Women are capable of extraordinary things and can become an integral part of the technology industry
I recently had the privilege to attend a number of women in technology events in London, where the topic of debate was how to rebalance the gender difference within technology businesses. The first was hosted by Baroness Martha Lane Fox who is a truly inspirational woman leading the way on this topic. I also had the honour to attend an event hosted by Melissa Di Donato, VP at Salesforce with some incredible guest speakers such as Emily Lawson, HR Director at Morrison’s. It was truly inspiring along with being incredibly frustrating to know that we have some real challenges to overcome this imbalance. However, I do believe the time is ripe for women in technology, and I think the news we’ll see in the future is going to be a whole lot better than what we have been seeing in the past.
According to Martha Lane Fox a staggering 98% of internet coding is programmed by men and only 14% of technology jobs are filled by women. It’s a pretty damming statistic and one that needs to be evened out, but how is this going to happen given the current challenges women face in technology?
I am part of this 14% - so I can say with confidence that working in the digital tech economy is one of the most exciting, fast-moving and challenging places to be at the moment. However, the main task for me is how we get the next generation of career women to realise this and how can we progress our careers up to the C-suite?
Here's another pretty poor statistic: According to Emily Lawson only 12% of women hold executive roles within the UK. It’s a known fact that companies that have women sitting on the executive board tend to have a 60% increase in profitability. If that's not compelling enough to review the gender balance and make proactive change I don’t know what is!! It’s a fact that ‘you can't be what you can't see'.
However, we just don’t have enough women applying for these roles and even fewer young girls studying science, technology or programming in secondary school. There is a fundamental need to address this at school age. Let's face it, when it comes to girls, our industry has a PR problem. This is not just an issue we are facing in the UK, but a global problem that needs tackling. Tech is for whatever reason, not appealing to enough young women as a career opportunity. We know it’s not boring or that it means you are destined to sit in a dark room coding your life away. We also know that you don't need to be amazing at maths or have a passion for science. It’s also about creativity and ideas and this is something that doesn't get coverage within the tech world. Women matter for the strength of product design. Facebook would have been far more evolved from day one than having a ‘like or not’ feature had it not been based on men liking women at university!
Roughly 50% of the population are female; this means 50% of the working population should be female too. We need to look at this demographic and start to change the way we operate. According to Emily Lawson, group HR Director at Morrison's and previously a Partner at McKinsey there are five areas where a shift is needed given the shortage of talent in technology.
1. Hiring - Significant work is needed on the hiring process when coming across women without tech degrees. By taking the bias off our hiring we would inevitable see more women being recruited.
2. Promotion - Women need to get themselves out there and be proud of their successes. Find what works in an organisation and keep doing it. Setting targets when doing promotions will help.
3. Assignment - Women tend not to get the tough jobs because we think they might not be up for it. They are up for it!
4. Evaluation - Women don't receive the same evaluations and then they leave (50% of your female workforce will leave to go to competitors)
5. Culture - Women are twice as likely to leave if they don’t like the culture.
No matter how small a change you make, you need to make it. One key initiative that is proven to deliver results is around mentorship and sponsorship. Women need to mentor men to ensure men gain a better understanding of women at work and ultimately this will make them better in many facets of their lives. Yet women need to have engagement from men in leadership roles. They need to move from a mentorship relationship with men to a sponsorship one. Only 17% of women in the UK have a sponsor and 74% of men have them. Internal sponsors are critical to getting you recognised on reputation and merit and help support getting you promoted. Sponsors will (or should) stick their neck out for you. Through increased mentorship/sponsorship and by actively trying to create conditions in which enterprising women thrive, we can ensure that future generations of aspiring females in tech have the support they need to achieve similar success. Quite simply we must send the elevator back down.
Leadership needs both men and women. I am certainly not a women's right activist and honestly before I started to engage in this topic I felt it was far too 'right on' for my liking. I do however passionately believe that the different traits in both men and women are an essential mix that any organisation needs. It’s just getting the balance correct.
The continued convergence of technology with human resources and marketing will inevitable bring with it a rise of women within the tech industry but let’s be honest, we need more women in senior positions to give us all the aspirations we need to take ourselves further.