Muslim woman working from home, flexible working featured

Could post-pandemic work practices create a better work-life balance for women?

Muslim woman working from home, flexible workingWhile questions surrounding the way we work and the future of work have been around for a while, the pandemic has unquestionably kicked things into overdrive.

Practically overnight, businesses all over the world found themselves accelerating remote working initiatives which typically took months to plan and implement at scale, and turning what they thought wouldn’t work into a necessity to keep doors open and jobs secure. Several months down the line in this unique situation, and we’re learning more about flexible work arrangements and how working from home full-time or part-time might affect that coveted work-life balance for the better, particularly for women in tech.

Flexible working for women in tech

According to a 2019 study by WISE, women made up just 16% of IT roles—a shocking figure by any standards. While there are a number of factors feeding into that low number, traditional notions about gender and childcare remain one of the most harmful to women not only carving out a career in tech, but seeking to advance in their field and do so without the expectation that they ‘choose’ between family and having a career. And one simple way to help women manage both is through offering flexible working options.

This is by no means news, of course. Before we’d ever heard of Covid-19, flexible hours and home working were reported to be the most wanted benefits for women in tech, however this wish stood alongside legitimate concerns about preconceptions attached to these two perks in particular. The flexibility stigma is, in a nutshell, the discrimination or negative attitude towards employees who work flexibly. This, in turn, has a negative impact on career progression and work-life balance, as women might not feel comfortable taking advantage of these working patterns for fear of being viewed as ‘less’ than a male colleague who does not work flexibly. The result of that could be anything from women being overlooked for a promotion or pay rise because of this flawed perception of flexible working, to women being forced out of their workplace or industry because of the unevenly distributed demands of home life, or working longer hours in a move to compensate for that same skewed perception.

Prior to the pandemic, fewer women than men actually had flexible or remote work as benefits, with working mothers feeling the brunt of that stigma more than any other demographic. But this year has seen the lines between work and home blurred almost beyond recognition for all of us as we work, live, play, exercise all under one roof, and sometimes in the same room. While we’ve found ourselves separated from friends and colleagues, there’s a real feeling of community that emerges from this challenging experience. We’re collectively isolated, in a way, and that’s fostered a greater sense of understanding across organisations. From C-Suite down, the majority of people in your organisation now know what it’s like to try and balance a productive work day with the likes of childcare and home schooling, and we all know what it’s like to try and get through a video call while handling the demands of a child (or two, or three) desperate to get your attention.

The struggles of working parents are more widely understood than ever before, with everyone from our colleagues to board members doing their best to balance it all. There’s more visibility than ever on the issues faced by women in tech, and that’s an opportunity we can’t afford to waste. The global shift to remote work has allowed us to step back and get some perspective on traditional, and in some cases antiquated, ways of operating, and really look at what’s working, what’s not, and how the barriers women face professionally can continue to be lifted.

Equality starts at home

It’s now a well-documented fact that women typically put significantly more hours in as caregivers than their male counterparts, even when working from home, and that’s a problem. Even beyond standard business hours, if women are carrying the lion’s share of childcare, home schooling, and housework duties, burnout is inevitable and that impacts on your ability to deliver at work and be truly present at home. It’s no longer enough to simply offer ‘equal pay for equal work’—that’s the bare minimum. We need to push for more widespread acceptance and awareness of the lifestyle differences that divide genders, often leaving women at a disadvantage, not only on an organisational level, but individually.

Even beyond childcare responsibilities, providing a culture where equal opportunities are available for all staff is simply the right thing to do. A woman should be entitled to take advantage of the same perks as her male counterparts without fear of reprise, whether that’s in her professional development or just becoming subject to gossip. Handling remote teams working different hours is only going to increase, so getting to grips with how you manage it now will only put you in a stronger position in future.

As employers, it’s up to us to lead from the front and champion not just equality across the sexes, but the initiatives that help foster that effectively. It’s our responsibility to provide employees with the resources necessary to learn about the kind of inequality we see in our industry, and what they can do individually to tackle that and build a more diverse, more inclusive workplace.

Beyond the pandemic 

In a post-pandemic landscape, we need to encourage more employers to really look at the benefits they offer, and ask themselves if they’re inclusive enough to support employees from a diverse range of backgrounds. Businesses doing that now will reap the benefits that come from empowering women to reclaim their space in the tech industry, including improved innovation and bridging the digital skills gap by tapping into talent that would have been overlooked without flexible work opportunities. Looking ahead, the truly successful employers out there will be the ones who questioned what they were doing because of convention, and what they needed to do to help their employees—and their business—truly thrive.

About the author

Nabila Salem is the President of Revolent, one of the world’s leading cloud talent creators. She has extensive leadership experience in professional services, tech recruitment, and marketing based in the UK and USA. Nabila has always played an active role in encouraging, supporting, and promoting diversity in the workplace–so much so that she was recognized in Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 List in 2019.



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How upskilling opportunities can encourage diversity amongst tech teams

DiversityWe all know by now how crucial diversity is to tackling the growing skills gap that looms large over the tech industry.

Demand for skilled tech professionals is booming across the UK, and there aren’t enough people in the field to fill the new roles being created.

The consequences of vital positions sitting vacant are astronomical. Our economy, our capacity to take advantage of new technology, our ability to innovate and compete in global markets will suffer drastically if we don’t have the talent we need to help us realise our digital vision.

We sorely need to bring new blood into the sector to address this burgeoning skills gap—and with just 17% of tech roles currently filled by women, where we should be looking for this new talent seems obvious.

The needle has barely shifted on the number of women working in the UK’s tech space in more than a decade. And with the number of young people taking IT and computing-related subjects at GCSE dropping, we need to be looking at different solutions to tackle this issue; solutions such as upskilling.

Upskilling could be the answer to not one but two of the tech sector’s most pressing issues, creating a substantial tech workforce that’s both highly skilled and diverse.

Organised drives to help employees learn new skills massively benefit companies, particularly in the face of such stiff competition to hire tech staff. Taking advantage of existing resource and committing to creating talent rather than sourcing it not only puts businesses at an advantage in terms of the skills they’ll have on their teams, it also nurtures a more diverse workforce, which brings a whole swathe of benefits in itself.

There are clearly systemic issues at play that are turning girls and young women away from the tech sector early on in their academic careers, and though steps are being taken to address this disparity, it’ll take time to fix. This is time that businesses don’t have if they want to utilise the latest tech products and digitally transform their operations.

Training, reskilling and supported job transitioning hold open the door for today’s working women to enter what can be an intimidating sector within a supported and familiar environment.

Upskilling internally also means women can develop their careers without quitting their jobs, forking out for degrees, or fitting extra-curricular learning into their schedules; lifestyle changes they may not be in a position to make. Upskilling on the job gives women a path and a space to learn new skills that they might otherwise not have access to.

Initiatives like returnships, in which professionals who’ve taken a career break re-enter the workforce through a structured, paid retraining programme, are hugely appealing to women, who disproportionately leave the workforce to care for children or family members.

Offering upskilling shows that you’re willing to invest in your employees; demonstrating this commitment to supporting your staff sends out a clear and inclusive message, and lets potential future hires from diverse backgrounds know that you have an encouraging environment where they’ll be valued and able to thrive.

Having a robust upskilling programme in place in your organisation can also significantly broaden your access to a more diverse candidate pool. When talent is in short supply, and job-seekers who tick all your boxes are hard to find, knowing you have a pathway in place that can fill in the gaps means you can hire for potential.

And given that women don’t often tend to apply for jobs where they don’t meet 100% of the specification, ditching some of your requirements, safe in the knowledge they can be developed in-house, will boost your choice of candidates and attract enthusiastic, malleable tech talent who may not have much experience yet.

The first step toward reaping the dual rewards of upskilling is to perform a skills gap analysis across your business: What tech skills do you need to succeed? What are you currently missing? Who in your organisation has the talent and the drive to become your next tech superstar?

Once you start levelling the playing field and offering upskilling opportunities to your own staff, not only will you change the face of your workforce for the better, but you’ll be imbued with the skills to carry your business into tomorrow.

Nabila Salem - President - Revolent GroupAbout the author

Nabila Salem is President at world-leading cloud talent creation firm Revolent Group. Nabila has 15 years of leadership experience in professional services, marketing and technology recruitment. She plays an active role in encouraging, supporting, and promoting diversity in the workplace and was recognised in Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 List 2019.

Nabila Salem - Revolent featured

Inspirational Woman: Nabila Salem | President, Revolent Group

Nabila Salem - Revolent Nabila joined the board of Tenth Revolution Group in 2020 as the President of Revolent.

She is responsible for leading on the creation of cloud talent and has over 15 years of experience in professional services, tech recruitment, and marketing in the UK and USA. Nabila plays an active role in encouraging, supporting, and promoting diversity in the workplace and in 2019 featured in Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 list.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

At the beginning of this year, I joined the board of Tenth Revolution Group. I am also the President of our cloud talent creation division, Revolent Group. We cross-train talent that can thrive in cloud technology markets like Salesforce, AWS, and ServiceNow before placing them on client sites. I’ve got ambitious plans for Revolent Group, and this year we will see 300 people go through our programmes in the UK, US, and Australia, fuelling the market with much-needed cloud professionals.

Prior to this, I worked at FDM Group for 12 years alongside the founders in the UK and the USA. I saw the business grow from 300 to 4,000 people and what once was a family-run business became a FTSE 250 company. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with two founders so far in my career and have learned a great deal from them.

I also worked at IBM—so as you can see, my career has always been in the tech industry. I am passionate about diversity and inclusion, so I get involved in various initiatives and mentoring programmes throughout the year to inspire the next generation.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

Yes, several times. Truth be told, it didn’t go as planned—I ended up doing different things than I originally planned and achieved far more than I set out to do.

I believe that plans are merely guidelines and should define goals that give us aspirations. However, the best plans are fluid and not set in stone—they develop, evolve, and change all the time. When opportunities arise, we need to be ready to jump at them and see where the journey takes us. If our plans are too rigid, we may miss out on those golden opportunities.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

The industries I’ve worked in have always been male-dominated, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t faced challenges along the way. But then again, who hasn’t? These are precisely the lessons that make us stronger and wiser. You overcome challenges by facing them head-on. The worst thing you can do is ignore a challenging situation because it begins to grow and will resurface will vengeance.

The biggest challenges and barriers exist in our minds. If we can overcome these, then there shouldn’t be anything else stopping us. The best advice I can give anyone reading this is to believe in yourself because if you don’t believe in yourself then no one else will.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date? 

I’ve been fortunate enough to achieve several great accomplishments in my career, including my most recent appointment as President of Revolent Group, and being recognised in Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35. But for me, my most significant career achievement was being the first and youngest woman to be promoted to VP at a FTSE 250 firm because it paved the way for other women and ethnic minorities to follow.

I was responsible for overseeing a team spanning five time zones. During that time, I was able to make great strides in diversifying the workplace and introducing numerous impactful initiatives around the world.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?  

Perseverance. The barriers I’ve faced in my career represented opportunities for me to accomplish something. If you have a goal you want to achieve, keep trying until you get there—multiple roads lead to the same place. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?  

Technology is continuously evolving, so grab every opportunity you can to upskill. If you have the drive to work hard, the determination to persevere, and the courage to put your ideas forward, you will excel. Finally, remember that success is a journey; it’s not all destination—so celebrate every little win you achieve along the way.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome? 

Yes, I do think there are still barriers for women in tech—especially when it comes down to workplace inclusion and visible representation of women in senior roles. However, barriers also represent an opportunity. You need to believe in yourself and know your worth. It helps to have sponsors at work who are willing to put their reputation on the line for you, as well as mentors who can guide you along the way.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

A lot of the challenges women face in the industry coincide with having a family—the ‘motherhood penalty.’ It’s at this point when employers should prevent making their female talent feel guilty for wanting to have both a career and a family. Instead, they should be giving them additional support and encouragement to help them balance their responsibilities and progress as the tech leaders of tomorrow.

When I worked at IBM many years ago, the former Chairman in EMEA recognised this challenge and introduced an initiative to combat the issue. He made everyone’s job flexible, including his own, and gave mothers a pay rise when they returned to work after maternity—a great example for other companies to follow.

There is currently 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

The digital skills gap continues to widen, and with the demand for tech professionals still outweighing the supply, candidates have more power than ever to gain the job of their dreams. If I could wave a magic wand, I would let every woman see what their future could look like if they chose a career in tech—the opportunities are infinite.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?  

There is so much out there to choose from in terms of resources nowadays. Networking events and conferences such as WeAreTechWomen and the Women in IT Summit are well worth attending. They’re both great platforms to meet new people, expand your tech network, and learn from others.

If you feel held back in your career, I would highly recommend reading ‘Playing Big’ by Tara Mohr. It was given to me when I was at a crossroads in my career, and it gave me the encouragement I needed to progress and take on new projects that led me to where I am today. Finally, if you don’t have a mentor—get one. I’m very fortunate to have a network of mentors that have helped me in many different ways throughout my career, from general advice and guidance to introducing me to valuable new contacts.