Kira Makagon, Chief Innovation Officer at RingCentral

desk-with-laptopIt’s a well-known fact that women are underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) occupations.

In fact, in the UK, while the majority of workers are women, STEM Women data suggests that women make up just 22% of the STEM workforce.

There are a number of factors behind this gender imbalance. One reason is that fewer women are electing to study STEM courses at school and university. In fact, STEM Women’s data reveals just 35% of STEM students in higher education in the UK are women. The number of men studying STEM also far exceeds the number of women. The percentage of women graduating in STEM has fluctuated, from 25% in 2016, down to 24% in 2017, and then finally up to 26% in 2018.

The men to women imbalance is notable in the IT industry. STEM Women also states that although the number of women working in IT roles has increased over the years, the number of men working in these roles has increased at a faster rate.  The proportion of female IT professionals in the workforce has inched up just a bit – and in 2018, it was just 16.2% (compared to 14.3% in 2014).

More needs to be done to encourage women to study STEM and to help them transition into, and stay, in STEM jobs. Businesses have a responsibility to ensure they are creating corporate cultures that hire, promote, and retain women. Hiring and promoting more women is not just good for women; it’s good for the bottom line. Studies show that increased diversity and inclusion is best for innovation, performance, and more in any company.

Below, I offer some steps that IT businesses can take to ensure that they are doing all they can to grow and retain their female staff.

Women supporting women

The simplest way to create a more inclusive culture for women is to hire more women. This is particularly true at board and management levels, where women in senior positions can impact an organisation meaningfully. When there are senior female leaders in the workplace, there becomes a de facto support group to inspire and motivate the next-generation of female leaders.

Having a strong female network is proven to help with career progression. Research by Harvard Business Review revealed that both men and women benefit greatly from a strong network. However, the data suggests that women are more likely to land an executive role with greater authority and higher pay if they have a strong inner circle of close female colleagues. Technology and IT companies stand to benefit greatly from promoting women into leadership roles, as women will see these companies as environments where they can grow and progress.

Equity matters

Equal pay is a big concern for women in STEM fields, and evidence suggests there is still a significant pay gap in the IT industry. Research by New Scientist shows that women are often paid 20% less than their male counterparts. Needless to say, there is no reason why women should be paid less than their male counterparts who are doing the exact same job.

Pay equity isn’t an issue that affects just women; it affects all employees. Colleagues talk, and female workers realise when they are being treated unequally. This puts both women and their male counterparts who are being paid more in awkward positions and creates an unpleasant culture for all. Businesses should be focused on creating a culture that is fair to all employees.

Equity isn’t just important from a morale perspective; it’s a smart business decision. Data from Tech Nation found that UK companies with more diverse boards are making more money than those that are homogenous. Businesses should be looking at the positive impact diversity can have on their bottom line. Again, this goes beyond just women and extends to not discriminating against anyone.

Focus on flexibility 

Sometimes employees feel as though they have to make a choice between their career or their family life. In this day and age, no one has to make that choice, especially when there is technology available that supports flexible working.

Businesses would be well-served to investigate technologies and policies they can put in place to support flexible working for all staff, not just for women. Flexible hours, working from home as appropriate, remote working, and supportive benefits make employees happier and more productive. These policies also make sure that employees with families aren’t making sacrifices that might impact their work or their place within a business.

Making the cultural shift happen

The idea that the IT industry needs to “woman up” isn’t a new idea. More needs to be done to encourage women to pursue IT careers – and to stick with them. While getting girls and women into STEM studies and then into the doors of IT companies are the very first steps, more needs to be done around culture.

To do this, businesses should look at ways they can encourage a culture in which women support women. This could include holding dedicated networking events or simply stimulating a culture of sharing and collaboration between employees. After all, there is technology available today that allows employees to interact across a variety of channels, not just face to face. Encouraging flexible working practices, and having the tools in place to support this, allows all employees – not just women – to thrive.

Ultimately, businesses need to create environments that make women feel welcome, equal, and empowered, including by hiring women into the senior team and encouraging women to be heard across an organisation. When women are represented and rewarded more equitably, not only will female employees grow and thrive, but STEM fields, and IT companies, will become more diverse, which is to everyone’s benefit.

Kira MakagonAbout the author

Kira Makagon leads global product, user experience, engineering, and operations. She is a critical driver in defining RingCentral’s product strategy and in bringing to market RingCentral’s robust communications and collaboration solutions. Throughout her career, she has pioneered multiple breakthrough industry solutions and companies, garnering a reputation as a visionary product and business leader.

Before joining RingCentral, Makagon founded and served as CEO and president of Red Aril, a real-time audience and media optimization platform acquired by Hearst Corporation. Prior to that, she co-founded and held executive and board positions at flagship online marketing and CRM companies, including Octane Software, acquired by E.piphany, and Scopus Technology, acquired by Seibel.