Thankfully the IT sector isn’t a complete boys-club these days. I mean, women are still often outnumbered in any given room, and there is never a queue for the ladies toilets at any tech conference I’ve been to.
But there are a few more female CEOs on boards and stages in the tech world, and even in the research and development teams I’ve noticed more women leading the way.
During the pandemic, the daily juggle experienced by women (especially working mothers) was finally brought into the spotlight, as men were at home experiencing it first-hand. Many of these husbands and fathers may have been witnessing or sharing for the first time the matter of (home) schooling, bedtimes, and tantrums, all whilst managing a workload on a laptop.
Looking back, it feels like it was the social experiment women had needed and longed for – to demonstrate to men the world over the expectation, need, and ability to instantly switch from career women to mother/partner/homemaker at the drop of a hat (and succeed in all areas). It also gave employers the world over an unexpected taste of remote working, with plenty realising they can trust their employees to work just as hard and meet as many deadlines as they would have had they been commuting into an office five days a week.
So perhaps now is the time to not just ask for more from our employers, but to expect more from our employers too. To name but a few, here are four things that women in tech want most from their employer, in my opinion.
- Zero tolerance on sexual harassment and gender discrimination
This could go without saying, but I’d never want to risk it. How a company responds to these issues and the seriousness of the consequences matter. I want to be part of a company that is proud to stand its ground on the right side of a debate. It goes beyond the internal procedures though; women will also be interested in how a tech (or any) company reacts and advocates on important public or political issues like abortion, #metoo, parental leave, flexible working laws, and general women’s rights. To put it simply: If you care about your workforce then you should care about the matters that impact them, and be proactive in advocating to support them.
- Women in leadership, and men who use their privilege to help
I want to be inspired by women above me in the leadership team. If I see them on executive boards, in those senior leadership meetings, and on the stages alongside men, I know there is a fair chance I will be there too someday. And when I come to apply for a promotion I trust that I will be deemed a valid candidate. But it’s just as important to notice what the men in leadership positions are like too. Are the men fearful to talk about the issues facing women, do they bury their head in the sands thinking they don’t have a part to play, or worry they might offend women so they’d rather say nothing? Do they continually educate themselves and acknowledge their privilege and ability to improve things for their female colleagues? Do they take this responsibility seriously and hold themselves accountable for improving the equity in their team or business?
In the tech world the chances of me working for a male manager are pretty high, so it is imperative that I know I will be treated as an equal and that they will be an advocate for me and challenge any discriminatory practices they come across in a drive to improve the workplace. Women care about the progress towards, and plans to reduce, the gender pay gap which is so vast, particularly in IT. Make the data visible and easy to find, but also be open about the steps being taken to improve things. I want the men I work for and with to be allies; that shouldn’t feel too much to ask.
- Equal flexibility and other policies
I’d go as far to say that this is a non-negotiable these days. The pandemic showed the need for flexibility for all workers, men and women, who all had to adapt. But while some businesses have been quick to rescind the flexibility on offer post-pandemic, the demands that required flexibility have not changed. Yes, we aren’t home-schooling anymore but there are still children to drop off and pick up or care for when they are sick, there are still household chores that need to be done, and appointments to attend. These demands are not just the responsibility of a women although we are often the default. And let’s not forget that we live in an age where childcare costs are sky high (especially in the UK) leaving women with less choice, and often an essential requirement to go back to work after having children. Equal flexibility for men and women would rebalance the division of responsibilities and make everyone feel more supported in their life outside of work. We have to have a flexible system that allows us to “do it all”.
I was fortunate enough, when I had my first baby, to work for a company who provided six months full pay equally to men and women for parental leave upon the birth or adoption of a new child. This policy, among others, is incredibly attractive to women not only to join a company but also to make them stay long term. But, by offering this policy equally to men and women went one step further and that is worth mentioning. By including men equally, it showed the company and its leaders respected and valued the sanctity of family, work life balance, and the belief that child raising is an equal responsibility – this shouldn’t be deemed as “forward thinking” but alas, especially in the technology industry, it is a rarity.
- Acknowledgement and recognition that resonates.
Who doesn’t like to be recognised for the work they do? But recognition comes in many forms, and I think it’s important that mangers make a conscious effort to deliver it in a way that resonates best with the praise-worthy recipient. Women by nature are more likely to feel valued by words, so even a spoken or written “good job Sarah” will go a long way to them feeling recognised and appreciated. To better resonate with women, and certainly this is true for me, it’s also essential to acknowledge not just the outcome but also the effort they have put in to achieving it.
Women do not necessarily put in more effort than men, but the additional mental load and general life demands of a woman are not equal to that of a man. This means that the ability required to give the same level of effort is much greater for women. I’m reminded of that cartoon of a man and woman on a racetrack and the woman’s lane is littered with washing, cooking and children, whilst the man’s lane remains clear. So, by overcoming the obstacles more often unique to a woman in the workforce, I think acknowledgement and recognition for the work behind a good result goes a long way to a making them feel uniquely valued and appreciated.
So there they are, the secrets to keeping women happy (albeit only in the workforce). The elements might seem simple, and maybe even obvious, but the work required behind them is significant. Change starts with the individuals in an organisation, so no matter your gender you have an essential part to play to achieving a truly equal, fair, and inclusive workplace for women in technology. What better day to start than today?
About the Author
Ella Hulbert is the Head of External Comms for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at Lenovo in EMEA, where she manages public and analyst relations, executive communications, and the social media strategy. Ella has spent over a decade in B2B infrastructure technology in global blue chip companies curating and communicating technology advances and writing thought leadership narratives on topics including decentralised clouds, data strategies, sustainability, and IT channel initiatives. Besides her passion for technology and communications, Ella enjoys yoga, baking, and time in the garden with her husband and young son.
Featured image: ©Gorodenkoff