Gender diversity in fintech: Making a difference from the inside out


Article by Rosie McConnell, Head of Product, IFX Payments

The Fintech industry is often admired for its unmatched level of growth. Fintechs are behind the rapid product development that has transformed the finance industry and the way consumers manage and understand their money. 

However, for an industry that is so progressive and forward thinking, there’s still a large imbalance in gender diversity from entry level and junior roles all the way through to senior management and C-suite.

It’s a topic covered frequently both by the media, and also internally by businesses wanting to address this themselves. Yet every year, we continue to see significantly disproportionate numbers in gender diversity.  So why aren’t we seeing a change?

At IFX, we pride ourselves on having a strong 40:60 female:male split – substantially higher than the industry standard.

I’m approaching my tenth year in the industry, and I find myself in a unique position, now that I’ve sat on both sides of the hiring table.  As I reflect on what I’ve observed, I can offer some key learnings from my own personal experience to offer businesses some food for thought on their mission to be more inclusive.

The applications

Hiring power goes hand in hand with the opportunity to drive change. Within my three years here, FX has gone through incredible growth and I’m proud to now be in a position of having hiring power and being able to utilise it as a tool to challenge gender disparity across the sector.

When I went through the process of looking to hire myself, I observed that when I offered two roles, one junior and one senior, there was a clear gender split in terms of applications that didn’t necessarily reflect the candidate’s experience and skill sets.

Frequently I found that women were applying to junior roles even when their experience was more suited to the senior, and vice versa with male candidates.  Being in a position of hiring power, I felt it was important to give the applicant this feedback and encourage greater confidence and constructive criticism in their abilities.

This observation made me actively relook at our external messaging about roles at IFX and consider the ways in which we are describing our company, the roles and responsibilities, and the commitment we are asking people to make. Here I outline my top three observations:

1. Job requirements

The first step in guaranteeing that you’re appealing to the candidates with the most suitable skill set is to ensure, as the person hiring, you have clear definitions of the difference between a senior and junior and what the exact experience and expectations are of someone at this level.

Mapping core competencies, skills and experience to seniority, and identifying the best way to surface this in your interview with the candidates will help you know when a candidate is being bullish or under-selling themselves.

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2. Language 

Once these clear benchmarks are set, it is then key that the job application is appealing and attractive to everyone at that level.  As an employer, consider how company policy is reflected in the language of the job posting and how this will be digested by the person reading it.

I noticed that job posts can be filled with language and phrasing that is more likely to appeal to men, and by making simple switches to more gender neutral and inclusive language, I could make our roles more attractive to a broader range of candidates. I urge those with hiring power to review their current job ads and analyse the perception the language used is giving out to potential hires.

3. Equally appealing

Ultimately a role and company culture should appeal to candidates of any gender, as well as anyone of any race or social and economic backgrounds.

Topics affecting the candidates welfare are those which are most likely to be asked in an interview so addressing them in the job posting will likely attract quality talent.  Think about the work from home protocol, mentoring and parental leave allowances.

Tailoring management

Industries which have been historically dominated by men, often lack the management teams who possess skills suited to the growing female workforce. But with workplaces becoming more diverse, managers need to learn to deal with different communication styles and ways of working to make it more appealing to females across the board.  Ultimately, for those in managerial positions, the goal is to pull the best out of your team in order to create better products.  The more we work with our team, the better the results will be.  So what’s the answer?  As women in the industry, we need to introduce more empathy to management in order to nurture female talent and drive greater change.

Looking ahead

I think it’s a complicated problem, and we’re starting to understand that businesses taking a one-size-fits-all approach to diversifying their workforce isn’t always effective. I would argue we must analyse and really understand each individual process, culture and positioning to be able to make meaningful change, that is not curtailed or dependent on external factors.

Innovation and delivering the best work for clients can only happen if the teams are actually varied in thought and I put some of our best ideas at IFX down to the diverse teams we hire.

About the Rosie McConnellauthor

In her role as the Head of Product at IFX, Rosie McConnell is responsible for establishing the deliverables and objectives for IFX’s product offering. With over 10 years of experience in the Fintech sector, Rosie plays a key role in defining and prioritizing product roadmaps for IFX as well as taking ownership for product development and the technological innovation of IFX.

With a decade of industry experience under her belt, Rosie began her career at WorldPay in 2012 before joining Thomas Cook Money in 2018 after which she joined IFX.

Her goal for the year ahead is to drive IFX’s expansion of payment global coverage whilst prioritising traceability and transparency of funds. She is also working on adapting IFX’S virtual iban offering so that the product offers greater level of flexibility and transparency.

Rosie is a passionate champion of value-led change in an industry that is predominantly dominated by men, through helping to advance the Women in Fintech agenda as well as working towards maintaining a cognitively biased team which relies on people from all backgrounds and experiences working together.

Plugging the leak: how we can drive improved gender diversity in tech

Front view of diverse business people looking at camera while working together at conference room in a modern office

Article by Theresa Palmer, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence

Over the past two years, global organisations have overcome unimaginable hurdles and cleared obstacles they never saw coming.

They deserve huge credit for doing so. But one challenge remains stubbornly persistent: tackling the underlying issues which continue to block greater equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) in the technology industry. Particularly when it comes to women in tech, there is a critical “leaky valve” – a point at which organisations start to lose their female talent.

Finding and plugging this leak with tangible action and measurement will be crucial to getting more inspiring women into leadership positions.

A diversity crisis

There’s no debate that ED&I is still a serious problem for the tech sector. The WomenTechNetwork found that only 17% of ICT specialists globally and only a third (34%) of STEM graduates are women. A recent Tech Nation report revealed that more than three-quarters (77%) of tech director roles are filled by men. In the cybersecurity sector, there’s more bad news from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) whose latest reportrevealed that women and ethnic minority staff are more likely to experience career roadblocks.

The pandemic has been particularly damaging to gender equality in the workplace. Women were 1.8 times more likely than men to lose their jobs when the crisis began. And at the same time, unpaid work like childcare and domestic chores surged, further disadvantaging working women. It’s perhaps no surprise that a third (34%) of mothers have reported feeling frustrated at trying to combine their career with parental responsibilities.

Enhancing diversity in the workplace isn’t just a moral imperative for employers, it also drives some well recognised business benefits. Diversity of approaches and thinking contribute towards improved team performance, innovation and new ways of problem solving. In its 2019 analysis McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 % more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile – up from 21% in 2017 and 15% in 2014. So why are there still so few women in senior tech roles?

Plugging the leak

In many organisations, this is the mid-point in women’s careers when their career progression begins to stall. This is sometimes linked to when they return to the workplace after welcoming a child. But that is just one link and not the only influence. The end result is fewer women progressing into senior roles and perhaps more individuals leaving the organisation altogether to find senior opportunities elsewhere. At BAE Systems Digital Intelligence, we spend a great deal of time looking for the leaky valve.

It’s not an easy problem to fix. It will take a committed effort to change the organisation’s underlying values, culture, policy and practice. And often the people that need to drive change are middle managers who are loaded with responsibility and short of time, compounded by being comfortable operating with what they know. That’s part of the reason why many fall into the trap of doing ED&I by numbers, simply following what they see other organisations doing. This fails to take account of the fact that every enterprise is different, with its own unique set of challenges.

Fixing ED&I is a business problem like any other. That means reviewing the key areas, identifying the problem, developing a solution and then implementing it. It’s essential during this process to engage closely with employees to ensure the scale of the problem is fully understood and the solution is fit-for-purpose. Once developed, it should be evaluated repeatedly to allow for adjustments to fix any deficiencies.

From words to action

The bottom line is that ED&I is slowly improving. Organisations have spent a great deal of time and effort on enhancing their recruitment process – by opening up to more universities, using gender bias decoders on job adverts, more diverse interview panels and much more besides. But it can’t stop there. Organisations must spend as much effort on preventing their female talent from leaving or ossifying.

That means paying equal attention to promotions, succession plans and training and development opportunities. Too many businesses are still rolling out senior leadership development programmes that are comprised of 99-100% men. It means identifying where the leak is and working at least two grade levels before the ‘leaky valve’ kicks in to fix things. If there aren’t any suitable female candidates to send on these programmes, there’s the leak. Go at least two steps back and start plugging it.  Leadership should be held accountable for any ED&I failings. They must act early, intervene with genuine, worthwhile development programmes and set diversity targets for leadership development initiatives.

The presence of female role models can create a powerful story of diversity in action, and a virtuous circle which could fill the talent pipeline and achieve greater representation at board level. So much is said these days about organisations needing to “do the right thing” in terms of driving greater ED&I. But the time for talking about doing the right thing has passed. It’s time to get on and do it.

About the author

Theresa PalmerTheresa Palmer is Head of Diversity & Inclusion at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence. Theresa has worked with BAE since 2010 her career has concentrated on identification and execution of proactive customer satisfaction programmes which has lent to her success with the ultimate customer, employees.

Theresa’s career has spanned nearly 20 years in the technology industry having held posts in finance, HR, sales, account and relationship management and D&I. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, USA and an MBA with a focus in Finance and Organizational Behavior from the University of Massachusetts, USA.

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International Women’s Day: The importance of allyship in gender diversity

diversity and inclusion, National Inclusion Week, inspirational profilesArticle by Joanne Gilhooley, chief marketing officer at Adarma

This week marked International Women’s Day – a day dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women, raising awareness against bias and for championing action to drive meaningful change to create a fairer, more equal world. 

While there has been much progress in some respects, women are still vastly underrepresented in the technology industry, particularly among senior leadership teams. Women still only make up less than a quarter of the cybersecurity workforce.

Research also shows that women are still promoted at a far lower rate than their male counterparts; this may be why women are not attracted to the industry in the first place. For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women are promoted. This could account for the lack of women in leadership roles.

So, where are organisations going wrong in addressing gender diversity? Well first, it’s important to not think of gender equality as a female issue, it’s a social, moral and economic issue. It’s also a major problem for an industry that is facing an ongoing digital skills crisis, which is making it increasingly difficult for employers to fill roles. In turn, this is leading to the overburdening of already strained teams. One study puts the global cybersecurity talent shortage at more than 4 million people.

A McKinsey Global Institute report found that $12 trillion (11%) could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. In a “full potential” scenario in which women play an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much as $28 trillion (26%), could be added to global annual GDP by 2025.

Moreover, research shows that diverse teams perform better and are more innovative. Leaders across all industries recognise that a diverse workforce is good for business.

In short, there is an urgency to attract more women to the profession and, more importantly, an imperative to retain them. Women are unlikely to join or stay in a career that chronically undervalues them, or where they feel there are too few gender equality allies.

To do this will require a shift in how business leaders, organisation influencers, and we all think about the issue – it’s no longer a ‘nice to have’ or a topic siloed off to HR.

Encourage allyship through company culture

Although there are no quick fixes to these challenges of gender equality, there are steps companies can and should take.

Changing company culture is a good first step. Work culture deeply influences organisational leadership style, how people interact with their colleagues, how people feel overall in their role and their sentiment towards the company.

Women’s day-to-day experiences are heavily influenced by their interactions with managers and co-workers.

Crafting a company culture that fully leverages and promotes the benefits of diversity will go a long way to addressing the issue. Women, and all employees, should feel comfortable bringing their ideas, perspective, and experiences to the table.

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If both men and women have workplace psychological safety, they will be more likely to call out unfair practices, behaviour that diminishes women and be more supportive of their co-workers. This will benefit DEI and positively influence the experiences of women in the workplace.

If an employer can achieve this type of work environment, everyone will feel happier in their jobs and more connected to their co-workers and more likely to be a gender ally.

Allyship from more senior colleagues, both male and female, can make an enormous difference. Senior leaders within the business need to fully and publicly support gender equality and actively participate in training and events related to DEI. This will strongly signal the organisation’s commitment to doing more to boost DEI.

Doing this will help infuse this type of culture into the organisation much more quickly and encourage strong buy-in from employees who will see the benefits in modelling this behaviour.

Engage men in the gender inclusion programmes

Gender equality must be everyone’s responsibility. It cannot be driven by women alone. Men must be included and engaged in the dialogue so that they can play their role in the solution. Everyone needs to be empowered to be a gender diversity supporter.

Evidence shows that when men are deliberately engaged in gender inclusion programmes, 96% of organisations see progress. This is compared to only 30% of organisations where men are not engaged.

According to McKinsey & LeanIn’s latest Women in the Workplace Report, men account for 79% of the C-suite and 93% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. With such influence in senior roles, men are well positioned to become powerful gender allies, which would help speed up progress and make changes more sustainable.

Aside from making the workplace a fairer and positive environment, men also benefit when they champion gender equality on a personal level. One study found that men who were more likely to act as allies to women reported proportionately higher levels of personal growth and were more likely to say they acquired skills that made them better husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons.

At Adarma we are proactively working to build this type of inclusive culture where everyone feels empowered to speak-up, share their ideas, recognised for their work, and valued as an individual.

Although we have more work to do in terms of gender diversity, we are supporting and sponsoring initiatives, such as the ‘Empowering Women to Lead Cyber Security’ programme, to provide training to women wishing to progress in their career into senior leadership roles.

We have also reviewed our hiring language to ensure we are making careers into cybersecurity more accessible for everyone.

Our flexible working policy ensures that our people are empowered to manage their work life balance and are not excluded from being part of our team.

“Inclusion without diversity cannot exist. The balance of women in cybersecurity, especially in leadership positions, needs to change. Over the course of my career, I’ve seen first-hand that the best ideas and solutions come from more diverse teams; whether that’s in the boardroom or in day-to-day interactions with customers, partners and communities.

“It’s vital that we attract and retain more women into the cybersecurity industry, and, more importantly, we develop those that are already here. It’s critical that businesses sponsor initiatives that support women at work and provide training, but also take proactive steps to drive a company culture that removes bias and improves everyone’s daily work experiences.” – John Maynard, CEO at Adarma.

 Learn more about what we are doing to build a more balanced and representative workplace.

Joanne GilhooleyAbout the author

Before joining Adarma, I was most recently Director of Marketing for Microsoft in the UK, responsible for defining and supporting Microsoft’s commercial and consumer business’. With over 15 years cybersecurity experience and prior to my role at Microsoft, I led teams delivering sales training and enablement, global product marketing and CxO executive marketing at HP (HPE/DXC Technology). I was also Marketing Director at Vistorm, prior to it being acquired by HP. I am passionate about cybersecurity and helping to make the digital world safe and accessible for all. Outside of work I love the outdoor life and can often be seen trying to ride my horse ‘Buffy” around the Chiltern Hills!

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Gender diversity in tech: The importance of creating a diverse workforce

diversity and inclusion, National Inclusion Week, inspirational profilesHow can tech companies address the lack of diversity in the sector? Christina Pendleton from Intercity Technology offers her tips on hiring and retaining diverse talent.

With just 15% of the tech sector made up of female workers, it’s clear more needs to be done to nurture gender diversity in the industry.

That figure comes from the recent Technology & Talent Study 2021 by Harvey Nash Group. The annual study also found that not only has the number of female tech workers remained stubbornly low since its first survey in 2016, but also almost three quarters of the women already in industry feel that efforts to support and improve female participation in technology have not gone far enough.

This lack of diversity in the technology sector is something I’ve been battling since I first joined Intercity Technology as HR Advisor in 2014, This led me to start the ‘Women in Tech Networking Group’, a monthly event hosted by the company, which is designed to celebrate gender diversity, encourage more women into technology roles and retain and attract more women to work at Intercity.

Today, there is still a lack of female representation across the industry, stemming from a lack of diverse representation of girls studying STEM subjects at school. This is starting to improve with engagement between employers and schools increasing, but the trend must continue if we’re to see an impact in overall diversity figures.

However, companies need to do more to make the working environment and working practices more inclusive. This should start off by looking at unconscious bias within the workplace to remove any judgements and discrimination that may occur. Women in Tech reported that 40% of women believe their more underqualified colleagues of the opposite sex have been promoted over them. This is a big reason why women and other underrepresented groups find entering or advancing within the sector challenging, resulting in lower retention rates for these groups.

For example, if more female staff are citing lack of progression as a reason for leaving the business, then it’s time to start reviewing promotion practices and begin offering more inclusive mentoring and development programmes.

If female team members are having to hand in their notice due to difficulty balancing parenting or maternity with work, then more effective flexible working policies need to be implemented. Most business leaders I speak to are already doing this, but I think it needs to be accelerated to deliver change.

The technology industry has a responsibility to celebrate and advocate gender diversity and encourage people from all walks of life into the sector. The greater the diversity within a company, the greater the variety of perspectives, approaches, skills and experience that businesses can benefit from.

I’ve seen first-hand that getting it right means you can problem solve more effectively while increasing creativity and innovation, leading to better performance. Our customers and end-users all come from diverse backgrounds, so it’s crucial, as an industry, we aim to reflect those we serve.

In the first instance, it’s vital that companies recognise where they currently sit in terms of diversity in the workplace. For example, organisations need to be aware of their stats surrounding diversity before being able to create and implement improvement plans. From an external perspective, these plans should include working with schools, colleges and universities to help promote the sector to young audiences and diversify the talent pipeline.

Before hiring, companies should take a closer look at their existing culture, values and processes when it comes to increasing diversity. Championing and celebrating diversity should be part of a company’s culture – from senior leadership roles right through to people starting their career in tech. Recruitment strategies should also be adapted to appeal to a broad market.

Networking groups, such as the ‘Women in Tech Networking Group’ at Intercity, give team members a commonality, a shared voice and create a platform to talk through issues they’re facing due to unconscious bias. Creating these groups is a great way to champion women within the company, while helping to onboard new members.

Creating and upholding a culture of inclusivity within the technology sector is vital, and your team should feel encouraged to bring their authentic selves to work every day. They should be proud of the differences they bring to our industry.

Christina PendletonAbout the author

Christina Pendleton is Chief People Officer for leading communications technology company Intercity Technology


Can mentoring help to improve gender diversity in tech?

Front view of diverse business people looking at camera while working together at conference room in a modern office

Ed Johnson, CEO and Founder of mentoring and career development platform PushFar, discusses how mentoring can help to level the playing field for women in tech.

When we look to the future, whilst much may be uncertain, one thing that we can be sure of is a world where individuals and businesses continue to be ever more reliant on technology. The technology industry is growing almost three times faster than the economy as a whole.  With that in mind, it seems increasingly important that tech companies should be represented by a gender diverse workforce.  More diverse teams will result in more diverse thought processes, meaning more inclusive innovation, better products and improved customer experiences that inspire brand loyalty, and generate stronger sales. Half of the users of technology are women, so it is pretty obvious that their input to the development of future technology is crucial.

Yet gender equality and a lack of inclusiveness remains an issue in the world of tech, with women still significantly underrepresented.

It is my belief that companies which wish to have a stronger emphasis on tangible gender diversity, equity and inclusion efforts need to be prepared to make more active and structural changes to ensure that more women not only look to join at the start of their career, but that employees also feel able to progress their career all the way to the boardroom. Retaining women throughout the business is vital for a truly diverse workplace, and it will mean that younger team members have role models to look up to and emulate.

One path that has proven time and time again to have the ability to help nurture a more diverse and inclusive workplace is putting in place a mentoring scheme. Evidence shows that employees feel motivated and supported when they see senior leaders with whom they can relate. As a result, on average it has been found that mentoring programmes boost the representation of underrepresented groups by 9% to 24%.

Work that we have done at PushFar has backed this up. Limit Break, a mentorship programme in the UK games industry, recognised the value mentoring can bring to their industry in relation to addressing diversity and inclusion issues. Their founder, Anisa Sanusi, established Limit Break when she couldn’t find a female mentor in the gaming industry and was looking for guidance and a role model. We partnered with them to put in place a programme that now means people can find mentoring relationships based on specific backgrounds and profiles. By connecting a young workforce to those with experience, there can obviously be huge benefits both for the individual and the company in the skills and knowledge that they can pass on.

Mentorships can be particularly helpful to women in tech who are mid-way through their career – a point where many seem to change direction – as the extra support and advice can help them to develop skills, be heard in the workplace, and create opportunities for promotion.

We also need to continue to encourage women to want to step into technology roles, and support them in doing so, and mentorship has been found to help achieve this too. In my view, the recruitment process can, even if inadvertently, be one of the principal hurdles to creating a diverse workforce. Applicants from ‘different backgrounds’ to the organisation they are applying for are at a disadvantage. This is not just because the interviewers may have some unconscious bias, it is because the recruitment process itself favours the ‘majority’ at the organisation. Applicants that have easy access to the community or group represented at the company they are applying for can get a huge advantage by getting insights into the process, company, politics and even gain relevant experience. This then leads to a self-perpetuating cycle that veers an organisation towards one particular group. We have worked with organisations to set up mentoring programmes providing access for all candidates to relevant current employees that could support them during recruitment.

When it comes to the issue of gender diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, there is obviously no one silver bullet, and companies in the sector need to be prepared to take a proactive and progressive approach looking at all the options available to them. Mentoring can be a key part of that puzzle though, helping the industry to better represent the consumers it serves.

Smiling man and woman standing on weighing dishes of balance scale. Concept of gender equality at work or in business, equal rights for both sexes. Colorful vector illustration in flat cartoon style.

‘Frat boy’ tech is out: how business leaders can crack the code on gender equality

Tech is not the only industry blighted by gender discrimination, but it is certainly a key culprit.

It was chilling to read of the allegations against Activision Blizzard last month, which claim women in the company have been subject to sexual harassment, unequal pay, and retaliation. It hit me particularly hard because it’s telling that these prejudices still remain in tech, and because the ‘frat boy’ culture label rings some bells from my own experience.

However, across tech, women are rising to the top, and the fact that this Activision Blizzard news is, well – news, is significant. Employees are starting to redefine what their businesses stand for. They’re fighting for their voices and they’re being heard. Business leaders need to sit up and pay attention to what’s happening and fast; the world is changing and today, every voice is one that could have power.

Frat clubs in tech are over – and those hanging on to them will see themselves framed in ferocious articles, which pore over their many deeds of misconduct.

So how did we get here, and what must businesses do now to help break tech out of its misogynistic tendencies?

Busting the male-coder myth

Popularised by pop culture in the ilk of Mr. Robot, The Matrix’s Neo, and – let’s be honest – Mark Zuckerberg , the image of tech has been of a geeky guy in a dark bedroom, coding all day and night.

Recently, this bedtime story has started to fall apart at the seams. This is for two good reasons. The first – girls can, and do, code. Just look at the 450,000 girls in Britain who have participated in programs with Girls Who Code.

The second – tech doesn’t just need coders. It doesn’t even just need computer experts. And it certainly doesn’t just need men. Every skill is needed in technology, and every possible skill set can be accommodated within this sector. As much as with any business, people hire people – so emotional intelligence is key. We need organisers, creatives, project managers, HR, recruitment, designers, ideas people, realists, finance skills, operational know-how, managers – and on and on and on.

It’s up to business leaders to make this clear to the wider market, and to focus on hiring the right talent, rather than the right ‘fit’.

Role models

When I started my career, almost all my seniors were men. I started off in hedge funds and venture capital, where there was little margin for error and a culture already steeped in work-hard-play-hard toxicity.

Now, at Access Intelligence, our board is majority women. This is a pattern I’m beginning to see across the industry – tech firms are finally seeing recruitment initiatives that began long ago pay off in their leadership teams.

But I strongly feel that time should no longer be a limiting factor. Businesses worrying about diversity now cannot afford to wait until their graduates are in the c-suite. Regardless of gender, age, or any other demographic we might fall into – bright and capable people should be facilitated to progress in their career rapidly. Businesses who are truly future-facing are dropping the hierarchy in favour of finding the right person for the role.

It is damning to see any company still engaging in tired, sexist behaviours. Pioneering businesses are diversifying employee skill sets and promoting those with talent over those they’re familiar with. I hope that stories like the allegations at Activision Blizzard become rarer; and I hope that women thinking of joining the tech industry realise that today, those practices are no longer the norm. For now, it’s up to businesses to prove it.

Joanna ArnoldAbout the author

Joanna Arnold joined Access Intelligence  as COO in 2011 and became CEO in 2014. Under Joanna’s leadership, AI has become a business known for its commitment to using technology to transform the way in which journalists, politicians and online influencers access trusted, expert insight.

Her vision is a world of open and effective communication that tackles head on issues from fake news to information overload.

Before Access Intelligence, Joanna’s career included a combination of investment roles and ten years of M&A experience in the software sector. Alongside her role at AI, she is a non-executive director at Trailight Ltd, a compliance SaaS platform, solving regulatory challenges for Financial Services companies. Joanna graduated from Edinburgh University in 2004.

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For boosting gender diversity in STEM, confidence is key

group of young multiethnic diverse people gesture hand high five, laughing and smiling together in brainstorm meeting at office, company culture

By Aimée Williams, vice president of content, consumer & business services division at IDA Ireland

Organisations may be starting to recognise that gender diversity is key to success, but the bigger question is why we don’t see more females in executive and senior leadership teams.

The New York Times reported in 2015 that there were more large companies run by CEOs called John than women CEOs. Since then, a report conducted in late 2018 shows that, despite female CEOs driving more value appreciation and improved stock price momentum for their firms, there was still a male-to-female ratio of 19:1 for CEOs. Attitudes towards women in business may have evolved over the last few years but not enough; there is still a vast underrepresentation of females in key executive positions. When looking at the proportion of women in top leadership positions in STEM, the difference becomes even greater.

The main challenge with increasing gender diversity in STEM senior leadership roles is more about encouraging women to work in STEM full stop, which needs to be addressed at a young age. A survey of more than 2,500 schoolgirls in Ireland revealed that 85 per cent of girls say they would like to know more about STEM or STEM careers, and interestingly, 93 per cent of teachers surveyed ranked self-belief in the girls’ ability as a major challenge to the promotion of STEM. To overcome this, we need to showcase the diversity of roles that come from STEM careers, tell the stories of successful women, have the opportunities seen and develop the confidence in the younger generation so that they see a career in science or technology as an exciting, diverse and rewarding journey.

If I reflect on my own experiences at school, I was definitely not aware of the career opportunities in STEM or the rising presence of technology companies such as Microsoft, Google and Apple in Ireland. In truth, I never set out for a career in the technology industry; I didn’t feel good enough at maths and science in school. Routes into STEM are varied though and it’s important that young girls and women know this so that they don’t block themselves from opportunities where they could succeed and feel fulfilled, whether that’s in STEM or not.

For me, studying international business and languages at university, which included a year’s study abroad in France, truly opened my mind to different cultures and new ways of thinking and engaging with others. It encouraged me to step out me out of my comfort zone, which helped me to start building my networking capabilities – something that has been a huge benefit in my career.

My involvement in the technology industry started while working at IDA Ireland, the Irish Government’s agency for foreign direct investment (FDI). Our job is to partner with multinational companies of all sizes, in helping them leverage Ireland for business support growth opportunities. Technology companies – be they enterprise tech, edtech, travel tech, sports tech or consumer tech – are one of the core focuses of our business. Over the past 10 years I have worked in attracting some of the world’s most innovative companies to Ireland, whilst also supporting many of our existing technology companies to scale and expand mandates in Ireland.

Like a lot of women, at varying stages confidence in my abilities has been the biggest inhibitor during my career, despite having terrific male and female managers who have supported its growth and pushed me onwards. I’ve found that confidence builds through action, and sometimes the best way to overcome a lack of self-confidence is by adopting a ‘just do it’ attitude. It takes constant investment, resilience and focus to keep building and growing.

Not coming from a tech background, it was daunting at times to find myself face to face with founders, CEOs and CTOs of tech companies, where I needed to understand their business in order to identify a solution. To overcome this, I went out and sought knowledge. I spoke to friends who were software developers or other IT experts and asked them to explain to me how all the pieces of tech fit together. I also read up on articles talking about software-as-a-service (SaaS) models and attended tech conferences to expand my knowledge and boost my self-confidence.

Investing in growing my confidence and knowledge has also helped me to tackle other challenges that many women working in STEM often face, such as being listened to in meetings. There have been many times where my ideas haven’t been considered and then, frustratingly, the chosen idea is flawed in many ways and does not represent the best option. As I have grown in experience and confidence with speaking up, I’ve learned how to deal with this. My advice to women in this situation would be to highlight the positive parts of the idea and ask more about the delivery of the solution to establish how the outcomes will ultimately help to achieve the end goal. The purpose of this is to have my voice heard, present an alternative option, but also contribute with ideas, so that a blended and optimal solution is reached.

It’s important for women to work in all industries across all functions and sectors, but mostly to work in roles they enjoy, that challenge them, that help them grow. We know that diversity of thought, approaches and experiences only add value to companies, and this equally applies to STEM careers. I’ve never put definitions around what I wanted to be when I “grow up”, other than being successful in my chosen career, and keeping that broad mindset has facilitated my career in successfully adapting to work across multiple sectors, cultures, personalities and size of companies.

Overall, I would advise women to share what they want to achieve – it’s surprising how many people will support and help them get there. By pushing myself to be curious, asking for help and surrounding myself with positive energy, my confidence and career has significantly grown and allowed me to deal with challenging situations.

About the author

Aimée WilliamsIDA Ireland Aimée has over 17 years of working in the fast-paced Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) industry and her experience spans a diverse range of sectors including technology, consumer products & services, engineering, life sciences, start-ups and clean technology across international territories. Currently based in the Digital Technology Division at IDA Ireland’s global HQ in Dublin, Aimée is responsible for promoting Ireland as an international investment location, as well as supporting the EMEA Leadership teams of existing clients. At present, Aimée’s focus spans across the content platform technologies, consumer tech, consumer products and business services sectors, working with North American fast growing, mid and enterprise size multinational clients as they develop international growth and talent strategies. Prior to this Aimée spent 5 years working with early-stage companies from all across the US and Europe as they scaled internationally and built-out growth strategies for EMEA. Aimée has also spent three and a half years on an international assignment at IDA Ireland’s Paris office, can speak French and has a BA in International Business and Languages. Aimée currently sits on the Board of the Digital Hub Development Agency.

Gender diversity is the solution to the tech talent gap


By Terry Storrar, Managing Director, Leaseweb UK

IT has a diversity problem.

Take a look at some of the industry’s biggest and most well-known companies: 70% of Apple’s senior management are white males, less than 40% of Facebook’s workforce are female and Google also has low employment rates for women and ethnic minorities.

The acute shortage of talent in the technology industry makes the slow pace of recruitment among women and ethnic minorities even more intolerable. With a pressing need to expand the talent pool to help address the shortage of IT professionals, women and ethnic minorities remain a largely untapped resource.

It’s not all the IT industry’s responsibility. After all, businesses can only recruit women into IT if they have the necessary skills and qualifications. Helping girls and women to develop an interest in science and technology and enrol in the relevant courses in educational institutions is the first step.

There is an assumed bias in favour of males when it comes to STEM courses. It starts in school with the belief that boys have a better aptitude for science than girls. This is often reinforced by how it is taught and who teaches it. The majority of STEM teachers are likely to be male. As a consequence there is a shortage of female role models in STEM for girls, making it harder for them to become enthused and inspired by the subject.

It is important to make STEM subjects more attractive to girls. Young women should be introduced to the basics of programming in school and encouraged to explore science. If they have skills and interests in STEM, they should be nurtured and supported.

It helps if the people nurturing and supporting them are women because it reinforces the belief there is a realistic path for them in STEM. It is also important girls are able to see and read success stories of women in the technology sector. Unfortunately, there are still very few high profile women in the IT industry.

Sadly, this is not a glitch but a feature. IT companies have been very slow to provide a work environment that is inviting for women. The perception of the technology industry is still very male-dominated. In its defence, the IT industry is still very young compared to many others. Science and technology are also “young” subjects in the curriculum. Nevertheless, as an industry that frequently labels itself as agile and fast-moving, the IT industry needs to prove those credentials by correcting the inherent male bias as rapidly as possible.

Providing evidence of gender diversity can help to attract more women into the industry. According to a survey by Glassdoor, 67% of job seekers believe workforce diversity has a significant role in their decision to apply for a job opening. Diversity also promotes innovation. Research by Josh Bersin shows inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be seen as innovation leaders in their market.

There’s also a strong economic case because diversity contributes to business success and profitability. A survey by the Boston Consulting Group found turnover at companies with a more diverse management team was an average of 19% higher. Clearly, it’s in the best interests of IT companies to do everything they can to ensure a more diverse workforce and create an attractive work environment for women.

Given the benefits of diversity, it is important to enthuse young people, women in particular, for a career in the IT world. The longstanding talent shortages afflicting the IT industry make it even more incumbent on companies to provide an environment that attracts, nurtures, sustains and promotes women.

Diversity works but it’s up to the IT industry to make work more diverse.


Crucial to success: A female CEO’s perspective on gender equality in tech

gender equality, gender balanceAs the CEO of  fast-growing AI health company, Feebris, Dr Elina Naydenova is one of the 5% of women holding leadership positions within the technology sector.

Here she explores the various factors which prevent women from entering the tech industry and what can start-ups do to pioneer change. She explains how and why she feels it is important to build a company culture, particularly in tech, that is consistently meritocratic, flexible and above all inclusive.

The Lack of Diversity in Tech

The technology sector remains a male-dominated industry - only 9% of tech workers in the UK are women. While the UK’s start-up scene is at the forefront of global innovation, the industry lags behind when it comes to equal representation.

The make-up of the workforce today continues to influence it’s inclusivity tomorrow by compounding  barriers to entry for women. From lack of female role models within notable organisations (only 5% of tech leaders are women), to extremely poor representation of people of colour in leadership positions, there are a number of entrenched issues  preventing new entrants into tech.

The Original Script

The rapid growth of the digital health industry provides a significant opportunity for new skilled employment (and economic growth) but these opportunities haven’t been realised for a broader group.

The script girls are brought up and educated with rarely includes being an engineer, a computer scientist, a leader in tech. I know it didn’t for me – I was told that science is what boys are usually good at and that girls normally focus on the “softer subjects”. When I reached the final round of the National Physics Competition, I was the only girl in the room. In my Maths & Physics degree, <10% of my colleagues were female. Unsurprisingly, only 3% of young women consider a career in the tech sector as their first choice (Pwc, 2017).

This is something that, as a scientist and technology leader, I am passionate about changing.

Building Diverse Teams and Products is Strategic

By limiting a team’s diversity, we limit its creativity. If we want to create products & services which are used by people of all ages, genders and ethnicities, then their makers need to represent our diverse society. This is perhaps even more important in healthcare than most other industries. We have a responsibility to embed inclusivity and accessibility in the products we develop and we can only achieve this if our teams blend diversity of views, experiences and perspectives.

Yet, it’s easier said than done. Ninety-five percent of the software engineering candidates are male. And when you are a start-up operating at 100 miles per hour, it’s easy to compromise on diversity aspirations in favour of efficiency. But these small compromises for short-term gains can grow into big issues for company culture. So go the extra mile, turn every corner to try and break the vicious cycle.

Changing the Script

Creating cultural change in organisations which were built in a different cultural era is extremely hard. I have experienced the many facets of an ingrained conservative belief system that feels threatened by diversity – in academia, big industry, international development. I have been told that “I should smile more to make my male boss happier” and that “I am not supposed to have ideas”.

Research suggests that if tech companies want to attract and retain women, they need to recognise the role their policies and culture play in causing inequality, and they need to pursue organisational change. Work in the area is ongoing and it has now been shown that the implementation of wider recruitment strategies, specific and measurable performance evaluation criteria, and transparent procedures for assigning reward can all be effective means of promoting gender equality.

As a mission-led start-up, we are in a privileged position – diversity is baked into our DNA. We choose to hire individuals who are driven to address inequalities in healthcare access.

A third of our workforce are female and we continue to remain curious and open-minded about where our next generation of female colleagues comes from. We’ve actively coached and brought women into the business from other sectors including academia and the world of social impact and we value this as a driver for our creativity and competitive advantage. There is still so much for us to do but we are actively working to create an inclusive and diverse working environment and hope we can inspire others to do the same.

To find out more about feebris or contact Elina, please email: [email protected]

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The achilles heel of the tech industry


Article by Stuart Arthur, CTO at Foundry4

We all know that tech has a real problem with diversity. It has been well recorded how underrepresented women are in the sector with just 19% of the tech workforce female according to Tech Nation. But the issue goes beyond gender too. 

Socio-economic background also plays a part in the lack of inclusivity in tech, with a report from Inclusive Tech alliance in 2018 finding that over one third (36%) of tech execs attended a private school, compared to just 7% of the overall population.  While we hope that inclusivity would have improved more recently, the pandemic is likely to have thrown any improvements off course.

While efforts have been made by the industry to be more inclusive and to develop programmes to attract people from more diverse backgrounds, there has been very little progress. As the industry continues to grow and provide an abundance of job opportunities in well paid roles, it is important that no one is left behind for a number of reasons.

Gender diverse companies perform better - according to McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.  In addition, women come with a different set of experiences that can be developed into new ideas, solutions or products.

Diversity becomes even more crucial as applications of AI become more widespread. Software drives AI and Machine learning and these are things which will be coded to make decisions on our behalf. It's absolutely imperative that the people designing and building in those decisions have lived experience through many lenses and not just that of a middle class, able bodied white male.

Perhaps this was slightly less crucial when the main use of the internet was to surface cute cat videos, but when the tech is making decisions about welfare benefits or who gets a mortgage, the stakes become increasingly higher.

The reasons behind a lack of gender diversity are multifaceted. There is an issue of perception as well as lacklustre STEM education in schools. Many young women do not perceive the entry into the tech sector as a pathway that is accessible and open to them, lacking real guidance and role models.

The first great barrier to women developing a career in technology begins in the education system. Many of our schools don’t effectively showcase how exciting technology can be from a creative perspective, and how there are so many different elements involved, such as planning, design and coding.

People from disadvantaged backgrounds struggle to get into tech careers because of a lack of opportunities to do so, which is where the government and some schools fail our children badly. Devoid of role models and a good education, those from underserved communities can struggle to get into tech. To me that is unacceptable in modern society and has to change.

With my own career, it really started serendipitously. A neighbour of mine was an old video game programmer, and that caught my attention. We really need to make sure that our schools and society give everyone the chances, opportunities, and support they deserve. It’s easier said than done, but everyone can make at least a small difference - it only takes one trailblazer to inspire someone’s career.

We need to take responsibility as an industry. There certainly used to be a reputation that tech was about middle aged men in suits and an incredibly bland career path. There’s no doubt that perception is changing, but I think there’s still a long way to go.

Many companies run coding initiatives for example, but the problems that lie around perception run right through from grassroots level all the way through to industry.

Ultimately, real change will require the government to invest more money and time into our education system. It is still based on the industrial age - outdated and cannot keep pace with the changing technology and digital landscape.

An example of this is how a Welsh Government Steering Group report I contributed to back in 2013 contained actions which have only recently been implemented by the government, remarkably a long ten years later.

A new operating model is required that embraces agility and responsiveness. History would tell us that waiting around for the government to step up and enact change has not always been reliable. The private sector must also get involved and engage with education providers to bring the tech industry into the classroom.

Industry can also be more generous in their apprenticeship offering and working more with schools to provide advice and role models. Apprenticeships and budget for digital skills initiatives should also be targeted towards under represented communities.

We are at a critical juncture. Today’s world is run on tech but yet there is a serious talent shortage. In part, this is because employers only have access to a small talent pool due to a lack of female candidates coming through the education system. We need this talent to fuel the growth of businesses and the economy and to sustain the demand for technical talent.

Technology can provide the opportunity to have an outstanding career. The average salary in the industry was £74,000 in 2019, and the industry has ballooned in prosperity and scale since then.

While the tech industry needs to do more, we also urge government, educators and business to lean in and do more to reset how we educate, influence and offer opportunities to young people, and build a long-term, gender diverse talent pipeline for the future.

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