Catherine Wong, Chief Product Officer, EVP Engineering at Domo, measures the temperature of the gender diversity landscape in the technology industry. She looks at the levels of gender diversity at different levels within companies, the remaining barriers to entry for women in senior tech positions, and what current leaders can do to attract and keep more women in senior data and technology roles.
Gender diversity is a hot topic in the tech industry. Over the past decade, the number of tech job roles taken up by women has increased by around 15%, showing a rate of growth 60% higher than the equivalent for males. Recruitment drives, changes in social attitudes and parallel initiatives occurring in education (i.e., encouraging women and girls to take an interest in STEM subjects from a young age) have all presumably contributed to the faster growth of women in tech. But if we look closer at the data, we are still far away from true gender diversity in the industry. Yes, the number of job roles taken up by women is growing, but the question of which roles are being taken paints a less diverse picture.
According to the latest ONS employment survey, there are more than six times the number of male information technology and telecommunications directors and managers than females in the UK. To put this in perspective, this is more than four times wider than the average gap found across all other industries included within the survey. It seems that in removing the barriers to women moving into the industry, we’ve forgotten to also remove those preventing women from moving to the top. Despite the clear and important progress that’s been made, it’s apparent that we still have a long way to go. So, what are the next steps?
Recruitment vs. development
Efforts to recruit more female workers into the industry must be matched by dedicated initiatives to promote the advancement of women’s careers. Technology organisations should set gender targets at each level of seniority and establish a programme of initiatives specifically to support women to advance to more senior positions. This could include reverse mentoring, return to work support initiatives (to get women into technology roles following career breaks) and sponsorship programmes for high performing employees.
Another myth worth busting is the requirement for employees to have a background in STEM in order to work in the tech industry. In fact, the industry is crying out for different skill sets, be it programme management, finance, operations, or other areas. Technology will continue its trend of becoming ever more deeply embedded into every aspect of life so we simply cannot afford to judge people’s careers on their interests and not their skills.
Lead by example
It’s important for tech companies to create an environment where women will actually want to develop their careers. While it may seem difficult to implement change at a cultural level, the best place to start is by looking at the specific language used in the working environment. Tech companies should evaluate language and terms for inclusivity and avoid language and phrases that are antiquated. Words are powerful and can promote an environment of equality and collaboration.
Highlighting female role models is another critically important activity, so long as this is done with the right intentions. Putting a few token female executives on a pedestal will fool nobody into thinking that you are serious about diversity, and will inevitably backfire dramatically as a clear box-ticking exercise. Actions speak louder than words, and nothing says that a company takes diversity seriously louder than the promotion or hiring of female employees into senior leadership positions. This will show other female employees that there is a route through the company, one which has the same support, sponsorship, and access to high-profile work as male colleagues.
It goes without saying that diversity is about far more than gender equality. Any initiative looking to improve the number of women in senior tech roles that does not also take into account other clear demographic disparities – such as those between different ethnicities, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic backgrounds – is only looking at the tip of the iceberg. In other words, this is less a fight to see specific people sitting on the executive board, but for the board itself to be as representative and heterogenous as society itself.
Unfortunately, this is not just a tech problem. Society hasn’t evolved at the pace we need it to in order to overcome the issues of diversity that still run rampant in the business world today. For companies, this may not be something that can be fixed overnight. What counts, be it for women or any other underrepresented group in senior tech positions, is at the very least an acknowledgement of the damage inequality can cause and a commitment to fight it by any means necessary.
The responsibility to be inclusive
The ethical imperative for greater representation amongst the executive board of technology companies is the driving force behind the recommendations above. But by no way does this mean that driving these changes will only have ethical benefits. According to Women in Tech, gender parity in the technology industry would also benefit the UK economy by £2.6bn each year by reducing the nation’s prevalent tech talent shortage. Research has also shown that gender diversity at board level leads to better decision-making, curbs excessive risk-taking improves a firm’s reputation and boosts earnings.
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We are responsible for taking the actions today which will benefit the generations of tomorrow. For technology firms, this means taking the responsibility to make sure that the sector provides an attractive and inclusive working environment, and one in which people are able to realise their full potential. As I entered the workforce, I realised how valuable the perspective my individuality gave me was, to my teams as well as? my career. I brought a different set of values and insight to the workplace because of the experiences I’ve had, and because of that, I’ve worked to bring in others from a variety of backgrounds to help diversify perspectives along the way. This has a benefit for everyone, and it is our collective responsibility in the technology industry to keep individuality and inclusion at the core of our culture.
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