Happy thoughtful young businesswoman with digital tablet in hand smiling and looking away in front of colleague at background

Article by Diaa Elyaacoubi, CEO, Monnier Paris

For too long, women have not been properly represented in the tech sector against their male counterparts. As it stands, only 26.7% of tech-related jobs are held by women.

While there are positive signs to come, with Deloitte predicting that to increase to nearly 33% by the end of the year, not enough is being done to help better bridge the gender gap.

When I began my career in technology some 23 years ago, I felt like an outcast. If you’re an average male IT professional, it’s unlikely that you will feel the same criticisms of your skills as your manager is also male. That breathes into the number of opportunities and responsibilities you get given from the first day. Like many of my peers, my course forward was blocked, trapped in the same role and tasks. I was seldom given the chance to prove myself.

I had never before envisioned moving away from tech, however, I felt I had to in order to further my career in a way the tech environment was not allowing me to. Since I made the decision to branch out, I’ve had stints in marketing, sales, entrepreneurial and business roles. All of these experiences, both the good and bad, helped make me who I am. They allowed me to step outside of my usual levels of comfort, sharpening my existing talents and allowing me to develop skills I never thought I would.

The challenges that women face in the tech industry have been well-documented and must be constantly addressed and remedied. However, when I look back on my career, the challenges I faced in the tech industry and others offered me a different perception of how to create real tangible changes from within.

More STEM options for girls

One of the main reasons women feel that the technology industry is not for them is due to the lack of conventional pathways offered from a young age. The current education system is failing at almost every level to properly advertise and teach about tech as a viable career path for women. For decades, men have been encouraged significantly more than women to embrace degrees in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Sadly, as it stands, the onus falls on the tech industry, and usually the women within it, to generate proof that the technology industry can offer genuine careers for women. Schools, clubs and programmes must go back to basics and educate young women from the beginning about the exciting reality of working in technology and what they can offer them. Yet no matter how much time, money and effort is invested into education, the tech sector still faces a major problem; retaining female staff.

Retaining or retraining?

While there has been steady, albeit slow, growth of the female workforce, 2021 saw a 2.1% decrease in women in big tech. Women who enter STEM-related jobs are proven to be more likely to leave within their first year than carry on and develop a career. There are many reasons for their reluctance to stay, including the unaddressed pay gap, lack of work-life balance, poor or nonexistent maternity provisions and maternity-related prejudice, and a feeling of constant undervaluation as a woman.

In my time in tech, the atmosphere was hard to acclimatise to. It’s incredibly difficult when you make up a small percentage of the workforce as it feels as though you are always being observed, always challenged and always judged for every decision. These sorts of workforce pressures affect women in many ways, and more often than not, force them to make the difficult decision to leave the sector in hope of finding a job that offers more flexibility, balance and diversity.

The unconventional ultimatum

Not everything is grim: The challenges women face in the tech industry can and should also be treated as opportunities, at least until the industry reaches a point of equality where challenges are not dependent on gender. With no set career path, the technology sector inspires and oftentimes rewards unconventional behaviours. It opens up the floor to arm yourself with skills not necessarily attributed to the world of tech and apply them from a different angle, such as marketing skills or wider-business knowledge. While guidance and repetition are two key pillars for success in one’s role, it’s also vital to gain soft skills and talents that talents can’t be taught such as self-confidence or promoting your personal brand.

These ideas and experiences made my career what it is, culminating in my current role as CEO of the luxury eCommerce platform Monnier. I took over as CEO in March 2020, the same time as the world became gripped by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is fair to say that we as a business had to navigate a massive sea of change while also adapting to the new practices we set out to help achieve our goals. Like being in the minority at the beginning of my career, I set off determined to embrace this great reset and be as disruptive as possible.

So what lessons would I share with younger women? We know the well-documented issues women face in the tech industry: lack of education, the ubiquitous glass ceiling, and senior support within the business. Addressing these would alter the very fabric of the sector for the better. However, in the meantime for women already in the industry, we must show strength in being comfortable with not being comfortable, and learn to make our voice heard in a room full of men. We have unique experiences that only we can leverage against the conventional. Harnessing these skills is imperative to making a bigger splash in the world of tech and carving out the path for generations to come.