The need to make STEM more inclusive continues to sit high on leaders’ agendas, and there is no more opportune moment to underline its importance than International Women’s Day, writes Preethi Srinivasan, Director of Innovation at Druva.

This year, the United Nations is celebrating International Women’s Day under the theme ‘DigitALL’, ”exploring the impact of the digital gender gap on widening economic and social inequalities”.

Despite widespread recognition that organisations need to address workplace gender imbalance – a fact highlighted by the mere 22% of tech directorial roles held by women – the proportion of women on the boards of tech companies has disappointingly remained the same for the last 20+ years.

Sure, numerous campaigns, charities and organisations have been established in order to assist getting women and girls into tech, but these imbalances require action from everyone. History shows that industry and society as a whole – men and women alike – need to work together in order to break down biases within the workplace, fix the pipeline for hiring women in tech roles, and ensure women are represented across STEM.

Steer women towards STEM

One of the biggest barriers facing women trying to enter the tech industry are the biases and stereotypes that surround it. Often these stereotypes start early – eating away at women’s motivation to do what they love. In fact, a recent UN paper warned that girls are being ‘steered away from STEM’ because of stereotypes often perpetuated in media and curricula that make technology seem unappealing or an unlikely career route for them.

With the poor representation of women in STEM professional roles (only 20%) it’s unsurprising that 78% of students cannot name any famous women in tech. It can be easy to continue labelling it as a ‘male sector’, or see it as impenetrable or unwelcoming, pushing women away from applying or developing ambitions to enter these roles. We must actively push back against this becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, and break down these barriers collectively if we are to see any real, meaningful change.

Women break these biases by taking risks and being ambitious in their roles, but both men and women must commit to not judge women harshly when they are taking brave risks. Although women put themselves forward for leadership roles and take opportunities to further their careers, everyone must contribute to giving women fair and equal consideration when they do.

Recognising talented women in tech

When we consider the barriers facing women in tech, first we must look at the hiring process. Companies need to fix the pipeline; hiring should be representative and present equal opportunities for women. Women deserve to be hired not to just fulfil a diversity quota, but because a real equal opportunity was presented and their potential was recognised.

With economic conditions halting the hiring process for many companies, now is a great time to enact this change and approach hiring with more diversity. At Druva we often talk about ‘antifragility’; the idea of being able to see opportunity in times of uncertainty and embrace the chaos, and now is a time of opportunity. Companies can become the change they wish to see by adapting the pipeline for talent to reflect what they are trying to achieve.

However, equality in the workplace doesn’t end with the hiring process. Many women are given the opportunity to enter the industry but are limited in their options for upwards career mobility, as higher positions are routinely offered to men. Key to this is a difference in the way candidates for promotion are considered and judged. A key study shows often women are judged by what they have already done, whereas men are often promoted based on their potential. This can be seriously detrimental when it comes to promoting women into leadership positions because their potential is ignored until it is proven.

Women in tech are paid 16% less than men

Unfortunately, the inequalities that must be addressed don’t end there. Pay inequality is a big hurdle that companies must overcome in order to bring opportunities for men and women into alignment. Recently 32% of women identified the gender pay gap to be their biggest challenge in tech and, without addressing this, companies face losing female talent and missing out on great new prospects. In the technology sector there is a particularly crucial disparity, with a larger than average gender pay gap of 16%. In addition, women occupy less than one quarter of top-paying jobs in the industry, while also holding 40% of the lowest paid jobs.

Often pay inequality is thought of as a black and white issue: if a woman and man had the same job, they should be offered the same salary, right? The issue runs deeper than this, reflecting more so in women being underrepresented in senior, higher-paying roles. Organisations can make a difference by looking more closely at the salary paid and stock compensations not just by job, but also by level and function. Historically, companies have gotten around this by placing women in lower-level roles and showing parity on pay, but this doesn’t count. Women need to be promoted based on the same measurement of potential and performance as men and when this happens, companies need to ensure that equal pay and stock compensation are given for equal value of work.

The tech industry needs to change

Although these issues can seem daunting, I hope to bring you a message of opportunity and the chance to make a real, meaningful difference. My mantra is not to always strive for perfection, but to always strive for consistent excellence. And, if we can adopt this manner of thinking towards making changes in regards to gender equality, ensuring we consistently excel in the way we act and present opportunities for others, we will move forward as an industry.

Of course, I’ve had the pleasure of working with inspiring men and women alike and take joy in seeing their career paths go in exciting, fulfilling and inspiring directions. This can only happen, however, when companies create an atmosphere that allows for success. It is time for companies to consistently excel in their hiring processes so women have equal opportunities, are judged fairly and equally on their potential, and are paid correctly and in parity with their male colleagues.