I recently spoke on the topic of gender balance at a tech Meetup in Bristol, UK. Most attendees, at one point or other, had been bashed over the head with messages such as “hire more women” and “we must work harder to improve gender balance”.
After my talk, so many people approached me and confessed that no one had ever taught them about the benefits up until this point. It’s hard to fathom that an industry as prominent as tech is trying to solve one of society’s largest problems, without actually knowing why they’re solving it.
With women making up only 16.8% of workers in the tech sector, and 12.5% of programmers and software developers in the UK, it seems that the push for gender equality in tech over the past few years hasn’t been as successful as hoped. In fact, we’d still need to hire an additional 1 million females into the field to achieve gender parity. And as is the case with many industries, the higher up into leadership levels, the lower the percentage of females.
But why does this even matter?
As mentioned before, this is the part that most people miss out. If we don’t know why this is an issue, what motivation will we have to solve it? Well here are a few to start you off:
Anyone involved in hiring new candidates into their tech company, will be well aware that there’s a massive skills shortage in the industry. We literally cannot afford to lose any women in tech.
There are nowhere near enough skilled workers to fill the amount of jobs available. Which probably explains why my (web developer) husband’s phone goes off at least a few times everyday with unsolicited messages from recruiters.
Improved Problem Solving
Diversity of Thought = Better Problem Solving. Studies have shown that diverse teams solve problems faster, with less mistakes and with more creative solutions. The theory is that when you work with those who are different to you, you’re more likely to ask more questions and check each others work more thoroughly.
I worked with two major engineering companies when I was in Australia. One had an extremely non-diverse leadership team on the board (if I gave you one guess at what gender, age and race most of them were — you’d get it guess it right away). The second other had a leadership team made up of varying ages, cultures, educational backgrounds and genders. I believe it was no coincidence that the second company won a lot more innovation awards than the first.
Female Buying Power
Would it surprise you if I told you females hold the biggest buying power in the UK? Maybe not, but the figures probably will.
Women make the decision to or influence the purchase of 92% of holidays, 65% of cars, 93% of food, 91% of homes and 61% of computers (figures from GenAnalytics).
The risk of not having a gender diverse team may mean that you open yourself up to blindspots for identifying new market trends. You may even face difficulties in designing products or services that women want to use.
Research shows that organisations that improve their gender balance will experience increased staff engagement. This is engagement from all staff, not just women. We all know that an engaged worker is a happy worker who finds fulfilment in their job, works more efficiently, takes less sick days and is more willing to go above and beyond.
And finally, because of all the benefits mentioned above, studies show that companies that have more females in leadership experience increased revenue. Surely I don’t need to convince you why this is a good thing, right?
What Can You Do?
Now that you’re on board with this mission, you’re probably wondering what on earth you as a single being can do to help.
It’s easy to palm off gender inequality as a larger problem for giant organisations to solve. And they are already trying. Tech is one of the leading industries for policies like flexible working schemes and post-parental leave programmes. Despite all their efforts, we still aren’t attracting more females to stay in their roles. So what needs to change?
I know I keep banging on about it, but we need to educate everybody WHY we are working towards gender equality.
If you’ve read up until this point then great, you already know why. Here are some simple actions you can do to help:
What leaders can do
The number one thing leaders in the tech industry can do is to “walk the walk”.
By this I mean, use your flexible working policies. Take up parental leave schemes. Leave early to pick up your kids or take your dog to the vet and let your team know that you’re doing it.
It’s not enough just to have these policies in place. Leaders need to make sure that their team members feel safe to take them.
What men can do
Help to amplify a woman’s idea.
I’ve interviewed numerous women over the past year about what their biggest challenges in male dominated workplaces are. The one thing that kept popping up was their difficulty in speaking up during meetings.
Women are usually the minority in meetings at tech organisations and feel like they stick out like a sore thumb. They often find it unnerving speaking up during a meeting for this reason. Added to this challenge is that a woman’s voice is usually a higher pitch than everyone else’s and therefore more difficult to hear over other people’s voices.
Men, if you are in a meeting where you see a woman might have something to share but feels uncomfortable doing it, help to amplify her voice by letting the team know she has something to say. If someone talks over her, help to redirect the room’s attention to her.
I’d say 80% of women in tech I’ve spoken to have been spoken over or had an idea stolen from her by another team member at a meeting. If you see this happen, make sure other team members know where the idea originated.
What women can do for each other
Women in tech can help each other by attending or setting up women’s circles. These are places you can give and receive support in a positive way.
On top of this, I encourage all of you to reach out to a female in tech who’s more junior than you. I bet you would have loved a female mentor to aspire to when you were younger. If you think you’re too young for this, get creative. Do you have a niece who’s never spoken to a woman in tech before? Be a visible role model in her life.
What women can do for themselves
Invest in yourself!
Not just in developing your tech skills, but also in things like learning how to self promote, quieting your inner critic and speaking to large groups. Take the time to set crystal clear career goals and write an action plan of how you’re going to get there.
If you don’t know where to start, drop me a note. I have tips and resources to share with you that are bound to get you on the right path.
My Hope for the Future
By opening peoples eyes up to the tangible benefits of gender equality and what each individual can do about it, we can move towards achieving the big vision for gender equality in tech.
This is not an issue for just big organisations to solve. Gender equality will only happen if everyone works towards it.
Tiffany’s mission is to give women in STEM (science, technology, engineering & maths) the vision and confidence to create wildly fulfilling careers without compromising their family and social lives.