Women in Technology: Time to #Breakthebias

Initiatives to support women in the technology industry have abounded over the past few years. However, despite incremental progress, women remain a minority.

As Dominique Fougerat, EVP People & Culture at Axway, points out, “a recent report into gender diversity showed that, based on the current rate of progress, it will take another 100 years to achieve gender equality. The change remains too slow. The world needs meaningful changes now. Creating a more female-friendly tech industry will require fundamental changes at the level of companies and employers, but also within the education system and the underlying assumptions and biases that are still prevalent in society today.”

So how can technology companies create this meaningful change? We spoke to experts from across the industry to offer their advice on the changes that have the biggest impact.

Starting at the top

One area of the industry that women are particularly underrepresented in is leadership – the last few years have actually seen a fall in the number of female CEOs.

Samantha Humphries, Head of Security Strategy EMEA at Exabeam argues that making change on a leadership level is crucial for attracting female talent. “Organisations need to build a work environment that champions gender equality by starting at the top. For example, look at your board and your executives – are they representative of the workforce you want to have? If I’m approached by an employer, I dive straight towards their website’s company pages. If its leadership team is a catalogue of white men, alarm bells immediately start to ring. This doesn’t necessarily mean all companies should implement strict hiring quotas, but organisations that demonstrate their value for diversity via their leadership are a much more attractive option when looking for new employment.”

“Organisations should be striving for more diversity among their senior leadership and Board,” agrees Bruce Martin – CFO at Tax Systems. “The more diverse the people in the room, the more varied the thinking, which will increase creativity and innovation, and better the results. In fact, a study by McKinsey found that for every 10% increase in gender diversity, EBIT rose by 3.5%. Diversity matters.”

Challenge the traditional 9 to 5

Many business leaders do not realise that offering only traditional office-based roles, operating on a strict 9 to 5 schedule, acts as a barrier many women.

“Organisations need to open their businesses up to the large diverse talent pool that is too often overlooked – the part time workers, which statistically are more likely to be women. Challenging the traditional 9 to 5 / 5 days a week approach is one way to achieve this,” explains Martin.

“At Tax Systems we have embraced agile working practices and worked hard throughout the company to encourage and support part time and flexible working before, during and now after the Covid pandemic. By being more accommodating and taking on the objective approach of trusting our team to get the work done, we are able to widen our talent pool and get the right people in the right roles – irrespective of location, time constraints or personal circumstance.”

“Offering benefits, such as flexible working, will also help retain female staff once they are part of the industry,” adds Anne Tiedemann, SVP People & Investor Relations at Glasswall. “As many of our female staff are mothers, and some of them the sole guardians of their children, it is important that we offer them flexibility in their working routines to balance all aspects of their lives.

“I am very fortunate to be part of a company run by a CEO who embraces diversity. Since 2016, the number of women at Glasswall has grown by 700%. And this continues to increase – we are seeing much more diverse talent pools. When candidates are equal on every technical measure, we make conscious recommendations to balance the team. After all, we have experienced firsthand that a diverse workforce benefits from better collaboration and improved communication.”

Lifting female voices

Often the simplest, and yet most overlooked, strategy for supporting women is simply asking the women what they need. As Anais Urlichs, Developer Advocate, Aqua Security points out: “At the moment, women in the industry are rarely in positions with large amounts of influence. They know what they’d like to see change, but too often they don’t have a voice. Organisations that are serious about supporting women need to actively challenge this, and offer women a space to provide feedback on the business’ gender equality initiatives”.

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As well as creating space for women to speak out, organisations should also invest in initiatives that support the women in their employ.

For example, Diane Murray, EMEA Strategy Lead, Progress explains that “Progress has several initiatives to encourage and empower women in the company, as well as support women to pursue STEM education. We have a company-wide Employee Resource Group (ERG) – ‘Progress for Her’, created to empower Women at Progress. It provides leadership and networking opportunities, as well as the tools needed to create substantial influence both in and out of our professional network.”

The power of a role model

Women are often discouraged from pursuing tech careers from a young age, as societal biases creep in.

“Studies have shown that gender stereotyping starts as early as primary school age where books and language begin to shape how girls and boys ‘should’ think, look, and behave. They pick up cues from the language they hear, the images they see and the expectations placed on them. Their family and friends, the media and familiar settings such as their playgroup will all influence how children interpret gender,” explains Nicola Aitken, Microsoft Business Manager, Ascent.

One way to challenge these stereotypes is to shine a spotlight on women already in the industry. “With this year’s theme for International Women’s Day being, ‘Break the Bias,’ I think it is critical for women already in the technology field to express their enthusiasm for a career in the industry. After all, if we don’t, how can we expect more women to be encouraged to be involved?” argues Svenja De Vos, CTO, Leaseweb Global.

“It is of the utmost importance that we teach young girls that women are successful in the technological realm. Despite the fact that there has been an influx of women joining the tech workforce in recent years, being a female manager in the tech world is still considered ‘abnormal.’ I encourage women who are leaders in the industry to speak about their experiences to the younger generation to entice young people to get them excited about a technical education or career.”

Connie Stack, General Manager of Digital Guardian by HelpSystems, agrees. “I think it is really important that women have role models. For me, it’s been invaluable to have a large pool of personal female mentors and co-workers who have provided great advice and guidance all along the way – and continue to do so. From female founders and coworkers to my mother and aunts, they have all had a positive influence on my career. They’ve helped me navigate this fast-moving technology sector and encouraged me to make the leaps required for my career successes.”

Celebrating women

Ultimately, businesses need to invest in and appreciate women in the technology industry. Supporting and lifting up these women will only have a positive impact.

“This year on International Women’s Day, we celebrate women all over the world who pushed forward in an effort to #BreakTheBias so others could thrive,” Julie Giannini, Chief Customer Officer, Egnyte concludes. “While the journey is far from over – with women in leadership remaining underrepresented and gender biases still prevalent across many industries – we can take the time to celebrate the women who got us here, as well as those who keep pushing.”

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