International Women’s Day (IWD) aims to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women – and there’s certainly no shortage of inspirational women to celebrate in the tech sector.
Hedy Lamarr, the inventor of wifi, Annie Easley, the NASA Rocket Scientist, and Ada Lovelace, the world's first computer programmer, are just a few examples of women who have driven, and continue to drive exciting innovations that are changing our world for the better.
But whilst there is much to celebrate, the data shows there are still significant issues when it comes to gender diversity in the tech sector. According to research from Tech Nation, only 26% of those in the tech workforce are women, highlighting a serious imbalance.
I graduated with a science degree nearly 20 years ago and was one of just two women in the class. There’s no doubt that progress has been made since then. But throughout my journey in executive roles at Dropbox, Google, and now Personio, it’s safe to say I’ve learnt a lot about being a woman in tech.
So, how can we bring more females into the tech sector?
Dispel ‘male’ perceptions of tech early
Closing the tech gender gap starts in the education system. Progress is being made here, but dispelling perceptions that tech careers are ‘only for men’ - should start early.
There’s one important caveat here. With all the focus on STEM for females, I think it’s important to acknowledge this is not a career for everyone (regardless of gender). In the same way that we don’t talk about everyone needing to focus on fine art as a subject, we should have the same approach with STEM! However, encouraging and opening opportunities for girls from primary school level ensures that they can keep an open mind on the many exciting roles and academic routes there are to a tech career.
One way to help spark this interest in younger girls is for female tech professionals to visit schools and universities to talk about their own experiences. This can open young eyes to the variety of roles available to them, and ensure that girls are making choices, such as GCSE options, that will not exclude them from a career in tech early on. Meanwhile, this is also important for making female role models in tech more visible.
Female role models are key
Female role models play an important role in reducing the gender gap at senior levels in organisations, and across STEM more broadly. Reflecting on my career, I’ve been really fortunate to have the support of great female mentors and bosses who have been invaluable and helped fuel my own aspirations and ambitions. Not only have they guided me, they have also enabled me to tap into their own network and experience – a privilege I do not take for granted, and it has been a contributing factor to my career successes.
With the knowledge of how I’ve benefited from it, I feel it’s really important to pass on this initiative and to support others in my network both formally and informally. And I would call upon other senior female leaders to do similar.
The beauty of this is that it doesn’t always have to be a big project to ensure impact. For example, simply assigning an experienced mentor to new starters in the workplace will help guide them on their new professional journey and reach their goals. This will benefit young women with less experience who are just starting out in their tech careers.
Sponsorship is also another crucial way to help support young female talent, by nominating them for new challenges outside of their comfort zone or core focus areas and helping to give them opportunities to step into and lead in new areas. They’re also a way for executives to open the door for young talent and connect them with influential and important contacts. In this way, particularly in the tech sector, underrepresented employees are helped to advance their careers with the help and guidance of a leader in a position of power.
Normalise working parenthood
Women are still more likely to shoulder family responsibilities than men, by reducing hours in the workplace or even stepping away entirely. This can be seen not just with parenthood, but in other types of care too. It’s incumbent on companies to create a culture backed by the right policy framework to ensure that women (or indeed primary caregivers of any gender) are not presented with a binary choice of family vs career, but have the option to adjust working patterns in a way that suits the needs of the individual and the business.
In addition, you will often see women who have taken a less “standard” route than their male counterparts to get to a certain point in their career. It’s therefore important to ensure that hiring processes can take this into consideration when staffing new roles. There are many amazing women who can take on new roles as family life adjusts for them, but the recruiting process within businesses needs to allow for this, for example by interviewing as many females as males in the process.
Female mentorship, dispelling gender stereotypes and voicing the views of working mothers are just some of the ways that we can achieve equality and equity in the workplace. These practices require commitment and long-term investment and crucially. The bottom line is that a more diverse tech world leads to better products being delivered, better balance in the workplace and overall a stronger socioeconomic environment for the next generation to grow up in. So let's make changes to make tech more accessible for all.