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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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