female data scientist, woman leading team

Why tech companies must strive for more women in senior roles

Article by Alison Tierney, GVP, EMEA, Snowflake

female data scientist, woman leading teamTech companies have long enjoyed the reputation of being at the forefront of innovation, both in driving adoption of the latest technologies, and disrupting the way we work and live.

The tech industry has facilitated the modernisation and growth of many organisations.  In the past year alone it has helped the businesses adjust to a global pandemic by enabling employees to work remotely to keep organisations ticking and employees safe. For all the good that the tech industry has done and continues to do externally, there is one inward looking issue which the tech industry’s innovative spirit has fully yet to solve – diversity in senior roles.

Overcoming industry roadblocks

According to a recent research report from PwC, only 5% of senior leadership roles within the technology industry are held by women. The wider figures for the industry aren’t much better, with women comprising just 17% of the UK’s tech workers, a figure that has remained relatively stagnant for almost a decade. This being despite a concerted push from both private businesses and government organisations to introduce more women into the technology industry.

These measures have seen modest increases in the number of women entering the technology industry at a junior level. However, as my colleague Denise Persson, CMO, Snowflake said recently, “women in tech need to serve as role models for other women.” Role models need to be reflective of who you are and where you want to be in order to empower you to realise that ambition. The under-representation of women in senior tech roles hinders these ambitions and pushes young female talent away from tech. This is also reflected in the PwC research where only 22% of respondents were able to name a famous woman working in tech, while 66% were able to name a famous man.

There are also other roadblocks women face when entering the technology industry. A major issue facing the sector is the reputation that it is ‘always on’, requiring 24/7 work, which has traditionally been seen as incompatible for those who want to start a family, or have other personal commitments. This is not to paint every woman as aspiring for motherhood; the reality is that that decision is an incredibly personal one and every woman is different. There are however many who do, and the decision to work in technology should not be at odds with those that want to raise a family or have other priorities outside of their employment.

Making work more flexible would actually have knock-on benefits for the rest of the workforce with family commitments too. According to recent research from Working Families, 68% of companies polled have reported male parents and carers had shown more interest in flexible working since the pandemic hit.

Developing a supportive corporate culture

The circumstances of the past year have proven the viability of remote work. While forced into this working environment, employers have found that their people are perfectly capable of performing their duties without being based full-time in the office. When we’re able to safely return to the office, one way for tech companies to combat their ‘always on’ reputation is to continue to offer and advocate flexible working arrangements.

Advancements in cloud technology have played a key role in facilitating this transition, allowing disparate workforces remote access to key information securely and in a way which abides by data governance requirements. These new working arrangements have made it so that no matter their personal circumstances, women are able to perform to the best of their capabilities whether or not they are present in the office or working remotely.

Tech companies also need to address the issue of representation in senior leadership positions. As we’ve seen, role models play a key part in attracting talent to an industry. This concept of modelling progressive behaviour extends beyond just putting women in positions of authority. Simply hiring a woman into a senior leadership position will not fix this issue. That behaviour is ineffective at best and tokenism at worst. Instead, what is needed is active participation from diverse voices in the conversations that shape corporate culture.

While businesses have an important role to play in creating a more equal workplace, they shouldn’t feel that they have to do it alone. There are plenty of outstanding charitable foundations and independent organisations that businesses can partner with to increase the support network for women in tech and provide them with mentorship and training opportunities. One such organisation that we work with in EMEA is Women In Data. Specialising in fields relating to data science, they do truly pioneering work to promote greater representation of women in data professions and we are incredibly proud to be advocates for the work they do.

Diversity, equity and inclusivity (DE&I) programmes should not be seen as a progressive measure, they should be an absolute necessity in all organisations. By shaping corporate culture around principles of diversity, businesses can create an environment where they build and shape role models for young women. This point is again backed by research, as a recent “Women in Work” report found that 83% of British millennial women stated that they actively seek out employers with a strong record on diversity, equity and inclusion.

A final point here is the importance of unconscious bias training. With the rise of AI in tech we’ve all seen horror stories of what biases can do to an otherwise well-designed system. The concern around how bias affects programmes and systems needs to be reflected by the tech industry in how we combat our own biases. There needs to be multiple voices in the hiring process that not only challenge potential biases from individuals, but also structural biases that may be present throughout the process. Training on this subject is an absolute necessity for everyone in an organisation who could be involved in the hiring process from the CEO right through to managers. It’s unfeasible to expect organisations to support diversity when there are structural roadblocks built into how an organisation brings people in.

The future for women in tech

Technology companies do great things to better the everyday lives of people: from revolutionising the ways we work, to the ways we relax, through to how we connect and communicate with one another. However,  this same drive and innovative spirit that has facilitated these accomplishments must be harnessed to meet the challenge of gender diversity within the tech industry. DE&I programmes, unconscious bias training and flexible working are just three of the most impactive actions that tech companies can take right now to make a difference; and progress is indeed being made. True progress, however, will not happen overnight. Only through a concerted effort across the entire technology industry, with greater time, resources and care, will we see these challenges tackled.

WeAreTechWomen covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in technology, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here

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Online banking businessman using smartphone with credit card Fintech and Blockchain concept

How tech companies left the banks behind | Jame DiBiasio

Online banking businessman using smartphone with credit card Fintech and Blockchain concept, Jame DiBiasio

Article provided by Jame DiBiasio, award-winning financial journalist and author of new book Cowries to Crypto

With today’s world warped by Covid-19, it’s easy to forget about the 2008 global financial crisis. But this is the moment when tech overtook banks in setting the terms for how we spend, invest, and save.

In 2008, Western governments bailed out commercial banks and embarked on massive interventions in the currency with programs like “quantitative easing”. It’s no coincidence that the Bitcoin protocol ­– creating the first cryptocurrency defined by software, not by government – went live in early 2009.

Banks however didn’t pay any attention to this. Nor were they interested in developments in Africa: in 2007, a Kenyan telecom company launched the world’s first mobile payments service, called M-Pesa. The debut of Apple’s iPhone was the same year and instantly became the trendy must-have for the smart set, but banks didn’t see how it could be relevant to their actual business.

It’s possible that without the GFC, banks would have cottoned on to these developments a lot faster. The fallout of the crisis, however, saddled banks with reams of new regulation. The City and Wall Street experienced a boom in hiring, but not of bankers or traders: instead, they onboarded hundreds of thousands of experts in compliance, auditing, and risk management.

In other words, banks in Europe and the US were distracted by politics, reputational damage, and red tape. Instead of racing to improve their service to consumers and small businesses, financial institutions coasted on outdated IT and the blindness (or arrogance) of incumbents.

By the time banks noticed Silicon Valley startups were eating their lunch, it was too late. Technology companies, though, knew that mobile phones had the power to put financial services in people’s pockets – and that a great customer experience would put crusty banks in the shade.

Banks were slow to realize how the digital revolution was transforming their business. The first evidence of its threat emerged in China. Here, a pair of giant, incredibly aggressive internet companies, Alibaba and Tencent, had added payments to mobile apps originally designed for gaming, shopping and messaging.

In almost no time, a billion people switched their spending habits to these apps; although users still have to retain deposits with a domestic bank, the data – transactions, user preferences, habits – was horded by the internet companies. The banks had become “dumb pipes”, mere plumbing. The value, and the profits, rushed to the tech players.

The impact in the West hasn’t been as severe. Banks may not be popular, but people trust them with basic safety, and Western banks are far more competitive and entrenched than those in China.

Besides, the first assault on traditional finance hasn’t been from Big Tech companies like Facebook but niche “fintechs” that attack specific bits of a bank’s business. These startups are agile but lack a bank’s scale or customer base, so banks have learned to coopt these.

Big Tech is finally wading into battle, however. The likes of Amazon, Facebook and Google have vast user numbers. Although the public and politicians have grown a lot more wary of these companies, they are embedded in society; this year, with Covid-19, their necessity is apparent for all to see.

And they are now moving into finance. Facebook, wishing to take a page from the Chinese superapps, is attempting to enter payments with its Libra coin project. WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app, is venturing with banks in India. Google is experimenting with lending, starting in Southeast Asia. Amazon is partnering with JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway to get into insurance.

Banks have belatedly begun to catch up. Those with the greatest resources – the JP Morgans, Goldman Sachs and Citis of the world – are learning to be agile, to share data with strategic partners, and to put their vast compliance infrastructure to work as an advantage against tech companies still learning the regulatory ropes.

Community and regional banks, coops, credit associations and other smaller players, though, face an epic threat from Big Tech. If they are to remain relevant, they are going to have to radically change how they operate. They are now playing on Big Tech’s court.

Cowries to Crypto by Jame DiBiasioCowries to Crypto: The History of Money, Currency and Wealth by Jame DiBiasio and illustrated by Harry Harrison is published by OANDA, a global leader in online multi-asset trading services. It will be available from 1 September on amazon.co.uk, priced at £19.99.

WeAreTechWomen covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in technology, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here.

Don’t forget, you can also follow us via our social media channels for the latest up-to-date gender news. Click to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.