The future of jobs; innovators in STEM & glass ceilings | WeAreTechWomen's take-aways from the 2019 WISE Conference

Written by Indigo Haze, Digital Marketing and Social Media Assistant at WeAreTheCity

Last week, the WeAreTechWomen team had the pleasure of attending the 2019 WISE Conference at the IET in London.

The conference was a full-packed day of debates, workshops and presentations on the future of working women in the technology industry. The speakers loaded each session with tips, tricks and research findings all delivered with a touch of humour. Here is a breakdown of what we learnt in the morning sessions.

Future Jobs and Women: Answers from the LinkedIn Platform

Lisa FinneganLisa Finnegan, Senior Director of HR, EMEA & LATAM at LinkedIn, presented our first session, where she shared the findings of a recent study on the future of jobs and women. From their own data of 630 million users, 26 million companies, 60 thousand schools and 20 million active jobs, LinkedIn found that while the percentage of women in STEM careers is on the rise, there is still a distinct lack of women working in the computer sciences industry.

This is due to the stereotype that has followed the computer science industry since the early 1990s, of a single lonely soul working away at their computer, frantically typing away at their keyboard, in a damp and dark room, coding by themselves. This stereotype is not one that attracts women to the industry and in reality, it isn't like this anymore. Computer science, programming and coding can be an exciting and creative career path. Lisa commented that this is the image that the industry needs to project, which can be achieved by giving more visibility to female role models already working and succeeding in the industry. This should encourage girls to consider choosing computer sciences as a subject at university and as an inspiring and viable career path.

LinkedIn’s research also shows a lack of women in the AI space, making up 22 per cent of the workforce. A large proportion of these women are working as teachers, rather than in AI. Lisa talked about how for the future of AI we need to make diversity in the workforce the norm, as without it our AI will end up with the developers' unconscious bias. She gave the example of facial recognition software. If we teach the software using only the faces of white men, then the software will be great at telling the difference between this racial group, but the software wouldn’t be able to perform the same task when shown images of women of colour. However, this issue wouldn’t arise if we developed the software using the skills and considering the opinions of a diverse group of developers.

Across all job sectors, LinkedIn’s findings showed that ‘soft skills’ such as HR, marketing and people management are the most sort after by employers and that there are large differences between how men and women approach a job search. Where men are more likely to ask for help in the form of recommendations or mentorship, women are 20 per cent less likely to ask for any help. Women are also 16 per cent less likely to apply for roles than men and hiring managers are 13 per cent less likely to open a female LinkedIn profile over a man’s profile. However, once they’ve set their minds to apply for a role, women are 16 per cent more likely to be successful in landing their chosen position. Moving forward Lisa says we need to move the focus in schools away from general ICT and develop more programmes around computer sciences. We also need to take the focus away from general STEM and put more training and resources into AI and to ensuring women know about the opportunities available to them.

Fiona McDonnellMaking a Difference—How Women can be Innovators in STEM

Fiona McDonnell, from Amazon, presented our second session of the day. She shared Amazon’s research on the barriers and enablers of women’s careers in STEM environments and how women are becoming innovators. Fiona revealed that there is a 23 per cent representation of women in STEM and that only 15 per cent of these are in senior management positions. If we increased this by just ten per cent, the research suggested that this would generate an extra £3bn in business for the UK. Amazon found that nine out of the ten women they spoke with in the STEM industry are facing barriers in their career progression. 84 per cent of women listed confidence as their biggest barrier, along with 75 per cent pointing towards a male majority environment and 72 per cent pointing to a lack of recognition from senior management. Fiona also showed that there are language barriers in how women talk about being innovators and that new roles in the industry are being advertised using bias language that attracts men but puts off women from applying. Amazon has recognised that we need to have a supportive culture in place to ensure that the STEM skills women have are being utilized. The bottom line is that we need more diversity in the STEM industry, and that ‘diversity drives innovation.’

From this research, Amazon launched its Amazon Amplify programme, which aims to increase the recruitment and retention of women in technology. Through this programme, Amazon offers more bias training for their managers and they have changed their interview questions and panel to be as gender neutral as possible. They have also launched an interactive UK wide training programme along with a back to work programme to boost retention in engineering. They have also increased their funding for women innovator programmes, including offering a mentoring scheme and having a STEM workshops for their employees’ children.

Women and Science - Why plastic brains aren’t breaking through glass ceilings

Gina RipponGina Rippon, from the Aston Brain Centre at Aston University in Birmingham, presented our third session of the day.  She spoke about the findings in her book “The Gendered Brain.” Gina explained that scientific research into understanding the brain has held the old-fashioned view that because there are two genders, there must be two types of brains, the male and the female brain. This traditional view holds the belief that men are superior to women, and that women are not suitable to study or work in the STEM industry because they have the wrong skills set, being more empathetic whereas men are better at spatial cognition. They have the wrong temperament, in the sense that women are too often caught up in their emotions to make rational decisions, and that it does not interest women to learn about science. They derived this old-fashioned view from the status quo of society at the time. This opinion is still rampant in the scientific community today. This viewpoint has held women back in the scientific community for generations and is still creating barriers for women who want to chase a career in STEM, despite recent research showing that there is no significant difference between the brains of women and men.

In fact, research shows that the brain is malleable and changing. Social activity is the most important factor when looking at the changing brain, as we all need to find a connection with people that hold the same morals, support and believe in us. Gina expressed how our brains are shaped by the attitude, opinions and expectations of those around us. For women in STEM, this means that a lack of appreciation, direction and inclusion from senior managers and colleagues can inhibit their self-development at work, lower their self-confidence and wear down their motivation. She concluded that men and women need to work together to rule out gender bias in the scientific community and lift each other up to achieve our greatest potential. Which would help us make greater strides in our understanding of gender and open up more opportunities in STEM for women.

Discussion Panel

Following these sessions, we were introduced to Dr Hayaatun Sillem from the Royal Academy of Engineering hosting a discussion panel between Lisa Finnegan from LinkedIn, Fiona McDonnell from Amazon, Gina Rippon from Aston University and Poppy Gustafsson, the CEO of Darktrace. They discussed the gender pay gap and intersectionality in STEM, how women can cause disruption to the system and the future of jobs in STEM.

panel discussion, WISE conference

Poppy started the discussion on gender and intersectionality saying that ‘gender is irrelevant’ regarding hiring for roles in STEM, with 40 per cent of her workforce at Darktrace being made-up of women. Lisa added that LinkedIn recognises that there is a diverse range of women working in the industry that need the support of a community to achieve their potential and to feel valued in their sector. To help this, they have been introducing groups such as LGBT and ethnic minority networks that bring women together across the globe. Gina commented on how important groups like these are, as social inclusion is the most important factor in our self-esteem. She also noted that with the STEM academic industry there are still large barriers to women, as there is not the same level of demand for change in academia as there is in the business world. All members of the panel agreed that women have the power to change the system and that by banding together, we can cause enough disruption to demand change. However, they noted that this can be difficult for women in the workplace, depending on their position in the company and that if done incorrectly disruption to the system could, in fact, reinforce the bias that already exists.

The panel then moved on to discuss the future of jobs in STEM. Poppy started the debate saying it is unnecessary for women who want to work in the tech industry to have a background in STEM, as they often have transferable skills key to the industry. Lisa said that as 80 per cent of the 2030 workforce has already left full-time education, it is important to change the hiring process now. The language used in job descriptions needs changing as there is a gender bias in STEM job adverts, for example, labelling a job as having ‘heavy leadership’, deters women from applying. Lisa further mentioned that interviewing panels need changing, to ensure that there is a diverse range of interviewers in panels and that core skills should be at the forefront of employers’ requirements, rather than just a job title. Gina added that women are less likely to apply for internal promotions due to the male-majority culture. This is something that needs to change in order for us to move forward.

panel discussion, WISE conference

The panel then discussed the gender pay gap. Fiona started the conversation saying, if we want to close the gender pay gap in the STEM industry then we need to inspire more women to go into the sector. ‘Science is no longer just a bunsen burner on the table’, with subjects like computer sciences offering new career opportunities for women. Lisa added that LinkedIn is trying to end gender and social barriers in STEM by showing the future generation the importance of their parents’ work. They are doing this by allowing employees to bring their children into work and interact with technology innovatively, such as building their own LinkedIn profile out of Lego. To finish the discussion, all the women shared the key thing they wanted people to take away from the sessions. Gina wanted us to remember that our brains are flexible and that you can change your mind, Fiona wanted us to remain adaptable, Lisa wanted us to remember the importance of soft skills and their transferability in STEM and finally Poppy wanted us to drive out unconscious bias in the workplace.

Do you want more?

Do you want to know more about what we learnt in the afternoon sessions at the 2019 WISE Conference?

Keep your eyes peeled for our other articles on the event coming soon. You can find out more about WISE and the wonderful work they do here.