To celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, we’re taking an updated look at the dreaded gender gap – namely how it’s impacting women in tech, how leaders are fighting back, and what companies can do to close it once and for all.
Equality is not just a women’s issue, it’s a business issue; a lack of gender equality is costing economies and communities more and more each day. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #EachForEqual and that’s because an equal world is a fully enabled world. To turn this concept into reality, we’ve got to actively challenge stereotypes, fight bias, and celebrate women’s achievements.
While the gender gap is an issue spanning many industries, in this blog, we’re sticking to the devil we know, putting tech under the microscope to evaluate how companies are tackling gender challenges head on – and how tech can lead the way for others to follow.
Measuring the Gap in 2020
So where are we at in terms of equality in the tech world? First we need to get to grips with the current situation, and like any landscape, there are some peaks and troughs. So, the good news is that there are now over a million women working in core-STEM careers, achieving the 2020 target, but the bad news is that there’s still a long way to go before women take up 30% of the STEM workforce, which is the amount needed to influence real change. When looking at tech specifically, women IT professionals make up just 16.4% of the workforce, and things have remained around the 16% mark since 2009.
According to PwC research, the gender gap in tech starts at school, and continues through every stage of a woman’s life. Only 27% of female A Level students said they would consider a career in tech, compared to over twice as many males, so clearly more needs to be done to encourage young women that they could have a future in the tech industry.
Who’s Leading the Charge?
One contributing factor to the gender gap is a lack of visibility. 78% of students surveyed by PwC couldn’t name a famous female working in technology and maybe that’s because only 5% of leadership positions in the technology sector are held by women. But things are changing.
Women in tech have definitely been busy over the past 10 years, from creating super successful social apps like Whitney Wolfe, founder of Bumble, to being appointed CEO of a major organisation, such as Susan Wojcicki, the current CEO of YouTube. Now, as we enter a new decade, women in tech aren’t slowing down. In fact, the number of women-led start ups has doubled in the past 10 years, and is still on the rise. In other words, women in the tech sphere aren’t giving up without a fight.
Businesses must also play a part in closing the gender gap. While forward-thinking organisations such as Bumble, 23andMe, Etsy, and Linkedin are reaping the benefits of diverse hiring, with a fair share of women employees in tech roles and senior management positions. Venture Capitalists can also help reset the balance by supporting female leaders in their entrepreneurial endeavours. Pivotal Ventures, an investment created by Melinda Gates, has recently committed $50 million to support women in the technology industry outside of the Silicon Valley bubble.
Microsoft is another organisation that’s committed to a diverse future and has been utilising the latest tech innovation to bring it to life. Microsoft’s DigiGirlz project offers free technology programs to keep young girls interested in tech. Microsoft’s cybersecurity and communication software is also helping more and more organisations transition to the cloud securely, and embrace remote working. This allows more flexibility for women with families, and also empowers new mothers with the ability to return to work without having to return to the office.
In our very own city of Manchester, equality in the tech industry is very much on the agenda. Last year, two of our representatives were lucky enough to attend the Reframe: Women in Tech conference, which brought together northern women from a plethora of tech backgrounds, for a day of empowerment through insightful talks, group learning experiences, and networking sessions. This year, there are plenty of local events for women in tech to seek their teeth into, such as the Amazing Women in Data meetup, Inspiring Women in Technology, Code and Stuff, and the WeAreTechWomen northern summit.
How We Close the Gap
Hiring policies have changed over the years, it’s no longer enough to hire diverse people, they also need to feel included and empowered to create positive change within their organisations. Rather than just seeing more women in the office, we need to see more women in the boardroom. Women’s empowerment starts in the classroom, but there’s plenty that can be done to boost women in tech in work right now. Encouragement must come from bosses, industry leaders, peers, and mentors alike.
Things are changing, but here’s how organisations can speed up that change:
- Training – we all know there’s a skills shortage in tech, so encouraging women to enter the tech world and training them to become experts will fill two gaps with one stone.
- Skill development – investing in women from entry level upwards will transform them into the leaders of tomorrow.
- Mentorship – offering a program where the leaders of today can advise, support, and inspire the women leaders of tomorrow can also help to close the gender gap within your organisation.
- Culture – the tech industry needs to rid itself of the so called “bro-culture” made popular by Silicon Valley and perpetuated by the start-ups it inspires, transforming this into a more open and diverse culture will attract more women into tech careers.
- Visibility – if your organisation has women leaders, ensure they’re visible within the company so that newcomers to the company can see what’s possible.
- Flexibility – your organisation has a responsibility to accommodate expectations placed on women around caring for the family and returning to work after pregnancy, remote working and maternity support can help with this.
- Support – Initiatives need to include women from the top-down, that includes C-suite and boardroom representation. If the highest positions within your organisation don’t include a single woman, ask yourself why that is and work to change it.
The tech industry is an exciting place to work in. With the help of artificial intelligence, machine learning, advanced robotics, and cyber security, tech companies are literally shaping the future. In order to ensure that future is an equal one, we need to close the gender gap. Fortunately, these technologies are helping with the gender gap as well, for example, where would mothers returning to work be without the benefits of remote working, made possible by Microsoft’s 365 suite? But there’s more that needs to be done, and tech isn’t the only answer. The other component is collaboration: working together to empower, support, develop, mentor, and celebrate women in tech is the best tool we have in creating an equal future.
Happy International Women’s Day! Hopefully you’ve been keeping up with our special series of Women in Tech podcasts this week. Missed them? Click here to listen.
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