Turning talk into action
It’s no accident when women end up on the board in STEM organisations. Only 19.2% of Fortune 500 CIOs are female. In fact, so many things must line up for success – including overcoming bias, right inspiration and influences, support, and the right flexibility in the role.
The booming tech industry should be a place of equal opportunities for all genders, yet women make up only 14.5% of all UK engineers, according to a Women’s Engineering Society 2021 report, despite a 25.7% increase in women in engineering occupations since 2016.
And still less than a fifth (19.2%) of Fortune 500 CIOs are women. With the balance not in women’s favour, so much more can and must be done to break down bias to enable women to achieve their potential in STEM careers.
Business roles should be defined by experience and potential, rather than gender. Our young people are the talent of the future, and organisations will need to work at creating and refining a diverse culture and offer more flexible ways to accommodate workers with particular lifestyle needs. Seeing and treating their biggest assets as humans first and foremost will build the best teams, but through building stronger connections earlier on, at school level, this can significantly break down bias.
Eradicating bias at school age
As influences on our desires and ambitions start so early in life, motivating more women to start a career in tech would involve starting at grass roots. It’s clear that more needs to be done to eradicate gender-based stereotyping in schools, to get girls equally involved in creative STEM projects, and dispel outdated views on how to access the industry.
I would encourage more exposure for that critical age, 16- to 18-year-olds. We need to communicate that there is more to tech than coding, and that we need full participation in the entire ecosystem of the tech world. With its broad spectrum of roles, which can be anything from operational, product and client management, sales, PR and marketing, to software development and testing, data science and coding.
And once they’ve joined the industry, it’s about keeping women on their career paths. When I look at so many of my talented female friends, who have struggled to make the right decision between family and surviving in this type of industry, I’m disappointed that an industry based on innovation hasn’t made faster strides to change. So many people love the industry, but sometimes despite its nomadic tech image, the reality is that employers do not offer the right balance.
Employers must try to give more and find flexible working solutions for women in technology. And it’s about accepting that you might not get the pattern right to begin with, but after a few tries – adapting work patterns after maternity leave for example – you get there, and you realise that the wealth of talent women bring to the business is worth working to accommodate.
Tech organisations need to prioritise future workforce strategy to give more flexibility to women. Quite simply, if they don’t have to sacrifice their career ambitions, more women will make it to boardroom level.
It’s important to introduce working practices that specifically support women, including those with caring responsibilities. A passion around diversity and equality must come right from the top to encourage the progression of women and girls into science and technology roles. I have driven policies so that, unique among technology companies, Red Ant has a team that comprises of almost 60% of women across all roles – from boardroom to developers.
Ways of working are critical to successfully supporting women in tech roles. This means designing core hours to enable parents and carers to spend time with their families when they need it most at the beginning and end of the day. Adopting hybrid working patterns will ensure that the team spends at least some of the week working from home. This makes a significant difference to childcare arrangements and their cost as well as other responsibilities including caring for elderly relatives.
Enabling employees to join at different stages of their career journey, including as part of an apprenticeship, can also open up opportunities for women without traditional work histories. Openly encouraging women returners to work and career changers widens the talent pool and recruiting candidates for their life skills as well as their work skills will benefit the business.
HR and hiring managers should always be prepared to discuss and develop roles to support women’s lives outside work – for example, we’ve recently adapted a sales support role for a talented client-facing team member who needed to adjust her work pattern to care for her children.
All of us women in tech are role models, demonstrating the value women are driving in STEM, and sharing fascinating journeys and experiences will motivate others to join. It’s a team effort to level the playing field for all genders, champion women’s achievements and to mentor and inspire women to succeed.
My mantra for myself and for all women is, ‘Have courage’. There’s the stat that most women tend only to apply for a job if they can already do 80% of the job description. It’s so important to realise that you don’t have to tick all the boxes to be great at your role, and that attitude can count more than experience. If you don’t throw your hat into the ring, you’re not giving yourself the chance.
Our industry is only now realising the vast wealth of talent that women can offer, for organisations and society. We need to turn talk into action and make our problem-solving diverse, make discriminatory hiring outdated and offer more young women access to rewarding careers in STEM.
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