hardly good representative figures for 2018, and signal that businesses need to be doing more.

Combatting lack of diversity in the workplace

A diverse workforce is not just nice to have, it’s necessary. So if we’re still facing these challenges, what actionable steps can businesses take to have a meaningful impact on the lack of diversity in tech? Here are some ideas:

  • Build a culture, not a policy. The problem with many businesses is that they panic about lack of diversity, and immediately apply a ridged, paper-based policy to tackle the issue. Policies are important, but diversity shouldn’t be a tick-box exercise. Businesses need to be committed to real change and it’s ultimately up to executive management and senior leaders to embed diversity into their organization’s core values. Treat diversity as an asset and build a culture that embraces individuality and values all employees, no matter their gender or background.
  • Arm women with mentors, networks and information. According to a recent survey, 48% of women say there’s a lack of mentorship, and 36% say they experience unequal growth opportunities in comparison to men. One of the most positive and impactful things a business can do to remove these barriers is to give women access to the tools and resources they need to be successful. Take a leaf out of Microsoft’s book by creating and delivering career development pathways specifically designed for women and minorities.
  • Fill your pipeline early. Although we’ve already stated that the lack of women in tech is deeper than a pipeline problem, businesses can help by leading recruitment initiatives in schools and colleges. Encourage women who are about to graduate to join your company and offer them incentives and perks to come on board.

The treatment of women in tech roles

Recruiting more women for tech roles is only half the battle; we must not forget that there are still issues within workplaces once they arrive.  50 percent of women with careers in STEM fields will eventually leave because of hostile work environments, according the Harvard Business Review. Think about:

  • Language and ‘boys’ culture.’ Because the tech industry is a male-dominated sector, this can affect the overall culture of some tech companies, which can mean women are reluctant to stay. This includes everything from sexist language to intimidation by large, rowdy groups of male colleagues. In order to retain female staff, make sure you implement company-wide training on diversity and inclusion and encourage women to speak up against harassment and inequality.
  • The pay gap. This is a topic that’s gained a lot of attention in all industries and is beginning to improve now companies are being forced to show pay gaps However, tech is increasingly coming under fire. On average, women are offered 4% less than their male counterparts in the same role, at the same company.
  • Paid maternity leave. Paid time off for new mothers is crucial, not only for wellbeing but for improved productivity, morale and lower turnover rates. This is something that tech companies are actually ahead of the game with. Microsoft have recently implemented a new policy which requires suppliers to offer employees a minimum of 12 weeks’ paid parental leave of up to $1,000 a week. But more businesses – especially smaller ones that don’t have to publish figures – should prioritize this for the coming year.

Encouraging female leadership

When we think of ‘women in tech’ we tend to think of roles like developer or architect. But there are also other roles like marketing and finance, as well as business leadership roles that are lacking in numbers. The New York Times recently reported that there were fewer women directing top-grossing 100 firms last year than men named Michael and John combined. This becomes even more shocking when we learn that men named John make up just 3.3% of the US population, while women overall represent 50.8%.

Despite this, encouraging women to take up leadership roles can have huge benefits for businesses. Deloitte recently released a report that found that the presence of women in leadership positions correlates with higher financial performance, better team dynamics and higher productivity levels. The report goes on to say that more gender-diverse teams help companies to combat the ongoing shortage of technical talent; as high performing teams with inspirational leaders (regardless of gender) can help to attract and retain IT staff.

The future is female, but not quite yet

While gender diversity is certainly improving for the tech industry, the lack of female representation in critical business positions is something we’ll likely conclude 2018 with. Existing female C-Suite members can inspire and propel underrepresented groups, and we can teach and lead our girls in education. But only through building further awareness, taking action and making committed changes can businesses squash issues and eradicate inequality in tech for good.

About Sunny Ackerman

Sunny Ackerman is President of Americas at Nigel Frank International, a global IT recruitment firm. Sunny has recently been named as one of The Global Power 150 most influential women in the staffing industry for the third time in four years. @SunnyAckerman @NigelFrank

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