When talking about women in technology, the iconic English phrase “Mind the Gap” couldn’t describe the current situation better.
It’s undeniable that, in the past decades, the world has taken significant strides when it comes to gender equality and women’s rights. According to Eurostat, women make up for 66.5% of the European workforce. As stated in this article, women are increasingly well qualified, with more women than men graduating from universities in Europe. However, a significant number of them don’t feel that they have the same freedom of choice or opportunities in the labour market as men.
Despite all the efforts and progress made in a considerable number of industries, others remain behind. One example will suffice to prove it: the gender parity engine is still in warming-up mode in the technology industry. Did you know that women occupy less than 7% of technology jobs in Europe? That’s a frightening number, isn’t it? Especially when we’re all aware that our society is only growing more dependable on digital technology, portable and computer-based devices and the “digital everything” world.
Let’s illustrate the matter with an example. We bet you have to go to a technology conference or event at least once. Can you remember one where you saw more women than men or, at least, in equal parts? Were the lines to the bathroom bigger on the men’s side than on the women’s? You may have already drawn your conclusion. This is how troublesome is the current scenario. And our current health crisis isn’t helping matters along. On the contrary, it might be pulling the brakes even more on gender parity in tech, unless we do something about it.
As COVID-19 continues to ravage the world’s economy and labour markets—not to mention health systems—women in tech are more likely to be laid off than their male colleagues as they’re still more likely to occupy entry-level positions. Women’s disadvantage only grows as they’re likely to struggle more than men to jungle childcare during lockdowns and school closings and their jobs.
However, in every bad situation there’s a silver lining. COVID-19 has also pushed the world to develop more flexible ways of working and take full advantage of technology to protect business continuity, boost resilience and allow for human interaction.
While the pandemic is having a negative impact in several industries, particularly the hospitality, entertainment and travel industries, the technology industry is, and will continue to be, well placed to benefit from the changes the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it.
The nick-named “coronavirus” will continue to change the way we work. And that might open a window of opportunity to gender parity in the tech industry. Now more than ever, there’s a thirst and a need for digital talent. More tech roles, more tech opportunities. More women should be recruited, hired and trained for these jobs.
One positive change could be the opening of more tech roles for women. The question is, can businesses grow more inclusive and close the gender gap or create a cliff by not addressing the issue, one that can only damage our future more?
This article explores the challenge of having more women in the technology industry, the benefits of gender parity, and practical advice on how tech companies can contribute to closing the gender gap.
Why aren’t there more women in technology?
The gender parity issue isn’t a new one by any means. A necessary reflection, however, is to decide if we want this story to continue in the future. If no effort is made to narrow the gap in the tech industry now, what will happen when the advanced technologies continue to be implemented into the workplace?
According to the latest Global Gender Gap Report, there’s the risk of a possible emergence of new gender gaps associated with artificial intelligence-related skills. We’re living in a period where human skills are not just needed but also crucial to complement technology.
The ugly truth is that stereotyping is still associated with industries that for centuries were led by men. This issue resonates louder now, starting from school all the way up to women’s career development. Despite successfully completing their studies in a technology-related field, most women end up not following a career path in technology. In school, STEM subjects –science, technology, engineering and mathematics–tend to be marketed heavily towards boys rather than girls, according to European Women in Tech.
In this traditionally male-dominated tech industry, women are outnumbered by their male counterparts, are more often than not underpaid, and victims of sexism on a daily basis. The lack of psychological safety, an inclusive workplace and the barriers in career progression are only few of the reasons why most women are likely to quit their jobs within a year, as it’s mentioned in the same article.
In a survey developed by European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), it becomes obvious that it is in fact harmful stereotypes and a lack of digital-confidence on women’s side that are the greatest barriers to gender equality in the technology industry. Virginija Langbakk, Director of EIGE stated that:
Deep-rooted stereotypes are one of the main obstacles for women’s careers in the ICT sector. At an early age, girls learn to consider boys better at learning digital skills. Later in life, they look for career options elsewhere and overlook the benefits of having a job in tech. If we do not break these stereotypes, the EU will keep wasting potential talent.
The benefits of gender equality in the tech industry
Bottom line is businesses cannot deprive themselves of women’s talent in sectors where talent is already rare and scarce.
Without women in tech, the industry might be missing out on talent that could play a significant role in the future growth of the industry. It’s no secret that gender diversity can provide businesses with a wider talent pool. Increasing the number of women in technology is a major opportunity for Europe and one that might make the difference in a technology-driven future.
Men and women have different working styles, different work methods and different viewpoints, ideas and insights. If taken advantage of, these differences allow for better problem solving and an increase in business performance. They can also increase innovation and boost creativity, helping businesses seize new opportunities and challenge gender stereotypes.
Here are three other benefits of equaling the numbers between female and male in tech:
- Business growth: Companies that respect diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians, according to this Medium article. By having diverse teams, businesses keep employees happy, resulting in a lower turnover rate.
- Economic growth: Improvements in gender equality would lead to an additional 10.5 million jobs in 2050 in Europe, which would benefit both women and men. By having women more involved in the labour market, they could tip the scales on reducing poverty, one of the European Union’s key priorities in the 2020 strategy.
- Future for all: Gender parity could be an important advance for businesses that are supposed to be the technology drivers of the future, for instance companies involved in the development of emerging technologies such as AI and blockchain. The products of these technologies will impact both women and men alike, which is why women should be more involved in the entire product lifecycle, from creation to post-sales service.
Four things companies can do to attract more women into the tech industry
- Develop a deeper understanding of gender diversity in business.
Leaders will need to do a first analysis and explore whether there is any room for improvement. They can discuss and ask the opinion of employees on how they feel about the work environment—if it’s inclusive, if they feel safe to be who they are, about the company culture and how they think things could be improved. Ultimately, the objective should be to develop a strategy that could attract and retain women towards tech roles.
It’s important for leaders to take a strong stance for diversity since they set the values and culture of their company. It’s also important that they identify stereotypical behaviour of the different teams and address them accordingly.
- Draft diversity guidelines or policies internally, creating equal benefits and opportunities for both women and men.
Promoting inclusivity in the workplace is crucial to attracting, retaining and developing female talent. It’s crucial to become aware of gender biases in order to address them.
By developing HR recruitment policies, promoting different methods when writing job descriptions can help narrow the gender gap in tech. It’s crucial that gender-neutral language is used as some job descriptions could turn away female candidates.
At the same time, it’s important to create equal benefits and opportunities for both genders, from workload, level of responsibility and promotion, avoiding the glass ceiling effect. Creating a more gender balanced work environment is already half of the work done in breaking the stereotypical view of the tech industry and motivates women to apply to technology-related positions.
- Work with schools and universities to motivate women and girls to join the tech industry.
We’ve already seen that due to the stereotyping of the tech industry, many women choose not to follow a career in the field. However, they might also be unaware that the skills they possess could lead to a career in it.
By working with academic institutions, businesses can rebrand themselves as being gender-inclusive while helping women develop a great understanding of the different roles within the business and the industry, and who they could pursue this path if they choose to.
Organising webinars, training and workshops, offering work experiences, internships and mentoring programmes could encourage women towards tech after graduation.
- Lead by example, offering women the opportunity to progress and succeed in senior roles.
By showing that the business has women in managerial positions could give other women the confidence to apply for similar roles, and promotes the brand as diverse and inclusive.
Female role models and encouragement for girls and young women to develop their skills and aspire to careers in sectors where women are under numbered are crucial to developing the pipeline of female talent.
What we think
Yes, We Can! Inspiring women from a young age to pursue careers in the technology sector is one of the industry’s biggest challenges and the gender disparity in tech is a manifestation of societal factors. We do believe that women can do things that men cannot, and men can do things that women cannot: But together, we can do great things in tech.