gender equality

By Industry Experts

Not only are education institutions seeing a continued low proportion of women opting for STEM subjects and ultimately taking up roles in these fields, but a recent report has revealed more than half of women in the tech industry leave by a mid-point in their career.

This is double the rate of men and due in part to weak management, a lack of perceived opportunities, and a poor work-life balance.

Ada Lovelace Day presents the perfect opportunity to reflect on the personal experiences of women in tech and hear what they think companies must do to encourage greater equality in the workplace.

Natacha Robert, Divisional Finance Director, Civica, explains that studying STEM gives you the best foundation for your future career. “In my current job as Divisional Finance Director, my STEM background and knowledge has no doubt informed many of my leadership decisions, resulting in more scientifically grounded and logical decision-making. I found that having a STEM background has given me a better understanding of my peers’ specialities, related to software development and system architecture. I firmly believe that studying STEM subjects equips you with problem-solving skills and teaches you how to apply knowledge and skills to real-world professional challenges, giving you the ability to maximise results.”

But according to Lindsey Kneuven, Chief Impact Officer at Pluralsight and Executive Director of Pluralsight One, there is still a long way to go. “Despite the increased awareness around STEM’s gender imbalance, the problem is systemic. According to a recent UNESCO report, women represent just 35 per cent of STEM students globally. We must accelerate the pace of change to achieve gender equity and ensure the voices, expertise, power and perspectives of women are included to help shape the future.”

Esther Mahr, Conversational Experience Designer, IPsoft, echoes this. “When I look around at industry gatherings, among a sea of engineers, developers, program managers, business analysts and service delivery heads, I still see too few female faces. And it’s not just a lack of female representation – we are a rather homogeneous industry.

“While one day is a good start to creating awareness, more needs to be done to encourage girls to take up STEM subjects. As technology – and in particular AI – becomes an integral part of our world, we have to equip younger generations with the necessary skills they will need to be successful in their future working lives.”

Barbara Schretter, Team Lead Data Science, Celonis, agrees that, it’s important to encourage more women of all ages, backgrounds and experience levels to explore working in technology. “Hopefully by making them more visible, the next generation of female technology professionals can find role models and become inspired to pursue a career in technology.

“It’s a good idea to involve companies in such projects as there will be more and more people needed in tech in the future,” explains Schretter. “The sooner young people start with coding, the better it will be for their future careers. Even if they don’t programme on their own, to have a basic understanding of coding can’t do any harm. Having companies involved in such projects might also help them get excited about building their own scripts or solving various problems through scripting.”

But, while the number of girls studying STEM subjects has risen, “we need to ensure we continue to highlight more role models and the opportunities technology presents for girls’ and young women’s future careers,” explains Jayne Stone, Chief Marketing Officer, Vuealta

“As business leaders, we need to make an active effort to work in collaboration with schools, colleges, parents and media, to ensure girls can learn about these role models and feel confident and equipped to study STEM subjects and hopefully, a career in STEM. We also need to broaden our role models to make it clear that a career in technology doesn’t mean you’ll be confined to one discipline, and it doesn’t necessarily require qualifications in STEM fields.

“From example, Vuealta enables its customers to transform their business planning and supply chain operations through the use of technology, but you don’t have to necessarily be an expert in IT to work within this industry.”

As explained by Joanne Warner, Head of Customer Service, Natterbox though, there is still a cultural change needed within the workplace as well. “It was only after I had my second child that I felt that my gender was at the heart of an issue at work. Some of my management and colleagues thought that my commitment and motivations within the workplace had changed. But this only made me even more determined to prove that work ethic is not defined by gender or children. Everyone will always come across workplace challenges, but I enjoy sometimes having to prove myself – it’s what keeps us engaged with our work and motivated to push forward.

Warner believes “we need diversity to thrive and evolve, so it’s vital that businesses and education organisations continue to promote all opportunities as equal. Spending time and investment in understanding people’s motivations and strengths can produce the most innovative and loyal employees or students.”

Lori MacVittie, Principal Threat Evangelist, F5 Networks thinks “there is a tendency to dismiss women in technology that aren’t in a hands-on role, but we need to support and promote all women in the technology industry because ultimately not everyone that wants a slice of the tech world wants to sit and code all day.

“Fundamentally, STEM has a brand problem and there is a stereotype of the type of women who work in STEM roles. We might think of introverts and people that wear all black and no heels, but that’s just not the case! Whatever kind of woman you are, what you wear or what personality you have, is irrelevant. There’s a role for you.”

Kneuven concludes, “now is the time for companies to prove they are not merely interested in rhetoric but are committed to achieving lasting change in the STEM industry within our lifetime. We must eliminate the barriers that prevent girls’ participation, radically disrupt our education systems and hiring practices to ensure true inclusion and inspire the next generation of talent to pursue their own promising STEM careers. It’s time for all leaders to evaluate how they can make a difference and move the industry forward with equal representation.”