Dr. Sachiko Scheuing, European Privacy Officer at Acxiom

The tech industry is soaring to new heights. It’s with cautious delight observing how AI is dramatically improving our work efficiency when, several years ago, we would first need to run a query on a sample of a dataset, spending days going through five to ten possible statistical approaches to find the best solution. AI can achieve all of this in a split second.

Despite this, there is an area in the tech industry that still hasn’t seen much of an improvement – gender equality. A study published earlier this year by Women In Tech reported that 76% of respondents have experienced gender bias or discrimination at work. Similarly, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report estimates that we’re looking at another 132 years before we close the global gender gap.

The question remains: what contributes to so many women in tech, in 2023, feeling like they’re being treated differently than men? And do the challenges remain the same as they were many years ago?

Understanding the challenges

My role at Acxiom allows me to work with colleagues of a great mixture of ages, each of whom has their own personal and professional challenges. For women, major life changes come in waves throughout their careers: marriage, maternity leave, childcare, and eldercare.

Acxiom’s gender equity movement, WomenLEAD, has held seminars for our employees in the past on the first three of these life stages, to help create a culture of inclusiveness for all genders. More recently, it dived into the topic of eldercare and how this can affect women in the workplace. The challenges of eldercare can have a significant impact on women’s careers, from missing work to taking on less demanding roles, and even quitting their job altogether so they can fulfil their caring duties.

Just a few years ago, I was the main point of contact with my grandma on my husband’s side, partly because my husband worked crazy hours, and partly because I loved listening to her stories from the past. She would go on for hours about how she knitted knee-high socks for her boys, and about her errands on a bicycle to pick up fresh farm eggs from a village behind the hills.

During the last months of her life, I commuted to her nursing home, even though she no longer recognised me, or our children. Back then, I was not conscious of gender inequality in eldercare. I thought my having more contact with grandma than my other half was unique, because of our particular circumstances. Yet, the stats show that eldercare falls slightly more (60%) on women, according to the US National Association of Caregiving.

Sharing our experiences

At our WomenLEAD event, both men and women shared their accounts of eldercare. This ranged from a father-in-law moving into his child’s house at a stage of life that required nothing other than palliative care, to someone else having to commute hundreds of miles a day to care for both elderly parents.

While the situations experienced all varied, it was universally agreed that women often become the primary caregivers for elderly relatives. Kinship with the elderly person certainly plays a factor in this, alongside social expectations that women are better suited for the role. On the opposite scale, gender bias can also present itself as being expected to do all the heavy lifting as the only male in the family.

The challenge of eldercare often takes a significant toll on individuals emotionally, physically and financially. This includes balancing the stress of managing a loved one’s care with the physical demands of providing that care, and the financial strain that comes with it – all while being expected to manage your place in the workplace at the same time.

Eldercare is also a marathon rather than a sprint. It starts with helping out with the grocery shopping and other daily chores, then doing the tax return, and eventually help will be needed for bigger tasks like bathing and cooking which take up more of your time and energy. Not to mention that seeing your loved ones who once cared for you deteriorating over the years can be emotionally draining.

Supporting caregiving employees

In the context of fostering gender equality in the technology industry, it is important to recognise the challenges that women face in many spheres including eldercare. If we are to be more supportive of women’s careers and progression, we first need to understand the role women are expected to play in their family dynamic, and how this affects their day-to-day in the workplace. Understanding and actioning solutions to help them better manage their personal and professional lives is key to driving equal opportunities between men and women in the tech sector.

Managers should demonstrate empathy and mindfulness towards their employees, especially those providing eldercare, recognising that women face unique challenges and responsibilities, often because of social expectations and gender bias. One way of alleviating the burden of responsibilities women face is by offering flexible working options. Accommodating employees’ diverse needs and circumstances, whether this is by allowing part-time work or supporting remote work options, can help women better balance their personal and professional lives.

While addressing gender diversity is not limited to helping women within the organisation, it is also very much about granting men the same flexibility. This inclusivity helps break down gender stereotypes, providing men with the chance to be caregivers, and promoting equality across the board. All in all, businesses need to be understanding and empathetic of women and embrace their contributions to help shape a tech industry that truly represents us all.

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