#ChooseToChallenge: International Women’s Day challenges gender bias

gender bias
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Nine industry experts discuss why it is important to challenge gender bias, stereotypes and discrimination in the workplace on International Women’s Day 2021

International Women’s Day enables us to celebrate the incredible achievements of women across the globe – and there are no shortage of talented, hard working women to celebrate. The unfortunate reality is in certain industries men continue to dominate careers. For example, in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sector, women make up just 24% of the UK’s workforce – with an even smaller proportion in leadership positions.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day – #ChooseToChallenge – encourages everyone to call out gender bias and inequality, hailing the notion that from challenge comes change. In keeping with this theme, we spoke to nine industry experts about why it is important to challenge gender bias, stereotypes and discrimination and break down the barriers that women continue to face in the workplace. 

Mind the gender gap

“When it comes to the tech industry, women are still significantly underrepresented,” said Caroline Seymour, VP Product Marketing at Zerto. “It still floors me when I read that women make nearly 20% less than men, and that they won’t reach pay equity with men until 2059. It shows an astonishingly slow pace of progress and highlights that we need to focus on equity just as much as we do equality. This desperately needs accelerating, and further proves that there is still so much work to be done. The sad reality right now is that it takes longer as a woman to gain credibility. We have to work harder at it, but the rewards are incredible.”

Debra Danielson, Chief Technology Officer & SVP of Engineering at Digital Guardian agrees: “Women are still paid less. Promoted less. Hired less. The research out there is massive, and frankly, sometimes overwhelming. It’s hard to carry both the weight of the job and the weight of damaging the chances of other women if you fail. We aren’t there until we stop using “woman” as an adjective in business. I’m not a “woman” CTO. I’m a CTO.”

A problem exacerbated?

2020 was a year of massive societal upheaval, and 2021 has begun with equally as many uncertainties. The truth is, we are still living and working in an imbalanced world.

“In this new reality of pandemic uncertainty, gender imbalances have been exacerbated,” explains Liz Cook, People Director at Six Degrees. “A Boston Consulting Group report found that the increase in remote working has had a major impact on women, who have spent on average 15 hours more per week on domestic work during the pandemic. International Women’s Day highlights the importance of supporting women and men alike through agile working structures that level the playing field, and empower people to be the very best at what they do, no matter what their circumstances.”

“The potential impact of COVID-19 on gender equality is such a huge topic: apparently 70% of all health and social-services staff globally are women” adds Tulin Green, Senior Director, EMEA Marketing at Commvault. “So it’s women who are bearing the brunt of holding societies together during the pandemic – be it in healthcare, social care, education and at home. For women who work in tech industries, I think they are probably impacted in the same way as women in other industries who are working from home – trying to juggle work with homelife, and for those with school aged children, also juggling everything with homeschooling.”

Flexible options ensure positive change

However, while it’s true that the business world is still quite a way off from achieving gender parity, more organisations now recognise the importance of diversity in the workplace. These organisations are taking on the responsibility to attract female talent and provide more equal opportunities for growth.

Svenja de Vos, Chief Technology Officer at Leaseweb Global, said that the flexibility of remote working can also serve to benefit women in the workplace. “It’s a whole new way of flexible, digital working. As companies increase or normalise their adoption of remote working practices, women stand to benefit in terms of more gender-balanced career trajectories and less earnings inequalities.” 

“Recent global circumstances have put the spotlight on working mothers, with many organisations implementing flexible work structures to help them maintain a work-life balance during this difficult period,” agrees Kleopatra Kivrakidou, Channel Marketing Manager EMEA at Ergotron.

“This includes enabling them to continue to work from home, if their personal circumstances don’t allow a return to the office, and providing the right technology and equipment to support both productive working and wellbeing. Working environments that build their success on respecting diversity, giving equal opportunities for development to all, and who trust their workforce for who they are, become, by definition, the ones where you find more women.” 

Furthermore, as technology develops and becomes increasingly intuitive, or even automated, job descriptions will change and users will be free to focus more on solving business challenges, rather than spending the days crunching numbers. Hugh Scantlebury, founder and CEO of Aqilla, believes that this will provide the catalyst for the sea of change we’ve been waiting for and will increase with the number of women working in finance and technology.

“Intelligent, cloud-based accounting platforms are one example of technology that is enabling users to focus their time on adding value to the business, rather than ‘boring’ number crunching. If the past year has proved anything, it’s that remote working, supported by the appropriate cloud technologies, is certainly productive and achievable. For working mothers, who traditionally faced challenges to provision childcare arrangements that accommodated the obligatory office- and associated travel time, it’s paved the way for flexible, rewarding, digital working, which supports that vital work-life balance.”

The sky’s the limit

 Although we are seeing more women choosing a career in tech, there is definitely room for improvement. It’s important that from a young age, girls realise there is the possibility to work in tech,” explained Anna Litvina, Solutions Engineer at Bitglass. “It’s not something that only boys can grow up to do. We need to better educate girls and young women on the possibilities, helping to break down barriers and eliminate gender stereotypes that have been boxing us in for so long. Today, the sky’s the limit and it’s a case of exposing girls to STEM and getting them excited about a future in tech.”

“My advice to young girls thinking about a career in tech is to go for it,” concludes Angela Garland, support team lead at Content Guru. “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.”

This International Women’s Day, let’s all #ChooseToChallenge workplace inequality, paving the way for a better, fairer, and more successful future.


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