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Rethinking the pursuit of gender parity

business inequality, woman and man climbing the career ladder, gender inequality

Article by Lotus Smits, Global Head of Diversity & People Experience at Glovo

Every year, the need for greater gender parity grows. That’s because progress is painfully slow. In the EU, it’s set to be achieved in 200 years, while in the US the pay gap hasn’t budged for two straight years.

The pandemic only served to make this worse. For women in the workplace, it spelled a colossal setback, with women being pushed out of more jobs at an alarming rate.

Now, if we are to not only regain this ground, but accelerate on and make more progress, we need a plan of action that is bold and ushers in far-reaching changes.

To me, this comes down to how we think about leadership in general. In his TedX talk, psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic said how despite women possessing more of the values more integral to great leadership; such as humility, integrity and competence, it’s often men’s charisma and confidence that wins out.

Similarly, McKinsey looked at the actions of managers during the pandemic, and women were found to provide more emotional support, help navigate work-life challenges, and check in on general well-being than their male counterparts.

Research even shows that beyond employees, when it comes to a company’s bottom line women leaders would add $1.6-2.3 trillion to the global gross domestic product. Yet despite this, only 2.8% of global venture capital funding went to women-led businesses in 2019–and even that was an all-time high.

Promoting strong leadership values over gender isn’t just a victory for equality; it’s a victory for the workplace.

To finally make some progress worth celebrating, I suggest four major changes to the workplace and below, explore how these can be key drivers in addressing gender balance and giving women not only a seat at the table, but rightfully a seat at the head of it.

1. Redefining how we talk and think about gender

The irony of trying to address the gender balance is that we often do so by the compass needle of gender stereotypes.

Women did three times as much childcare as men during the pandemic, which was part of the reason so many left their jobs, whilst in the US the pay gap widened the more time people took to care for their families.

But why, when we think of carers, do we think of women? We should have broad policies in place that accommodate all sexes. This way, the playing field is levelled and carers of any gender are supported.

Gabrielle Novacek, MD & Partner, Boston Consulting Group, says how we should stop thinking about demographics, and instead think about how our workplace can become more effective to a broader workforce.

That way, when we think of carers, or leaders, innovators and business owners, we’re not thinking of gender first–but individuals.

2. Changing what defines great leadership

It’s not just about changing how we define leadership, but all levels of seniority. And acknowledging that how we pick our leaders can have an enormous effect on the rest of our workforce.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic sees the way forwards as not lowering leadership standards for women, but elevating them for men. This way, the sync between incompetence and leadership is broken, regardless of gender.

This lens on leadership also levels the playing field for men and non-binary employees who do not display typically ‘masculine’ behaviours. Leadership based on competence seems like a low bar to set ourselves; yet it is one that is still sorely missing.

3. Making the workplace experience the same

Workplaces support maternity leave, so why shouldn’t they support other situations pertaining to female health? This means we are putting our people forward, and telling women, regardless of age, medical condition or circumstance, we will support them to work how they want to work.

One in four women suffer a miscarriage, yet organisations are only now waking up to introducing policies to support not just bereaved parents. With big organisations such as Channel 4, Monzo and others introducing their policies last year.

While if your workforce includes 10 women going through menopause, 8 of those will experience noticeable symptoms–with almost half finding them hard to deal with. Yet menopause policies offering flexible working or comfort breaks, are still a rarity.

4. Encourage allyship

Arguably the biggest misnomer about the fight for a better gender parity is that it’s a job for women, to be fought by women. Yet it stands to benefit us all and should be fought by everyone.

Encouraging people to speak up in the workplace is not just about women speaking out against prejudice, but having their male counterparts do the same. If a workplace is serious about its commitment to gender balance, it must encourage speaking up and showing true allyship.

Let’s look to Germany for an example. After recently voting in their first male Chancellor for 16 years, for the first time in their history they have selected a cabinet with a 50:50 gender split. As Olaf Scholz explained, “Women and men account for half the population, so women should also get half the power.”

Inviting someone into the conversation and acknowledging their skills and expertise is vital to normalising diverse leadership, building a supportive community and driving organisational change.

But progress must be maintained. A point to make for all of the above is that we must set ourselves ambitious targets, and ensure we stick to them; surpass them, even. If we do, then in the years to come, we’ll not only be looking back on a far more positive workplace for women, but for everyone. And as much as we want to see progress for gender parity being made, there are other aspects and dimensions that require actions for a more diverse and equitable workplace, so anyone can feel at their best.

About the author

Lotus SmitsLotus is currently leading the Global Diversity, Inclusion and Culture Team at Glovo. She has always been fascinated by human behaviour and dynamics. After receiving her master’s degree in Behavioural and Organisational Psychology from the University of Amsterdam, Lotus worked as part of the people team for Vodafone in London and then at Booking.com in Amsterdam. In 2017, Lotus moved into a role building the Diversity, Inclusion & Wellbeing strategy & programs from scratch, and this allowed her to discover her passion for creating a healthier, fairer working environment. Lotus wants to empower everyone to feel connected, valued and to fulfil their full potential at work.


gender-equality-featured

To achieve gender equality, we need to change the narrative and fight emotional biases with emotional responses

 Article by Hala Zeine, Chief Product Officer at Celonis

gender equality, gender balanceDespite diversity campaigns, International Women’s Day and women's quotas, women are still in the minority within the IT sector, and sometimes even a rarity.

In fact, the pace at which diversity is improving in the IT sector is far too slow. And that is due to our own old-fashioned thinking.

In 2010, I sat in a corporate diversity training session. I was seven months pregnant with my second child and one of only two female executives in a room full of male executives mostly over the age of 50. I remember in my meeting one of the male executives complaining that when he invested in women, they all got pregnant and didn’t come back, and that in his experience women were really not good at maths. In 2020, the same concerns can still be heard echoing all around the world. In fact, the numbers are showing that 10 years of gender diversity training has not changed this mentality. In the UK, just 16% of jobs in the tech sector are filled by women. In fact, that number has decreased since 2018 – so we’re actually not making progress.

Rational thinking does not seem to break the vicious cycle, as gender diversity advocates are already frequently highlighting the many studies that show how organisations with strong female leaders enjoy improved culture, financial results and increased levels of innovation. One would think that this underscores the importance of growing the proportion of women in IT. And frankly, Europe also has little choice. There is a huge shortage of IT personnel and as the current pandemic has shown, the tech sector is more important than ever. So, again rationally, it's only logical that companies need to focus more and more on diversity and increasing the involvement of the female half of the population in the sector. With only men, we simply won't have enough workers in the future.

I have experienced for myself what the 'female touch' can bring in an IT environment. And I'm not talking about including a few women in a workforce. I believe that an organisation can only reap the benefits of this female touch when a there is a significant portion of women across every level of seniority. Only then does the dynamic start to change and you really notice the effects of diversity. I've worked in leadership teams where I was the only woman, but I've also worked in teams where more than 15% were women. And the difference is there: from the capacity to innovate to the financial results. Without a doubt.

I believe we need to drop the rational argument and focus on the emotional argument combined with hard facts. One way to do this is to grow the profiles of all the great women who revolutionised science (Hilde Levi, Lisa Meitner, Dorothy Hodgkin, to name a few) and the many great female modern day leaders (Diane Greene, co-founder of VMWare; Susan Wojcicki of YouTube; and SAP’s Adaire Fox-Martin). The prominence of these figures in media will help change perception. In movies, literature and our use of pronouns, we need to introduce “she – the CEO.”

In addition, we need decisive moves such as one from the CEO of Goldman Sachs, who announced that he would not launch any start-ups until at least one female board member had been appointed. I also see setting a women's quota as a step in the right direction. It continues to be a rare event in Europe (only 5% of FTSE 250 companies have female CEOs). I think we of course have to continue to hire the best candidate, but it is not rational to assume that women make up 50% of the workforce but rarely achieve leadership positions.

Meanwhile, we as women will also have to let go of the emancipated image of 'wanting to do it all alone'. My honest advice to women who want to pursue a career in the IT sector is not to do it alone. Choose, and work together with, a partner who helps you. It's not for nothing that the saying was true for men: behind every great man is a greater woman. The same goes for women: it's not wrong to have the help or support of a man. Create a network of men and women who believe in you and help you take the next step. Then the time will come when the value of your 'female touch' will be seen by an organisation and you can take the step up. Eventually, I hope there will come a time when it's no longer necessary to celebrate women's performance and value with days like International Women’s Day - no matter how important and valuable now.


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Women in Engineering: How Can We Make The Sector More Inclusive?

Women In EngineeringIn 2016, Engineering UK released its ‘State of the Nation’ report, which highlighted a severe recruitment crisis in the engineering sector.

More people are leaving than entering. And while the estimates vary by quite a large margin — from between 69,000 and 186,000 — what is certain is that the current flow of 46,000 apprentices and undergraduate students is nowhere near enough to fit the demand.

For some time, the UK has leaned heavily on human capital from Eastern Europe. But rising wages back home, and uncertainty over Brexit, has weakened this EU labour force.

In order to solve this crisis, it seems more important than ever for the UK to tap into its abundant pool of natural resources. I am of course talking about women, who actually outnumber men in the British Isles.

UK engineering is woefully failing the female workforce

Britain, historically and now, is a hugely successful country. In many instances, it has been the British who have introduced to the world radical and key new ideas in the name of ‘progress’. Which makes it all the more remarkable (and strange) that the UK lags behind so many other countries when it comes to equality in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.

The UK has the lowest proportion of women in engineering out of any European country at 11 per cent. Indeed, even many North African countries, such as Algeria and Tunisia, have greater gender parity, and far to the East, India and Malaysia also welcome more women into their ranks than the UK does.

What are the reasons for this disparity? Many theories have been proffered. Some blame the UK government’s previous arms-length relationships with business (which is now changing thanks to the requirement of gender-pay gap reporting); to the cultural differences abroad (for example, some scholars will argue that women are less likely to choose engineering when they have more personal freedoms).

The most popular cause of the problem, however, is thought to be a cultural one; and a particularly Anglo one. That includes the United States, too.

Is culture really the problem?

As mentioned above, as little as 11 per cent of the engineering workforce is female. That means 89 per cent of engineers are male — despite women making up 51 per cent of the population. This is a slight increase for women of 2 per cent over the past two years, which is almost statically slow. Currently, it is estimated that 14 per cent of women are taking STEM subjects at A-level or higher. So things are improving, but what’s been holding women back?

Sarah Peers of the Women’s Engineering Society thinks stereotyping, and an outdated, pro-masculine work structure may be to blame. According to Peers, this problem could be rectified men were given more time off for child-centric duties, such as child-rearing, and not just women. Traditionally, major roles, such as that of CEOs, have not been kind to expecting mothers, or newly mothers, who cannot be available twenty-four hours a day, unlike a male colleague — a disadvantage that, in recent times, has come to be identified as sort of mothering ‘penalty’.

Peers also thinks there is a disconnect between the well-intentioned campaigns from the HR and PR world, meaning their messages are not permeating into the company hierarchies above.

A manifest part of the culture could also lie in the way we broach the topic of engineering to our girls, of which we could look abroad for some positive solutions. For example, the president of Ashesi University in Ghana has achieved an almost 50-50 split in men and women on its computer science programme. One way the University did this was, it claimed, by reframing engineering to mean talking about problem-solving, and how engineering can help to improve the lives of others and the environment.

It has long been suspected that women have subtle innate differences that favour people, whereas men traditionally have favoured ‘things’. Talking about engineering as a way to help people, even by proxy, seems to resonate more with the minority sex.

Are we creating a welcome environment for women?

There is another issue that we may not be entirely comfortable talking about — that is, if men have essentially “shut the door” to female colleagues, either with subconscious biases, or plain old sexism.

It is not unusual for a female engineer to find herself almost alone in her world of work. There may never be a queue for the women’s toilet, and understandably, there is a lack of like-minded individuals to talk to.

This lack of a female presence can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, men might wonder, if there are almost no other women present — then what are these few women even doing here? This can conjure up prejudices or harmful stereotypes that can undervalue, undermine, and overlook female colleagues.

In fact, in one study, 40 per cent of female engineers thought they weren’t treated equally in the workplace. And 60 per cent said they thought male engineers got an easier ride and progressed further.

Perhaps more shockingly, 63 per cent said they had overheard or experienced sexism directed towards them. One engineer, who wished to remain anonymous, posted on Reddit that her male colleagues would inappropriately touch her, and even talk about her sexually when she was in the room.

Old habits die hard and are passed along from one generation to another, but they can be altered. Echoing Sarah Peers, another challenge would be to educate all engineers of the dangers of stereotyping, for a better and more understanding workplace.

Encouraging girls in the school

If one key discovery has been uncovered in the march for engineering gender-parity in recent years, it is that you have to inspire children young.

This goes for girls and boys, of course, but even from very early on, societal structures can send mixed messages about what girls can and cannot do, and what they are expected to do.

It all starts with reframing the study of engineering to that it encourages girls, too. Previously, local campaigns have targeted teenage girls at 16, or when they are doing their A-levels, but it needs to start much earlier. Some campaign groups are employing women engineer role models to give talks to children eight years of age. One organisation, Early Years Engineer, even talks to girls as young as three.

At the moment though, something needs to be done about the presentation of the sciences altogether, for all disciplines; for boys and girls. Just under 1 hour and 30 minutes of science is dedicated to scientific studies in primary school, which is, of course, woeful and needs to change immediately.

The benefits of gender parity in engineering, and the economy at large

To reiterate again how large the gender divide is, consider this shocking fact: there are more CEOs in corporate America named ‘James’ than there are women CEOs altogether.

If there is anyone still hesitant about opening up the engineering world to more women — even despite the current crisis in recruitment —  then perhaps they might want to consider the economic benefits.

It has been found that companies with women on the board perform 54 per cent better than without, which suggests that gender-parity does benefit from some diverse thinking in the upper echelons.

And a World Bank study in May 2018 reckoned that gender pay equality would enrich the global economy by £120 trillion. Currently, it is believed that the inequalities in gender pay, enrolment, and visibility, might even be sucking the UK of as much as 14 per cent of its wealth. A McKinsey report also found that, once women make up a third of a business’s board room members, a trickle-down effect warms the rest of the working culture to women — and there is a financial boost in this instance, too.

One final word…

We should not shy away from doing all that we can to make engineering a welcoming place for women. But we must also not ‘overcorrect’ and alienate men. That could be a ticking time-bomb for the future. We must ‘socially’ engineer a comfortable balance between the gender lines, and open up the sector for everyone, no matter their identity and background.

This article was written by Jayne Fielding of Weldwide, an architectural steel and structural engineering company based in London. 


Women testing VR headset featured

Wanted: more women in tech

By Kristina Nilsson, VP Communications at Voi Technology

Diverse woman testing VR headset. Focused African American woman wearing virtual reality glasses.The shortage of women in tech still makes headlines, despite being a decades-old problem. 

The ultra-maleness of tech is changing, though, albeit slowly. At the e-scooter company Voi we are actively trying to hire people from different backgrounds - we’re Swedish after all - and we really want to have more women working in every aspect of the business, not just marketing and comms.

I want women to pursue careers in STEM and technology because frankly it’s where the best opportunities are right now. While our world during this crisis looks unrecognisable, we are all relying heavily on technology to get us through. Many tech companies are busier than ever. We would be lost without online shopping, online GP visits, communication and collaboration tools that allow us to work remotely, TV streaming, social networks, not to mention education tools online and telemedicine.

Women should consider careers in tech, because they have the skills to do it. The technology industry doesn’t only need developers and programmers. It needs graphic designers, HR people, accountants, lawyers, project managers, communicators, linguists and designers as well. Right across the skill range, tech companies are creating high-paid jobs that are rewarding and stretching, allowing you to feel personally and intellectually satisfied.

What’s great about the tech sector is that you can jump straight in and achieve things quickly, without having to serve time. Startups are not at all hierarchical and status doesn’t matter. You get respect from delivering results and every individual employee brings something to the table.

When you join a startup you have to be willing to muck in. They are high-energy environments, like the scrum in a rugby game - you can't just sit back and observe. Startup years are like dog years: what gets achieved in a year would take seven years in a slower-moving, more mature company.

It’s also one of the most portable professions. You can probably work in most places in the world in this sector, particularly if your English is strong.

I was brought up to be fiercely independent. For many of my generation at the age of 18 you were practically kicked out of home, sent off by your parents to a job or university, with little more than a promise that you’d ring in a month. I’ve learned to be intuitive and to trust my gut. I know that I am  adaptable and able to mix with people from all walks of life - skills that startups need in abundance.

Many young women have these skills in abundance and I love working with them to encourage them to rely on these instincts. What I particularly admire is their willingness to throw themselves into whatever comes up - they are fearless, as I like to think I am.

If you want to run a business or work for yourself, tech is the perfect sector for you to work in. Some of the biggest companies in the world started with three people in a garage and investors will encourage you to think big.

Diversity - both in gender, race and age - isn’t just a box-ticking exercise. It means you can understand your customers better and helps you design a better product. In the e-scooter sector, we want to appeal to women young and old, as well as men, because having the widest possible customer base gives us an advantage over competitors.

When I was job hunting, I was searching for a company that would make a real impact and that’s what I have found in Voi. As we emerge from the coronavirus, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the way we live and travel. At Voi we are absolutely focused on caring for our planet by giving people new options for travelling in Europe’s city centres. That way we can reduce pollution and congestion, while helping people to get around in a fun and easy way. We are a collaborative company that wants to work with other transport operators and authorities to reshape cities, so that they in future we will all enjoy more freedom and less traffic and hassle.

Some people are passionate about a cause: working in tech, when you are trying to solve real, challenging societal problems, is a great way to change the things that matter to you.

If you’re a woman looking for a place where you can rise to the challenge and create something new, then reverse everything you think you know about the technology sector. This is a career without boundaries and it could be just the opportunity you’re looking for.

Kristina nilssonAbout the author

Kristina Nilsson is VP Communications at Voi Technology. Before joining Voi she worked in communications at Takeaway, the Dutch food delivery group that is in takeover talks with Just Eat. She has also worked in senior comms roles at food production group DeLaval, in Stockholm, at TeliaSonera, and at TomTom. She’s fluent in English, French, German, Dutch and Swedish, and holds an MA in Business Communications and Marketing from The Hague University.


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Achieving gender parity in the tech sector starts with education

Eleanor Bradley, MD of Registry Services and Public Benefit, Nominet

gender equalityWhile most of us are many years beyond our own summer exam result nerves, each August is still a moment of interest.

Not only do the annual GCSE and A Level results shine a light on the UK’s endlessly evolving education system, they also provide early indications of what we might expect from the workers of tomorrow.

Although we can never predict the career path of a student based on their exam subjects, those of us working in the tech sector are always hoping to see more young women taking STEM subjects at school as a first step towards a tech career. At A Level this year, the number of entries in STEM subjects increased by 1.7% in England, yet the all-important gender gap continues to worsen. Computing, ICT, and Maths all saw a wider gender gap than 2018, with less females to males. It was positive to see that the gender gap in physics improved this year, but it remains significant.

At GCSE level, the number of girls taking computing rose this year, with entries up 14%. Unfortunately, women still only made up 21.4% of the total student numbers. With girls outperforming their male counterparts in both A-level computing and ICT – and in GCSE computing – the proficiency for these subjects is clearly there, but girls are lacking the interest or appropriate encouragement to consider careers in what is an incredibly rewarding sector.

What is turning our female students away from tech? A PWC report can offer some insight: A survey of over 2,000 A Level and university students found that only 27% of women would consider a career in tech and a mere 3% think of it as a first choice. A lack of visible role models is a major issue; only 22% of all students could name a famous woman working in tech. There is also gender discrimination in career guidance, with only 16% of female students having had a role in tech suggested to them, compared to a third of males. We know that parents also have a role to play, and Nominet’s own research found that British parents are steering their daughters away from a career in tech, favouring a career as a doctor or teacher for their girls.

While parents and teachers have an opportunity to widen the career choices of young women, tech industry workplaces must also strive to create an environment that is appropriate and welcoming to females as much as males. We don’t want women to be dissuaded by what they may perceive as a ‘male’ environment, where progression could be hindered. As a woman in tech myself I strive to ensure Nominet as a company is open and attractive to both genders equally.  We are signed up to the Tech Talent Charter, a great organisation that is raising awareness of the need for diversity in business and providing a space for tech companies to share knowledge and best practice. Simple changes like targeted advertising can be crucial to capture the interest of a diverse range of candidates and encourage them to consider joining a company.

Other efforts Nominet is undertaking include helping to increase the number of young people considering careers in tech through our programmes such as Nominet Digital Neighbourhood and our work with the Micro:bit Foundation. We also regularly create ‘women in tech’ profiles on our blog to highlight some of the great women we have working at Nominet, as well as women working across the industry. These articles help to demonstrate the breadth of roles and career paths for the women working in technology, and we hope they serve to make these roles seem interesting and attractive – and not out of reach. Personally, I try to write articles that promote my own positive journey through tech and take up invitations to speak at events. After all, you can’t be what you can’t see.

Ultimately, getting anywhere close to gender parity in the tech industry will require wide scale social change, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. We can all make changes in our spheres of influence, whether as parents, teachers, career advisors, or tech sector employees. We can all contribute to a wider cultural discourse that will open up this exciting industry to the many girls who are discounting it and encourage them to bring their skill set to enhance the industry and the future it is shaping.

About the author

Eleanor Bradley Eleanor Bradley is MD of Registry Services & Public Benefit at Nominet, the profit-for-a-purpose company known for running the .UK internet infrastructure. She has over 20 years’ experience in the internet industry and in her current role leads the teams responsible for commercial activity related to Nominet’s registry business as well as the company’s corporate services.

 In 2016, she was named as a role model in the category of Board Level & Senior Executive of the Year at the Women in Business awards and is a keen champion of women in IT and advocate of encouraging more girls to explore STEM subjects. She sees the internet as a force for good and, as Nominet is a public benefit company, is developing a number of projects designed to empower and upskill young people to help future-proof the hiring pool of the UK’s digital economy.