Much has changed in the global tech sector in the years I’ve been covering it, but one issue remains: the lack of diversity, and specifically, the resounding need to attract more women into the industry.
Bearing in mind technology is synonymous with innovation, disruption and change much of the latter needs to happen if it’s ever going to rid itself of the “tech bro” culture it’s so long been associated with and desperately needs to shake off.
Recent developments and scandals have highlighted the need to encourage more females into leadership positions across a myriad of industries, and although the zeitgeist is seemingly favourable, when it comes to tech, the stats are incredibly disheartening.
Research released by AllBright, found that one in five (22%) of female founders say they are not being heard by male investors. A survey by tech recruitment firm Dice and Bustle suggests that pay inequality in the technology industry is a real problem, with an overwhelming majority (82%) of female respondents saying they believed in the existence of a wage gap. Some 60% of respondents also stated they were treated differently to their male colleagues. Additionally, the data found that women in tech were earning fewer promotions and raises when compared to their male counterparts, who incidentally, boasted the same amount of experience.
It’s not all negative, though. Some 90% of participants said they actively encouraged the next generation to embark on a career in tech and although this is a start, much more needs to be done to encourage diversity across the sector.
The shortage of female role models is often cited as a contributing factor to the lack of diversity in the industry.
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If we look back in time, though, it’s clear women have played a pivotal role in science and technology. Think Ada Lovelace, a mathematician widely regarded as the founder of scientific computing; Jean Bartik, among the first group of programmers to write and execute programs on ENIAC; and Grace Hopper, known as the ‘Queen of Software’, who helped create some of the earliest programming languages, including COBOL. Fast forward to today and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki are some of the female tech leaders who quickly come to mind. But despite the slight increase in women entering high-level jobs in tech, they are still a minority.
“Everybody has a responsibility to be a role model,” said Cathy White, founder of CEW Communications and director of GeekGirl Meetup UK, a female-led meetup group which organises events for women.
“I would love to see more women putting themselves forward to support girls and other women.
“There is a growing list of initiatives out there, and everyone can be a role model to someone else. If you can see someone like you with a role in technology, it becomes easier to imagine yourself in that role.
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“So whether you’re a founder, a junior developer or in marketing, you’re in tech and you can have a significant impact on one person’s career. Jump in, get involved, and let’s make women in tech more visible, for everyone,” White added.
Research shows that the technology gender gap begins at school and carries on throughout every stage of girls’ and women’s lives – with women as young as 15 and 16 being put off careers in tech.
According to Evgeny Shadchnev, CEO of Makers Academy – a 12-week computer programming bootcamp in London – much of this is changing, but there’s still a long way to go.
“35% of our software engineer trainees are women – that’s twice the national average,” Shadchnev claimed.
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“We create an environment that allows women to feel comfortable in the tech world – and that has to continue in the workplace as well. As more women learn to code and companies adapt to new ways of working, which includes flexible hours – we will see a shift in the numbers, but the corporate culture has to accommodate and give women the chance to shine. Mentorships and networks can help to provide the support they need too,” he noted.
Getting more women involved in coding is clearly a positive step, but there needs to be industry-wide collaboration to ensure the technology industry is appealing for all.
Rona Ruthen, head of operations at FinTech startup Curve, said there are certain fallacies about working in the industry, which make some women believe they have to be hardcore techies, work 14 hours a day and find it impossible to balance their careers and children.
“Tech is such a huge industry with so many opportunities, but I appreciate it’s hard to get your head around that unless you’re in it or very close to someone who is.”
According to Ruthen, the industry needs to do a far better job when it comes to raising awareness and educating young females about the opportunities afforded by the sector.
“There is much less clarity and insight into what it means to work in tech and to be a woman in tech. We need to highlight what the different roles are, the skills that are required and how people can go about acquiring these.
“Awareness can and should be raised across all age groups, from young girls to high school, university and even working women who could improve their income and their options and interests at work,” said Ruthen.
Gemma Young, CEO and co-founder of PropTech startup Settled, agreed and spoke about the long-term benefits of creating a more diverse industry.
“I hope all leaders of businesses and all people hiring can look underneath some of the trends and understand our subconscious biases alongside the systemic reasons behind diversity gaps. In time, we can all make a difference,” added the entrepreneur.
Inspiring women to consider a career in the technology industry and educating key stakeholders is crucial if we are ever going eradicate the gender imbalance, but Line Caspersen, senior vice president of Nigel Frank International, highlighted the need for greater support in the workplace to help women progress their careers.
“It’s just as important to bolster our current colleagues as it is to inspire our future peers. Keeping up the momentum of that kind of openness and solidarity inside the workplace is paramount to making sure more women are not only entering specific fields, but advancing in them.
“Women need to be better represented at all levels, and having the support of their fellow professionals can make all the difference when it comes to progressing to management and decision-making positions.”
This, however, doesn’t just come down to employers, it’s also down to individuals and their colleagues.
“Women have long been conditioned to be modest and deferential, especially when it comes to success; how often do you see women in a professional setting using qualifiers, softening their communications, or not allowing themselves space to speak? It can be challenging to unlearn these social ticks, but by acting as linguistic umpires of sorts, women are helping each other weed out these kinds of detrimental, self-deprecating behaviours.
“Not letting each other deflect praise, rerouting the conversation when we’re interrupted, calling each other out when we apologise for asking questions or making suggestions; so much of showing solidarity with our fellow female professionals is just being a watchdog, and helping other women break the cycle of minimising behaviours. By removing these dampers, we’re helping each other shine, and solidifying our positions as strong leaders in the workplace,” Caspersen concluded.
Everyone I spoke to for this piece agreed that the lack of women in tech was largely due to a systemic failure in the funnel, namely the low uptake of STEM among females. If we can’t remedy this, if we can’t ensure women are part of the wider conversation from the onset, we’ll never really solve the problem.
International Women’s Day is a good day to reflect on this, to figure out ways in which we can all make a difference, but the impetus is on us – as an industry – to carry on doing so throughout the rest of the year and action change to achieve tangible results.
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