Women in technology: Closing the gender gap once and for all

women in technology
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Following the celebration of International Women’s Day on 8th March, this year 12 female technology professionals shared their advice and perspectives as to how we can close the gender gap once and for all

International Women’s Day, celebrated each year on 8th March, is a focal point in the movement of women’s rights, and is a great opportunity to showcase the phenomenal achievements women make every day in the workplace. But despite the incredible progress women have made, there are some industries that are still slower than others when it comes to gender equality – notably, STEM.

Starting with schools

The gender gap in STEM jobs can be traced back to an unbalanced percentage of girls choosing to study STEM subjects at school. “You may think it’s shocking that only 12.8% of the overall STEM workforce are women,” comments Liz Matthews, Head of Community and Education at Mango Solutions, “but this actually shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when you compare it to the equally low proportion of girls and women choosing to study STEM subjects in both school, and in higher education.”

The answer then? Liz suggests: “Encouraging younger girls to choose STEM subjects even if they are considered ‘boring’, shining a light on the career opportunities available to those with STEM qualifications, increasing investment in training for women to fill the corporate need, and having the overall goal of closing the gap once and for all.”

Sheri Villers, VP of Product Engineering at SentryOne agrees with Liz, advising: “By developing knowledge and confidence in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and/or math from a young age, more girls will grow up with a passion for these subjects – leading to more women who will embrace jobs in these industries, thus bringing the diversity of thoughts and ideas that many businesses are missing.”

Pave the way with mentorship

But it’s not just enough to encourage girls into STEM – once they’ve made the choice, they need to feel comfortable enough to know that they are valued within their roles. This is something that Agnes Schliebitz-Ponthus, Director Consulting at Fluent Commerce, believes needs to be highlighted: “STEM is genderless – these subjects do not require physical strength, so men and women are at equal advantage. And yet they are often looked at as being harder for women. This often starts in primary school, where girls can feel social pressures from peers of their local community, to pursue other avenues, like humanities and arts. For those women who continue with STEM, later on at University or in early jobs, they can also feel lonely, threatened or abandoned when surrounded by only male peers.

“I personally remember being constantly worried and anxious in my student days and as a junior engineer, to either receive the wrong kind of attention or to have to double prove myself to my – almost always – male superiors and peers.”

To counteract this feeling, Agnes suggests role models and mentorship: “It is also paramount that women are supported by role models of their own gender: inspirational women who can share their experiences and help guide others. Female mentorship is a great example of this support, the impact of which is measured in decades. Women sharing and helping one another within a nurturing and supportive environment has a whole host of benefits and should be more widely encouraged and practised.”

Connie Stack, Chief Strategy Officer at Digital Guardian, supports this notion, stating: “I think it is also really important that women have role models, but for me this has never been about brand names or famous CEOs – male or female. But rather it is the large pool of personal female mentors and co-workers who have provided great advice and guidance all along the way – and continue to do so. From female founders and coworkers to my mother and aunts, they have all had a positive influence on my career.”

A diverse workplace is a strong workplace

It’s important that organisations themselves play their part in closing the gender gap. It’s not enough to simply hire women to fill a quota, businesses need to ensure that the workplace is a comfortable environment for everyone. As Lucie Sadler, Head of Content at Hyve Managed Hosting, points out: “IT companies must strive to be fully inclusive, and this change must come from within. Diverse teams work better, bring different perspectives to the table and make employees challenge their own thinking. And that’s a really good thing.”

One way to do this is by encouraging the use of technologies in the workplace that can help both men and women excel at their jobs. For example, Hugh Scantlebury, co-founder and CEO at Aqilla, suggests: “One example of technology that is enabling users to focus their time on adding value to business, rather than having people undertaking the ‘boring’ task of crunching numbers, are intelligent, cloud-based accounting platforms. This will surely attract more people to the sector – both male and female – regardless of whether they are qualified in STEM subjects or not.”

Another way is to promote an attractive and inclusive culture, as Nicole Sahin, CEO and founder of Globalization Partners, explains: “It’s important too that organisations are conscious of what the balance of a team looks like. Creating a diverse, inclusive culture will attract talent of all genders, sexualities, and ethnicities, in turn will result in a more collaborative, creative team.

“Let us not forget, there are great men, as well as women, championing gender equality. By celebrating women’s achievements, and the male allies and organisations that support them, we can work towards a better, fairer world.”

Taking the first steps into STEM

There may be some women who are yet to take the leap into STEM, but are unsure how to do so. Taking the first step can be the most daunting part, but it can lead to a rewarding career. As Krishna Subramanian, COO at Komprise, suggests: “Nothing rewarding is ever easy, and so of course, there are times in my career when I’ve wanted to give up. And, especially as an entrepreneur, you have to get used to people saying no. This can be very disheartening for anyone, especially early in your career, but it can also be the most interesting part of the journey. I always try to ask myself, what is the other person thinking? If I were in their shoes, how would I react? And that usually helps me find a way to bridge our positions.”

“The key to women flourishing in STEM is positive support from others in the industry,” believes Jacquelyn Ferrari, Senior Software Engineer at ConnectWise. “My advice to women is to not be discouraged. If you truly have a passion for addressing the issues around the lack of women in STEM, go for it. I think it’s crucial to encourage younger generations, especially women, to pursue their interest in the tech field. I have noticed an increasing trend of women involved as keynote speakers and leaders in our industry, but there’s still a disparity in the field as a whole. I hope to see this change in the new decade.”

Similarly, Svenja de Vos, CTO at Leaseweb Global, shares the following advice: “Successful organisations are built on a diverse workforce and teaching this principle from a young age means we’re more likely to remove the unconscious bias that is associated with gender roles in tech. My advice to women is to keep developing yourself. Find a position that works for you – remember, jobs are person specific, not gender specific, and now is the time to change perceptions while narrowing the skills gap.”

Wider than STEM

Although STEM is an industry that could do with some guidance in regards to the gender gap, that’s not to say it’s the only sector or area we, as a whole, should be focussing on. As Sarah Martin, Community Content Developer at Exabeam, comments: “I also feel strongly that feminism has historically failed to support differently-abled women and women of color. It’s up to this generation of feminists to address that – women must become allies to each other across the board, without limiting their support to just the women who look like them. When we do this, we inspire and support the younger generation of women who are struggling to find where they fit into the world and their careers.”

Liz Cook, People Director at Six Degrees, rounds things off by stating that the truth is, we have a way to go to address the gender imbalance we see today. Liz says: “I can see things changing for the better, though, and initiatives like International Women’s Day help to challenge outdated stereotypes and engage people in promoting gender-balance and driving a better working world.”

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