Women’s Equality Day 2021: Come so far but still so far to go

Women’s Equality Day marks a turning point in the history of the struggle for women’s rights when American women gained the right to vote. Although significant progress has been made since then, there is still work to be done.

In some environments, such as the technology industry, women are still a minority. Indeed, as it stands just 19% of the tech workforce are women. Beginning in education, young girls are not opting to study STEM subjects. Those who do push through the gender bias and start a career in the industry are facing reduced progression opportunities in favour of their male colleagues.

With this knowledge, Business Reporter has spoken to six technology business leaders on the struggles that women face in the workplace and how these can be overcome to close the gender gap.

Persisting inequalities

Women’s Equality Day commemorates American women gaining the right to vote in 1920, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that gender inequality still exists today.

“Women in leadership remain underrepresented and gender biases are prevalent across all industries. Today, only 27% of Congress, which represents 100% of the country, is women. The number falls even lower when you look at the highest levels of the corporate world where only 8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female. While these statistics are better than they used to be, there is still a lot of work to do to ensure women have an equal voice on issues that pertain to our families, country, and economy,” explains Julie Giannini, Chief Customer Officer at Egnyte.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the hurdles and disadvantages that women face in the workplace. Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President EMEA at Skillsoft, explains how the events of the last year have cast a worrying light on progress towards gender parity. “Women need to be given opportunities to move up the ladder, using their skills and experience to take their well-deserved sears at the top table. The reality is that women still occupy just under 35% of senior roles in the leading 350 FTSE UK businesses.” 

“As we move through what will hopefully be the final stages of the pandemic, research suggests the crisis has disproportionately impacted women – particularly those working in the tech sector. For example, the TrustRadius 2021 Women in Tech Report found that 57% of women working in the industry feel burned out this year, compared to just 36% of men and were nearly twice as likely to have lost their jobs or been furloughed,” furthers Angela Garland, Escalations Engineer at Content Guru.

“Almost three quarters of women working in the industry are regularly outnumbered by men in meetings by at least a 2:1 ratio, with more than a quarter outnumbered by 5:1 or more. As a consequence, the vast majority of women surveyed in the report feel they have to work harder than their male colleagues to prove their worth.”

Mentorship and role models

This gender gap within the tech industry needs to be closed, but how? Svenja de Vos, Chief Technology Officer at Leaseweb Global, thinks that having more women in leadership positions to be role models will help: “I truly believe a key reason for the low number of women in technology can be attributed to a lack of role models and mentors; there simply aren’t enough.

“Despite women holding more leadership roles in tech than ever, there still is vast room for improvement. Applying to work in a male-dominated industry can be intimidating, but it needs to be done to bring change. We need to break the unconscious bias that women are not suited to be tech leaders by providing examples that they can be.”

“The short and long term challenges of professional life are almost always easier to address when women have a mentor to turn to,” agrees Diane Albano, Chief Revenue & Marketing Officer at Globalization Partners. “Similarly, women that can become mentors are vital to help offer invaluable guidance to others as their careers develop. The IT industry needs many more of them.”

Gillian Mahon, Chief People and Places Officer at Totalmobile, also stresses that “the most impactful way to increase the number of girls taking a serious interest in technology subjects and careers is through visibility. If they don’t see any women in tech growing up, it’s harder to envision that as a path for themselves. We need to show them that it can be done and women can thrive in these careers.”

Engage and encourage

Engaging young women in the technology industry will be a huge first step in increasing the numbers of females in the sector and closing the gender gap.

“We need to do much more to encourage young girls with a passion for science to study STEM courses – both at younger school ages and further on into higher education. However, the recent A-level results paint a dire picture. While there was an overall increase in students taking Computing A-level, less than 15% of these were girls,” explains Garland.

“My advice to young girls thinking about a career in tech is to go for it. The most important thing is to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, speak up in large groups of men and put your ideas out there. Find an organisation that puts everyone – regardless of gender – on an equal playing field and pushes you into a role where you challenge yourself and those around you. Be the change you want to see.”

Mahon agrees that “the technology industry is experiencing a surge in demand for new talent, and this is providing great opportunities for more women to enter and progress in this industry. Many organisations have been set up to work with schools and businesses to show girls what a career in tech could look like, such as Women Who Code, which a number of our staff are passionately involved in.

“By getting female developers, engineers and senior leaders together with teenage girls and young women, and discussing what makes their job exciting and fulfilling, we can have a positive effect on the direction that these young people’s lives take; that’s something we can all be proud of.”

However, it is not just new female recruits who should be prioritised and supported in their career. This should apply to current female employees too. Nowakowska concludes: “Organisations can help rectify this balance by reviewing employee benefits and enhancing areas important to women; directing more resources to hiring, developing, and advancing women in the workplace; and providing training and tools for women to grow competencies for the most in-demand opportunities.

“As some countries look towards post-pandemic recovery, it is also crucial that organisations provide targeted leadership development training designed to help women overcome gender biases and succeed in the most senior roles. If society is to bounce back stronger than before, we must work toward closing this crucial gap and doing all we can to support female leaders.”


Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com

© Business Reporter 2021

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