IWD 2021 – ‘Choose to Challenge’ sets the tone for progress

This year's Internal Women's Day theme #Choose To Challenge' asks us all to analyse, question and adapt to achieve greater gender equality

Each year, International Women’s Day communicates the pressing need for gender equality in just a few words. This year’s theme is particularly apt. #ChooseToChallenge sets the mission for us all to analyse, question and adapt. The key here is ‘choose’ – every single one of us needs to consciously assess and act upon the imbalances we still see each day.

#ChooseToChallenge is a collective mission statement. Whether that’s becoming the youngest female CEO to take a company public with a majority-female board or the men sharing the responsibilities to help address the work/life balance issues that have been exacerbated by remote working. It is the platform that reminds us of the need for education and action.

But we must also challenge the right areas to lay the groundwork for women to prosper socially, economically, culturally and politically.

Challenge the idea that change is happening organically

We need to acknowledge the need for conscious change. International Women’s Day arrives a year after we experienced huge shifts towards remote working practices. Many have pointed to the opportunities offered by remote working – particularly that more flexible working patterns will help women overcome the barriers to entering fields such as technology and provide a simpler return to work after career breaks.

But it may not be the equalising factor many have suggested. As reported in the Harvard Business Review – there is a complex balance of factors that affect gender representation. Remote working does not occur in a vacuum, and more women are feeling the burden of supervising homeschooling.

We also need to be mindful of the way job creation is evolving. In the past year, nearly 800,000 additional jobs have been created globally across automation and programming in response to how digital technologies have been adopted. Yet, many of these new jobs are being taken by men due largely to the traditionally male-oriented skillsets associated with those roles. They are also being advertised with ‘masculine-coded’ language, which may contribute to gender imbalance.

This tells us about the need for conscious evaluation and planning to combat the gender divide. The technology sector is aware of the need for change – 67% say their organisations are working on gender diversity, but just 29% know what those plans entail. We need to challenge the idea that diversity happens by itself and implement systematic, business-led approaches with clear success indicators to combat the imbalance.

Challenge the foundations of imbalance

Oracle NetSuite’s co-founder, Evan Goldberg, succinctly summarised his journey of self-analysis when he said – “More than ever, I need to think carefully about the intent of my words and actions and consider the impact they may have.” This level of self-reflection will be important as business leaders take the lead in driving parity.

Everyone benefits from executive investment in improving diversity and inclusion at all levels. The business case for diversity remains robust, and the gap is widening for the organisations that are placing it at the heart of their progress.

According to McKinsey, the most gender-diverse organisations are likely to outperform the least diverse by as much as 48%. With leadership support, organisations must focus on attracting female talent and must be decisive in creating and maintaining an inclusive culture.

We also need to address our talent pool. I have spoken before about women leaders in technology being a legacy issue that needs time to ‘catch up,’ and ensure we have a strong pipeline of qualified women entering the industry. There are many routes into technology, and not all are technical. My first job out of university was as a receptionist at a software company, with a background in languages, management science and psychology, which I now apply in the technology industry. So aside from the technical barriers to entering technology, we also need to consider the wider application of available skills from candidates.

From a technical standpoint, the fact that most in-demand jobs are more aligned to male skillsets puts the spotlight on training and the need to encourage women into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects at school. In 2020, the number of STEM* A-Levels awarded to girls grew by just 1%, while just 26% of STEM graduates are women. Generating excitement around STEM subjects has to start at an early age. It demonstrates the need to have more girls participating in engaging computing courses at the school level to address the knock-on effect on the talent pool regarding roles like product development, systems engineering or consulting.

Although historical imbalances cannot be changed, consistent progress will be critical to ensuring that gender parity is achieved. With its power to shape our personal and business lives, the technology industry can be a pioneer if its leaders put diversity at the centre of the strategy. Technology is a by-product of the people who create it and reflect and include a wide range of viewpoints. By choosing to challenge, we ask the questions and take the actions to help us get there.

By Nicky Tozer, EMEA VP at Oracle NetSuite

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