Opinion piece from Sona Patel, Finance Director at rehab

How-to-be-an-effective-female-leaderWhy aren’t there more women in tech?

It’s a question that doesn’t seem to be going away, but with women constantly being told that they are ‘bossy and emotional’, while men are ‘strong and opinionated’, it’s not that surprising that the number of women in top boardroom positions has fallen.

The need to encourage and push females in business is still a much-discussed topic, with companies continually being criticised for their lack of progress in getting more women to the top.

2017 report found that just 15% of the people working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) roles across the UK are female. It also showed that a mere 5% of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women. That being said, it was also reported that Britain’s most successful companies have women in senior roles.

Something doesn’t add up. Isn’t it time we listened to the research and made encouraging women to flourish and be listened to within the tech sector a focus?

Attracting females to more high-profile roles

The fact that there are more male leaders than female is not just because many industries are still stuck in the “Mad Men” or “Boys Club” era, but that women often have more choices to face. If both men and women could carry a child, then I doubt we would be questioning the lacking number of women leaders. But today’s harsh reality is that, in many cases, women must choose between a top-level career or having a family. When a woman chooses both paths, she ends up in a paradigm where she gets grey hair too early and doing it all simply seems too much. Eventually one side has to give. More often than not, it’s giving up the chance to “sit at the table” or to give up the dream to have your own start-up.

We are seeing an increasing number of bigger companies, like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Coca Cola and the Foreign Office do a lot for women in the workplace, for example: workplace creches, working from home, flexible hours and help with nursery fees, to help make family life flexible. But if you work in a smaller company, one that can’t afford to give women paid time off and flexible working hours, then top-level female roles will never flourish. I think it’s more about what the government is doing to help smaller companies, we need to open these opportunities for women so they can start one or look after their family.

The hurdles to overcome in order to be listened to

During my career, I’ve started from the very bottom and worked my way up in privately-owned companies. This meant I was able to learn a lot, and fast! My upbringing never allowed me to sit back. I’ve been working since I was 16 and knew the quickest way to grow was to learn from others. Teaching yourself will take longer, so always try to surround yourself with people you can learn from.

During my career I’ve observed a lot, and that’s what helped me get to where I am today. In a meeting of say, five men and two women, women often tend to say less – even though you can see they have something they want to say. Being able to watch from a distance has taught me to identify how people actually behave, and what you can do in order to be heard by the right people at the right time. Everyone can talk, but for me, it’s about being listened to. I would often wait until the end of large meetings before saying anything because it allowed me to absorb all the information and make a valid and well-thought-out contribution to the meeting.

Like many others will have experienced and prior to working at rehab, I have been in situations where others will speak over you, but the art of contributing at the right time with the right information is a skill. Personally, I don’t believe it’s about who speaks the most or talks the loudest, it’s the person that makes the most sense, no matter the position you hold within the company.

The power of female mentoring

I have not had direct “mentoring” before, but I believe I’ve had mentors in my life (whether they know it or not!). I try to mentor and guide my team to think creatively and outside the box. Finance can often be stereotyped as a boring career choice, so I find it important to apply some glitter where I can. My aim is for my team to feel that I am a good mentor and that they are able to learn from me daily.

Positivity around women in tech

Rehab is an extremely supportive company. Not only do they support women, but they also help them to progress within their role. My CEO is always trying to encourage me to network and find mentors within my field, despite knowing I want to start a family next year. It can be rare to find a company that would want to invest in someone that might be going on maternity leave in the near future. The jury is out on whether motherhood will potentially sway their next choice regarding work, so I feel blessed to work alongside a management team that supports women inside and outside of the workplace.

The future of women in tech

Don’t try to be a man. You also don’t need to be the loudest or most social person in the company to get a high-level role. Respect from colleagues is built from inside the office, not out. The biggest advice I would give a junior in my position is learn from those around you, it doesn’t just have to be people in your department, but from the company as a whole. It’s important to be curious about other people and get to grips with what they do.

Sona PatelAbout the author

With previous experience working for an industrial design company and also an ad agency, Patel has worked in many male dominated environments, experiencing gender discrimination first hand and being forced to break the mould to become a successful women in business. After being constantly told that women are ‘bossy and emotional’, yet males are ‘strong and opinionated’ – Patel knows that the road to changing people’s stereotypical views on women in the workplace would be no mean feat.

The impact that Sona’s arrival had on the agency three years ago prompted the finance team being brought to London and a wider restructure. Working in tech has now been a different experience for Sona, as one of rehab’s core beliefs is to champion diversity in the workplace. Sona was able to expand her expertise and was listened to as a senior female.

Her role at rehab doesn’t just sit with finance, she’s encouraged the team not to just stay in their lanes and to break the boundaries of their normal routine, whilst also helping to mentor more junior females within the agency. Having to learn about rehab’s offerings has led to her increased interest in tech, and also helped develop an understanding of what it takes to be listened to as a woman at a senior level.