On this day in 1920, American women were officially granted the right to vote at last. Now earmarked as Women’s Equality Day, the 26th of August serves as a reminder of the women, both past and present, who fought and continue to fight against discrimination in order to drive real change in the world.
The technology industry is the backbone of businesses across the world, and a sector that often faces scrutiny around gender diversity. Being a male dominated field means that technology companies are consistently being held accountable for their advocacy of women in tech, and pushed to participate in change-inducing programs designed to encourage more young girls into the field.
Business Reporter spoke with women from a variety of technology backgrounds to get their thoughts on how far this industry has come, and what it has yet to achieve:
Addressing the imbalance from the ground up
A lack of young girls interested in STEM subjects at school is often cited as the root cause for a lack of women applying for high-level tech roles. Agnes Schliebitz-Ponthus, Director Consulting at Fluent Commerce, says: “in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sector, for example, women remain the minority. Research shows that despite there now being over one million women in core-STEM occupations, women still represent under one fifth of the workforce.
“Despite there being no evidence indicating a difference in ability, STEM subjects are often looked at as being harder for women – with misconceptions often beginning in primary school, where girls can feel social pressures from their peers or local community to pursue alternate avenues like arts or humanities. There are already great women, as well as many men, advocating for greater equality in STEM. However, it is vital that women are supported by role models of their own gender: women who understand their struggles and experiences, and who can inspire their growth.”
“Tech and STEM fields are historically male-dominated, but women can be involved from the beginning and that starts with education,” agrees Tulin Green, Senior Director, EMEA Marketing at Commvault.
She continues: “I don’t think the education system is to blame for this gender gap: I think it’s the compounded stereotypical views of what is considered either a male or female job. A quote that I read a while back said something like, ‘Technology is too important to be left to men!’. If that became the mantra within the STEM subjects in our education system, perhaps we would have more women building their careers within the tech industry.”
“As an engineering graduate and now an applications engineer, I know how hard it can be for girls to make the decision to pursue a career in engineering,” explains Isabel Hutchings, Applications Engineer at Content Guru. “Young girls are at a particularly impressionable age, with relatively fluid perceptions of what they want to do in the future. It’s such an important age to capture students’ imaginations.
“Unfortunately, we’re not yet getting this right. The education system as a whole needs to do more to build not only awareness and knowledge about what engineering is like as a career – but passion in the subjects more generally. A recent report from Engineering UK found almost half of 11 to 19 year olds knew little or almost nothing about what engineers actually do. Worse still, engineering was seen as difficult, dirty, and a career better suited for men. Until we expand the perception of engineering in young people – particularly girls – and unlock the hidden passion in students to pursue the many opportunities this area offers, we can expect to see the same statistics rolled out year after year.”
Understanding the true value of gender diversity
Nicole Sahin, Founder and CEO of Globalization Partners, discusses how tangible business benefits can be reaped by utilising a diverse workforce:
“Women are achieving leadership positions at an accelerated pace, within my own organisation 50% of my team are women – proof that diverse teams render better results. Also promising is that, according to McKinsey, today, 44% of companies have three or more women in their C-suite, up from 29% of companies in 2015. This is a reminder of everything that women can achieve, especially if they are in an environment that supports and encourages their success.
“However, despite this progress, women continue to be underrepresented at every level: for every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired. From recruitment, to development, to women-friendly policies, Women’s Equality Day reminds us about the importance of prioritising equality across every aspect of the organisation, to ensure women’s progress is accelerated further.
“Time and time again, research shows that organisations that have a high percentage of diversity financially outperform their competitors. I’ve seen first-hand the powerful results that occur when people with different perspectives work together. By striving for equal, inclusive, and diverse organisations, we can make Women’s Equality Day an event to be truly proud of.”
Resetting perceptions, changing mindsets
This year has seen a massive upheaval of societal norms across the globe, with a pandemic holding workforces from every industry in its grip. “2020 has been a year of massive societal upheaval, but the truth is we are still living and working in an imbalanced world,” says Liz Cook, People Director, Six Degrees.
“Pre-pandemic, the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report stated that globally only 36% of senior managers and officials are women. In this new reality of pandemic uncertainty, gender imbalances have been exacerbated – a Boston Consulting Group report found that the recent increase in remote working has had a major impact on women, who have spent on average 15 hours more per week on domestic work during the pandemic.
“Women’s Equality Day highlights the importance of supporting women and men alike through agile working structures that level the playing field and empower people to be the very best at what they do, no matter what their circumstances. As the People Director of a technology company, I am passionate about working every day to deliver these agile working structures that promote gender-balance and drive a better working world.”
Donna Cooper, Global Marketing Director at WhereScape, adds: “Generation X women were the first women in their families to be able to go away to university, or to live on their own, launch a career and have the option to choose to stay home with their children. Despite the change in policies, there is still a fundamental issue that still needs to be addressed – the mindset that women don’t belong at the IT table.
“The technology field itself does not necessarily need to change. The gender-typical attitude that women have of themselves needs to be the roadblock that is addressed,” she continues.
“This is hardly surprising when you consider the thousands of years of training and mentality that needs to be undone. We need to remind women that no matter how they feel, who they are and what unique values they bring to the technology table that they should be treated equally. It’s important that women trust their own mechanics when entering a role in the technology field, keep on learning and moving forward.”
Be the change you want to see this Women’s Equality Day
Sofia Kaufman, CPO at Zerto, concludes: “Even though 100 years have passed since the 19th Amendment was signed into law, there are many areas in which women are still fighting for equality. While topics like equal pay and the lack of women in male-dominated industries still need to be addressed, I want to encourage women across the world to use this year’s Women’s Equality Day as a reminder of their worth. Women achieve amazing things everyday, and we need to be celebrated in our success as much as our male counterparts are. It’s no longer time to be humble; it’s time to speak up, move up, and be proud of what we achieve.”
While this year has proven to be more than turbulent for women and men across the globe, real change can be born from collective adversity; perhaps the perception and utilisation of women in our tech workforces is a good place to start this Women’s Equality Day.