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Why gender equality in tech needs to be championed from the top

Article by Kerry Leighton-Bailey, Chief Marketing Officer and Director of Shareholder Engagement, Lumi

gender equality, gender balanceFive years ago, the idea of working for a tech company would have immediately made me run for the hills. I fell into the industry somewhat by chance, and initially, I was quite reluctant to enter a sector where women seemed to be a minority.

The simple fact that only 19% of people working in tech in the UK are women is enough to make anyone feel unwelcome. Now I find myself 3 years into working for a global regtech company, where gender truly is a non-issue.

I’ve realised that my perception of the tech industry was inaccurate and based on previous bad experiences in male dominated industries, particularly where there was a lack of women in leadership positions. Over the years, I have worked with companies who have had hugely differing approaches to gender equality. One where the CEO couldn’t believe a woman had earned her place on the board and another where there was a clear divide between men in ‘management’ who wore suits and women in ‘support roles’ who were expected to wear a uniform.

Fortunately, I think workplace culture is entirely different to when I started out 20 years ago. More women are not only able to speak out, but also be heard. However, over the years I've learnt that to truly create a climate of inclusivity in the workplace, gender equality needs to be championed from the top.

The culture of an organisation is often generated by its leaders and the way in which senior management behaves has a ripple down effect throughout the company. In fact, research from Gallup shows that 70% of workplace culture is influenced by leadership, which is why it’s so important for executive members of staff to lead by example.

There isn’t one single way that an inclusive environment can be created but there are steps senior management can take to set the tone for inclusivity. Firstly, this kind of culture can only be created from a point of authenticity – a genuine belief that a gender-balanced workforce (and gender balanced at all levels, across all functions) will make the company stronger.

At my current company, Lumi, I am part of a team of people – men and women – where, as individuals, we’re recognised for our strengths, and the value we bring. To a large extent, this environment stems from the leadership style of our CEO, Richard Taylor, who empowers all staff to be their best self.

Leaders can replicate this kind of environment by embracing the input of all employees, whose backgrounds or expertise might differ from their own and by recognising individuals based on their strengths. If leaders are open and transparent, this will create a safe environment where all employees can speak up, be heard and feel accepted.

Whilst all workers across all levels have a role in creating the culture of an organisation and upholding its values, leaders have an obligation to publicly lead by example. It’s crucial to hold people to the standard that’s been set and to ensure your company is living up to the policies in place.

Sadly, we’ve all been in “boys’ network” workplaces, made up of in jokes, competition and pressure to out-best a colleague. This kind of behaviour is unacceptable and doesn’t foster an inclusive environment where women are likely to thrive. In these situations, it can often feel uncomfortable to confront colleagues or it might be difficult to know the right thing to say. Leaders therefore have a responsibility to step in and hold those to account. With leaders making a stand against bad behaviour, this can empower employees to also tell people when they’ve crossed the line.

Leaders can of course introduce specific initiatives and frameworks, such as quotas, to increase diversity but it’s important this is supported by a culture of inclusivity. There’s a danger that diversity policies become a box ticking exercise so it's important that people also feel valued and empowered in their roles.

Many people - not just women - suffer from imposter syndrome and so without formal policies also being supported by an inclusive culture could leave people wondering if they were the best person for the role. If the culture of a workplace already values employees on their achievements, rather than race or gender, then equality feels authentic rather than something that’s helping to reach quotas.

Every individual can help to create a more gender inclusive workplace and ultimately, society. However, leaders have a hugely important role to help drive this movement. With gender equality being championed from the top down, I believe we can make significant headway in building a more inclusive environment for women - and everyone.

Kerry Leighton-BaileyAbout the author

Kerry joined Lumi as Chief Marketing Officer in 2018, and is responsible for the development and implementation of the marketing strategy globally. She works across all Lumi geographies to ensure that each region is well supported, and that Lumi's products, services and values are communicated consistently. With a background primarily in financial services, she has significant experience in working across the marketing spectrum, and with both B2B and B2C focussed organizations.

As Director of Shareholder Engagement, Kerry’s work focuses on developing opportunities to upskill and empower retail investors, and removing the blockers preventing attendance. Enfranchising the retail shareholder lies at the heart of Lumi’s core strategy, as the corporate world moves into a new phase of engagement and accessibility.


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