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COVID-19 is worse for tech women - here's how we change that

Article by Emel Mohammadally, SVP, Lucid

It is well known that gender bias exists in many aspects of the world and when it comes to women’s careers, those biases are hugely magnified.

In the wake of this continuing global pandemic, it is fair to say that everyone has been affected - whether that be financially, socially or emotionally. While no one situation is ideal, women have been disproportionately affected –  from working in the highly impacted services sector, being more likely to lose their jobs versus men in the same position, and because women are still responsible for the majority of care-giving and domestic duties.

Our Government has still failed to place gender equality at the heart of its economic strategy in response to COVID-19. In fact, I believe its response to COVID-19 exposes the roots of an already-flawed system that makes it more challenging for women to progress their careers.

I work in both the Tech and Market Research industries, which have historically afforded very different opportunities for women. Market Research has always attracted women and has produced many successful female leaders.Tech, conversely, has traditionally been an industry lacking in diversity of any sort.  Although, attitudes are starting to change and calling out a lack of diversity in business has become more commonplace, and acceptable. But a change in attitude does not diminish the need for a change in practice or policy.

The evidence is clear - businesses that have a more balanced gender split in senior positions perform better. So, what can be done now to create more, not fewer, opportunities for women in key positions across the Tech industry? There’s been much talk over the years about the practical reasons businesses do better when there is equitable and diverse representation in senior leadership positions.

However, the reality is that it takes time to create real, deep societal changes across the board.

Businesses must be held more accountable

Firstly, businesses need to be conscious of hiring practices. Are there gender imbalances in certain roles or functions across the organisation? If yes, then we need to ask why and be very honest with ourselves. Businesses can and should publish earnings differences and, importantly, they must provide women with real opportunities to progress, irrespective of whether they take time off to have children.

In addition, we all have a role to play in challenging established (and parochial) thinking with regard to women, race, sexual orientation, and beyond. Fortunately, younger generations simply don't accept outdated norms and have no compunction challenging them. It’s been a long road, but I feel we’re starting to see the beginnings of real change.

Last, but certainly not least, businesses need to make much more of a point of nurturing new hires, especially more junior colleagues. Words of encouragement from a more experienced colleague can make the world of difference to those just starting their career. We need to create positive environments that support and encourage female colleagues even if you see them impacted by unconscious bias. Similarly, cultural biases which might impact the value placed on ideas from women colleagues with different ethnic backgrounds need to be immediately challenged.

We’re not bossy, we’re fearless leaders

The gender gap starts earlier than many of us think - girls’ self-esteem is known to suffer 3.5 times more than boys between primary and secondary school. Girls are called on in class less frequently than boys, but are interrupted more - so it’s no real surprise that girls are twice as likely than boys to feel that leadership roles will make them come across as ‘bossy’.

I have experienced many gender specific career challenges first hand - I’ve been accused of being “bossy” and “difficult” so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve dealt with casual sexism from managers who either expected me to be more like a man, or more like the feminine ideal, in order to get ahead. And I’ve struggled with understanding what the underlying reason was when I wasn’t promoted even though I only received positive feedback in appraisals.

In one particular role, battling with these kinds of attitudes made it impossible for me to perform at a high standard. On the surface and to outsiders, it seemed like I had the perfect job and perfect life trying to overcome the sexist nature and resolve the toxic relationship with my boss left me burned out and deeply unhappy. I made the decision to leave the role (which I had previously loved), and whilst it didn’t sit 100% right with me initially, I knew my worth and believed I had the ability to find a company with the same values as me. Empowering women with strength and confidence to do what is right is so important to ensuring both career success and longevity for women - and, put simply, to make sure they don’t stay in bad jobs, with bad managers.

Mentorship and advice are critical 

A major factor in my personal career success has been the relationships I’ve had with some incredible mentors at critical points of my career, whose time and advice was invaluable. I made an unofficial mentor of a colleague in my first job, who I admire deeply and who always made time for me, even after I moved jobs and company. She still works in the industry and I will never forget the contribution she made to my career.

My advice to women wishing to fulfil a successful career in any industry is to trust your instincts, build a solid professional network and seek advice from those you admire. Don’t be afraid to show your vulnerabilities and humanness - leadership is not about power. Similarly, don’t be afraid of failure - these experiences shape us and failure is an innate part of success. Lastly, learn to truly understand your strengths and hone those skills. You will need to adapt and change throughout your career, but self-awareness is crucial to progressing quickly.

Still, be patient - it may take a village to create real and lasting change but remember that you are that change! And, don’t try and be someone you’re not - it will never lead to true success and happiness. Good luck!

Emel MohammadallyAbout the author

Emel Mohammadally is Senior Vice President at Lucid, and is responsible for the Sales teams across the company. She was an early joiner to Lucid’s London team and has been instrumental in building and managing the commercial operations from the start. Emel has also been a key player in leading initiatives that create balance and support success at all levels within the company, ensuring employees are hired, recognised and rewarded equally.

Emel was one of the early joiners to Lucid’s London team, working to build and manage our commercial operations from Year 1. Three years after joining, she was promoted to Senior Vice President, responsible for both the Sales and Post-sales teams.


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