2021: The great leveller for women in the workplace

gender equality, gender balanceIs this the year where women can finally crack the glass ceiling and take advantage of the same work opportunities as men?

Emma Maslen explores.

A new digital workplace

Over the previous year, the UK has witnessed a steep rise in the number of people working from home, with a recent survey suggesting as much as 86 percent of workers have utilised their personal office during the pandemic. Globally, firms have been forced to adapt to their employees working remotely and have had to manage their workloads around multiple lockdowns and social distancing.

These changes have altered the workplace landscape for the majority of individuals, but it is worth pointing out how it is specifically impacting professional women. The shift to an all digital “office” experience has in many ways helped to level the playing field, most notably for those women who find themselves in a position of child or family care. Working from home offers flexibility, which can allow for frequent breaks to tend to the wellbeing of their family, while never being too far from their ability to be productive. Work hours don’t have to be exactly 9 to 5, but can often be flexed around all parts of the day.

Possible concerns over the new normal

It has been pointed out by some that the overall strain that this pandemic has put on many businesses has perhaps actually limited access to the relatively few opportunities that had even existed before. Detractors worry that there will be less hiring, less promotion, less overall turnover, so how is there now more room to get ahead? Another complaint towards the modern working situation is that despite being more flexible, it also leads to a sense of being “always on.” This certainly goes beyond gender, but can absolutely have a harsh psychological impact on parents or those with other household obligations.

More optimistically, many feel that it is exactly because of this shift towards both digital workspaces, as well as changes in culture, that could overcome the current limitations in the long run, and allow for 2021 and beyond to be a time where women truly can break the glass ceiling.

Growing inclusivity

As mentioned, working from home offers flexibility and autonomy, which could be attractive to working mothers and women tasked with family care. This stands to not only be a convenience to those who already have a career and family on their plate, but means women don’t need to choose between one or the other. Plus, time previously spent on commuting or traveling on-site can now be replaced by quality time with the family.

Furthermore, the digital landscape stands to help bring in a new type of “meritocracy” to much of the work being done. If a woman can deliver quality work on time, while tending to their family simultaneously, what concern is it of their employer?

Even inside the home, this shift in perspective could bring some levelling to the landscape of relationship dynamics. The idea of one partner being homemaker while the other leaves to work has far less meaning if both partners are working from home anyway. This will hopefully help encourage behaviors that see both partners, regardless of gender, taking on a more even amount of homecare, while still working to generate income. This balanced support is what many proponents feel will smooth out the constant desire for modern professionals to be constantly in work mode.

Lastly, a growing rise in programmes that enable inclusivity should mean that women have a more equally weighted voice inside of their organisation. Setting up inclusive forums where women can voice their ideas, concerns, and find support and acceptance is essential for more productive conversations. These forums should of course not be limited to women, but simply be a space where male-dominated opinions aren’t the only narratives being entertained.

A new balance in the technology industry

Currently, the technology industry is heavily male-dominated, with only 16.4 percent female employees represented in the UK. Traditionally, most companies have been slow in carrying out initiatives that establish diversity forums like the one outlined above. It has, however, been observed that the global crisis may be greatly accelerating developments across both of these areas.

The growing demand for digital jobs should ensure that “hard skills” like coding and user interface design won’t be going anywhere soon, and initiatives encouraging young women towards these fields are being increasingly embraced. We are also likely to see a greater call for employees with “soft skills,” such as collaboration and emotional intelligence. By encouraging the development of proficiency across a variety of skill-sets and eliminating cultural aversions to outdated gender roles, women stand to perhaps benefit the most, but all employees would likely find their work relationships becoming healthier.

There is no denying we have many obstacles still ahead of us, but we’ve also never had a time of such opportunity. The challenges affecting the workplace and the technology industry have really only begun, so there has never been a better time to lean into change. If employers continue to accept these new points of view, then professional women have a lot to be optimistic about in 2021.

About the author

Emma MaslenEmma Maslen has recently been appointed as the Vice President and General Manager at Ping Identity for the EMEA and APAC region. She is a senior technology leader who has 20 plus years of experience in the industry. Before joining Ping Identity, Emma became the CEO and founder of ‘inspir’em’ in November 2019, an executive coaching and training firm for both startups and individuals. Prior to which she has worked for multiple big names in technology like SAP Concur, BMC Software and Sun Microsystems in business management and commercial sales roles.

Emma is also an adviser to startups and an angel investor since the past three years, often through the female founder network Angel Academe, she has a portfolio of eight companies. She is working as an ambassador for Tech London Advocates for their ‘women in tech’ initiative.

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Women in STEM

How to succeed in your technology career

Emma Maslen, UK MD at SAP Concur

It’s no surprise that 95 per cent of recruiters viewed a competitive personal brand as a key differentiator for attracting the best applicants in today’s workplace.

Personal branding is hugely beneficial on many levels: it makes you look connected, authoritative on a particular area and can help you build a strong network of like-minded contacts.

So not making the most of this opportunity and using it to your advantage to further your career would be a mistake. Especially in the fast-moving and competitive world of technology where the importance for you to be distinctive is even more critical.

Unfortunately, doing a good job and getting the recognition you deserve isn’t always the case in businesses. But, one way of helping you progress in your career and to stand out is by developing a personal brand.

For me personally, working in the technology sector for many years, building a personal brand has been an essential approach that really helped me to drive my career in the direction I wanted.

The good news is, it’s not rocket science and anyone can do it. Below are my four tips for getting started on nailing your personal brand.

Step one: Get your thinking hat on

Do you know where you want to be in one, two and five years’ time? It might sound far ahead but having some long-term goals set can keep you focused.

Working in the technology sector, it’s easy to think in the moment and not give too much thought to life later down the line. But without planning where you want to be in the future, how can you expect to ever get there?

No one is going to invest in your future but you. So, it’s time to take control of your future by giving it some serious thought. No one else will do it for you.

Step two: What do you want to be known for?

Once you’ve got your goals in place, select three words you want to become known for. A good place to start is thinking about what differentiates you from everyone else; don’t just opt for words that you think sound good. Most importantly, they need to be authentic.

For instance, if you want to be known as a ‘doer’, or a ‘closer’, don’t just start declaring yourself as that. Actions speak louder than words. You need to show people you are and prove it to them. One simple way of doing this is aiming to go to every meeting and show what you bring to the project at hand. This means no more shrinking in them – you won’t get that recognition as someone who has their act together otherwise.

One example of a techie who has built a sterling personal brand for herself is the computer scientist and academic, Dr Sue Black. She campaigned to save Bletchley Park – home of the World War Two codebreaker and now The National College of Cybersecurity – building a following of supporters and making a real change. She was genuinely passionate about it and people bought into that.

Step three: Start engaging

Once you’ve pinned down what you want to be known for, it’s time to start working towards building that perception.

Whether you like it or not, everyone has a digital footprint. Whether its photos on Facebook with your friends, you ranting on Twitter about public transport or sharing what Spanish tapas meal you had last week on Instagram. And this probably isn’t the sort of content you’d want potential employers, prospects or indeed your network to see.

So this next step is all about starting to create, share and engage with content which ties into the personal brand you’re looking to build for yourself – LinkedIn Pulse blogs and Medium are fantastic places to voice opinions. Or if you’re not a strong writer, there will plenty of communities whether that’s on LinkedIn or face-to-face networking meetups you can become part of.

Step four: Be patient

Whatever it is you want to be perceived as, make sure the tone of voice you select also suits your overall personal brand, whether that’s authoritative, engaging or concise. But the real secret in building a successful personal brand that sticks is all in consistency.

It takes a long time to build a personal brand – in fact, studies reckon it takes people five to seven times to remember a brand – and it requires real tenacity, but the benefits you’ll get as a result are certainly worth the initial effort.

The advantages of an individual investing in their personal brand and how they are perceived are obvious. But, why should companies be incentivised to encourage their employees to establish personal brands? It might, after all, lead to a head-hunter spotting and poaching your top talent.

With levels of trust towards businesses at an all time low, and statistics showing 92 per cent of people trust recommendations from individuals (even if they don’t know them) over companies. The benefits for employees being active on social media and crafting a credible personal brand for themselves are clear. In addition, 77 per cent of consumers are more likely to buy when the CEO of the business uses social media. This makes it a clear win-win for individuals and companies alike.