Perhaps you have seen the new Men in Black film that came out earlier this month. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, it’s a great film. I’m sure you’re familiar with the original story featuring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, which saw them protecting the Earth from various intergalactic threats. This addition to the franchise is no different.
However, there is a slight twist – this remake is the first time one of the Men in Black has been a woman, Tessa Johnson. In the spirit of girl power and promoting more women to get involved in their passions, a variety of female (and one male) tech professionals have come together to share their journey into the tech industry, discuss how to thrive in the industry and the importance of inclusivity and diversity in the workplace.
It starts at school
Education is an important mainstay of many aspects of life. In the technology industry, attitudes towards girls studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths subjects) starts at school.
“In school, kids are immature, and they don’t know what lasting impact words like, “she can’t because she is a girl”, might have. I have been lucky that in the workplace, it doesn’t feel like it is that imbalanced. There is still an imbalance, but the way people treat you can have a big impact and make all the difference.”
“As in any other industry,” she continues, “I would encourage women to know their own strengths and to not be shy. You should be open-minded, ready to learn new things and be challenged often by new developments that present both opportunities and threats.”
Having clear role models is also important to help young women dream big and achieve big.
“They understand how important it is to get girls interested at a young age and help them build confidence in coding and engineering. It’s awesome that they are inspiring women to have an interest in technology and to be proud of how smart they really are – I wish I had something like this when I was growing up.”
“Being a female CTO today still makes me a bit of a unicorn. And, despite my background and position, some still assume I don’t have technical knowledge. And the worst part is that I find myself getting used to these comments. But my team respects me because of my technical expertise, not simply because of my title or in spite of my gender, and this is always how it should be.”
“While companies have become more sensitive to the gender gap in the industry over time, there is still so much more to be done to change the industry’s culture to close this gap and encourage more women into high tech careers. I believe that, fundamentally, this culture shift needs to start in school – we need to do more to mentor girls and encourage them to study STEM subjects.”
Mentors at work
“When I started working, I did not expect equality but instead started with the assumption that I have to try to work harder than people around me to gain equal footing. Nobody can stand up for you better than yourself, so learn how and when to verbalise what you need. Don’t be the one who gets easily offended by things around you.
“That does not mean it is easy, but choose to concentrate on the long-term outcome than the short-term pain. The right mentor or sponsor can support and guide you through even the most difficult situations. Make time for the women in your organisation to support, mentor and appreciate each other as much as possible.”
“Projects that encourage women into STEM careers, coding workshops such as Codebar and Girls Who Code and mentoring programmes are all fantastic initiatives that nurture women into pursuing careers in technology.”
The main challenges facing women considering a career in technology are a lack of role models and the perceived culture in IT.
“I’d never planned to become a Database Administrator, but it turns out I’m more than suited to the job. I believe it’s important to have the confidence in yourself to stick to what is important to you, and more often than not another amazing opportunity will open up.”
Bias in the workplace
There is a struggle to ensure a more diverse workforce comes in many forms – from gender to ethnic background. The bottom line is that diverse teams make better decisions. They provide much-needed differences in opinion, and having a more diverse team avoids the problem of ‘group think’.
“We need to treat these two areas separately. Conscious bias is easier to deal with. We can name-and-shame when it rears its ugly head, all while backing this up with facts and figures.
“Unconscious bias is harder to address and will take longer to eradicate,” she explains. “Often it’s still hidden, and those holding it are completely unaware. Studies show that for many people in this situation when their unconscious bias is demonstrated to them, they hate it – they fall apart at seeing their own prejudice looking back at them.
“The solution? When unconscious bias is identified in an individual, we need to address it across the entire team. This makes it ‘palatable’ on an individual basis, and allows us to make the required changes.
“At the end of the day, there’s no excuse. Diversity in the workplace is a social norm, and just like wearing clothes, we need to treat it as such.”
“Having a balanced workplace helps reduce stereotypes, and encourages richer decision making, especially in the world of technology. Many companies and senior leaders want to attract talent, and being more aware of gender bias, are now better prepared not to cling to clichés and stereotypes.”
“Half our population is female, more than half of college students are female, so why should we not hire more of these talented individuals into the workplace? Not hiring women makes a business less competitive, because they are not tapping into a vital segment of the talent stream.”
Bethany Allee, Vice President of Marketing at Cybera, advises that “Diversity in technology is proven to result in better business decisions, increased efficiency, and better results. Let’s celebrate the smart, qualified, and innovative women who are following in the footsteps of the mother of programming, Ada Lovelace.”
Outdated stereotypes are being challenged, and diversity in the tech industry is changing for the better.
“They should know their worth and not be afraid of advancing,” she continues. Our communities and companies need diversity in leadership roles to succeed because every person’s individual background also brings a new perspective to the table that can drive the bottom line, culture and overall success of the business.”
“The capabilities of people don’t vary because of their gender, but because of who they are. I believe the goal for any business should be to get people to understand that diversity is critical to their success; you will be far more successful if you operate under the notion that differences are powerful,” he concludes.