You only have to look at the Meet The Team section of any tech firm’s website to see that women remain largely underrepresented in the industry, especially in top leadership roles. This shortcoming threatens to leave half the world’s population out of the companies, products, and conversations helping to shape our collective future. But what are the barriers for female workers and how can companies overcome the gender gap?
“I think the challenge with women and tech starts in schools,” says Louise Lahiff, Version 1’s Director of Strategy, Planning, and People. “The lack of women at my level and the levels around me is stark. It has to start in schools. Making girls interested not just in technology, but science, physics and chemistry, the whole lot. There are just not enough girls getting into it from the offset so sometimes it feels like a losing battle,” says Lahiff who heads up the growth and development of 2,500 employees at the IT services company.
“When you really cut through all the noise around women in the industry, there is still a perception that a career in tech is a career in coding – software engineering, sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day not talking to anyone. No matter how much work is done on it, there are still a lot of people who perceive it that way. So I think the more businesses, including ourselves, can do to show there's so much more to it than that will help.
“More often than not the most successful people in tech are those who have soft skills. To be able to explain what a system does or to be able to do business analysis, to understand a real business problem, and then translate that into a solution. Those skills are in high demand and are often where women are as strong, if not stronger than men.
Levelling up in the industry is also proving a stumbling block for many women. “Unfortunately, I think the old adage of ‘men will apply if they have eight of 15 skills required, and women will apply only if they have all 15’ is still true. I see it all the time. And so there is that piece around taking the chance on something that you might not be fully qualified for.
“Even internally, I see a man and a woman who I know are equivalent in skills and knowledge, and the man just pushes themselves a little bit harder. And suddenly there are two levels between them and I'm wondering how did that happen? Women need to back themselves a little bit more, in tech in particular. It probably comes back to my previous point of really understanding that those soft skills are probably more important than some of the technical skills, whereas I think the perception is the reverse of that.”
Lahiff also believes that business leaders have a responsibility to advocate for those not yet in the room. “Over the years, I have been a mentor, a coach, and a sponsor. We have a shadow board and I mentor a member of the shadow board every year, which I get a lot out of actually. It’s about getting them to think bigger in terms of what they can do. I'm often in the room when people are being talked about, and just being mindful of that, making sure there’s an unbiased discussion going on and women are being considered in the same way men are.”
At the current rate of progress, it will take 132 years to reach gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022. Until businesses learn that a lack of gender equality can seriously impact the bottom line, change will remain slow.
“I was at a dinner at the start of this year with Tom O’Connor, our CEO, and 14 men. The next day, he said ‘if that was me with 14 women and I was the only man in the room I think that that would have felt strange’". Long story short, that was a company looking to do business with us and he backed away from them because of that. He said if they weren't conscious enough to realise bringing 14 people to a dinner where they knew there was going to be a woman and didn't think it might be nice to bring a woman as well, they aren’t aware that diversity, all types of diversity, is important to us, then they're probably not the kind of company we want to work with.”