In the world of work, and particularly within the technology industry, women have long experienced a number of challenges, from the battle for equal pay to breaking the ‘glass ceiling’, being represented in senior roles, returning after maternity leave and more
In line with this year’s International Women’s Day theme #breakthebias, fifteen women working in the technology sector have shared their experiences and learnings, in the hopes of creating workplaces free of bias, stigma and barriers for women.
The challenges for working women
“International Women’s Day serves as a reminder that gender equality in the workplace is essential for building a better future” says EJ Cay, Vice President, UK and Ireland at Genesys. “We must create workplaces for women that ensure their careers are not strewn with obstacles.”
Without a doubt, there are obstacles and challenges that disproportionately affect women. Some, like the gender pay gap, have been longstanding, while others have been exacerbated by the pandemic. For example, Cecilia LeJeune, Pluralsight Author and Design Strategist says, “during the pandemic, many women were considering quitting their job due to the lack of business flexibility, child-rearing and household responsibilities, and stress.”
This must be addressed, so women can reap the benefits of flexible working. For example, the pandemic has redefined what the working day looks like for some women. Susan Fazelpoor, Chief Operating Officer at Demand Science believes that it has allowed women to work from home, and benefit from “greater flexibility with work hours, making it easier for some women and families to balance the demands of their lives, and to remain in the workforce.”
Lori MacVittie, Principal Technical Evangelist at F5, also argues that technology like the cloud has helped make working life more positive for women, as it enhances this flexibility. She says, “the adoption of cloud-based solutions in the workplace has meant that it’s easier to balance work-life because the tools you need to work are always accessible from anywhere.”
If flexible working policies are implemented effectively, this freedom will likely lead to seeing more women not only in tech, but in leadership positions too. This impacts organisations positively, but also the type of technology they create. Poornima Ramaswamy, EVP Global Solutions and Partners at Qlik says we have “an opportunity to write a new chapter in history: to say we created technology to not just represent society, but also use it to help us improve society.”
Celebrating women in STEM and broadening participation
Careers in STEM have typically been male dominated, but there are many amazing contributions to the STEM industry made by women. For example, Jen Rodvold, Head of Sustainability, Digital Ethics & Social Impact Consulting at Sopra Steria, says “careers in STEM are more inspiring than ever, with women in science such as Dr. Özlem Türeci – one of the scientists behind the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine – and in tech, such as Tara Donnelly at NHSX, playing such pivotal roles.”
However, there is more work to be done as women still represent the minority of STEM experts. Siobhan Ryan, Enterprise Sales Executive at UiPath, says “We still have a lot of work to do to ensure that women want to choose STEM careers.” Ryan adds that “a lot of STEM subjects are still very focused on the ‘hard’ skills – e.g., the coding, the maths, the infrastructure behind everything.”
To combat this, Daniela da Cruz, Head of Engineering of SAST and Engines at Checkmarx believes we need to encourage more women into careers in tech. She says we should “engage girls from a young age, and develop their sense of STEM identity. Positive and early exposure will make the difference and lead us to a future where women in STEM is the norm”
Many organisations are already doing this. Liz Parnell, COO at Rackspace Technology says their Racker Resource Groups, “help school children get a foundational understanding of technology – from how to code to what the future of the cloud will be.”
Offering opportunities for women and girls to experience STEM can go a long way to encouraging them to pursue technology. In fact, Sofia Ceppi, Research Integration Lead at Secondmind says she “particularly enjoyed participating in Code First Girls at Secondmind,” as the students could “see the collaboration, fun and mutual respect that exists”.
The idea that STEM is an option for everyone – regardless of gender – is catching on. Kat Judd, SVP People & Culture at Lucid says “I never thought I would end up in a career at a tech company. Not only am I female, but I came from a very non-technical background, and felt it was a career for people who had studied STEM subjects at school. I’ve quickly realised that tech is more progressive and forward-looking than other industries, and there is always the opportunity to bring in people from all backgrounds and introduce new ways of thinking.”
Mentoring younger women and encouraging them to use their voice
Visible role models and mentors are another important way to encourage more women into the technology industry. Rosie Gollancz, Software Engineer at VMware Tanzu Labs believes that good mentors or role models can provide guidance and “help along the way.” She notes that she was “lucky to have a strong mentor” for support in her younger years and hopes younger women can experience the same.
Typically, mentoring works one way, with a more senior mentor coaching their junior. Alana Lukens, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Grayce believes in something different – ‘reverse mentoring’. She says this involves “partnering junior employees with senior board members and members of the leadership team and giving them the chance to discuss their experiences.” As a result, there is better understanding and communication between female employees – which can help to create change.
As well as external support and encouragement from a mentor, it is important for women to find their own voice and see the unique strengths they have. Ro Mohindroo, Chief Information Officer at Sitecore says “I’ve been fortunate to come up through my career in Science and Technology making a seat at the table for myself based on the ideas and solutions I have brought forward. My advice to young women is to own your value.” Mohindroo believes women should not be afraid to showcase their strengths and do what they can to “help the business thrive.”
Similarly, Donna Johnson, SVP Marketing at Cradlepoint says “be vocal about your past and current success so that in a new situation, people see what you’ve achieved.” She also believes that “eliminating bias doesn’t mean that we all conform to a single image, but rather that we are free to be who we are and free to expect that others will interact with us based on our real self and real accomplishments and not gendered assumptions.”
Edwina Murphy, Director, Public Cloud Management at Sungard AS, supports this idea too. She says “Women must speak up. They might find occasions where some don’t want to listen, but no one can take their voice from them, and it is the most powerful tool for bringing positive change.”
There have long been challenges for women working in a male-dominated technology industry, and while some remain, progress is being made and STEM careers are being made more accessible to a much wider range of people. From the benefits of flexible working to more mentorship and female role models, the world of work is changing and empowering women to take on roles and careers in the way that suits them best.
Looking forward, we’re hopeful that the next generation of women in technology will face even fewer biases and obstacles and will be able to speak freely and boldly about their successes and challenges and support the women who come after them.