Levelling the playing field for women in tech

It's time to say goodbye to the ‘juggle struggle’ for women in tech, says Tierney

Alison Tierney GVP, EMEA at Snowflake – The Data Cloud says the tech sector needs to start living up to its innovative reputation by becoming more inclusive and supportive of female talent at all levels.

Technology and diversity are two words you often hear in the same sentence, but not always for the right reasons. The tech sector has spearheaded innovation and facilitated the success of many industries – the past 18 months alone have shown how vital it is to keep our work and personal lives moving. Based on my experience in the industry, there is one area that is often viewed as a laggard – diversity within leadership positions.

Research carried out by PwC shone a light on this issue of diversity, finding that only 5% of senior leadership roles within the industry are held by women. The wider figures aren’t much better, with women comprising just 17% of the UK’s tech workers.

Despite a joint effort from private businesses and government organisations to encourage more women at a junior level, there’s still a long way to go. We need a more concerted approach, where every company (not just tech) takes responsibility for its diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts.

Hybrid work to end the ‘juggle struggle’ for women in tech

To attract more women into tech roles, those at the heart of it first need to break down the roadblocks often found when entering the sector. Working in tech has a reputation for being ‘always on’, much like how we expect various technologies to work.

This can be challenging for those who want to start a family or have other personal commitments. It’s not to say that every woman wants to be a mother; it’s an extremely personal decision, a decision I made 16 years ago. The reality is. However, many do want to be a mother, and the decision to work in tech should not be at odds with those that wish to raise a family or have priorities outside of their employment. 

A positive that has come out of more of us working from home during the pandemic is that these new working arrangements have meant that no matter their circumstances, women are better able to perform to the best of their ability, regardless of whether they are in the office or at home. It is, however, something that, as a collective, women have had to work hard to achieve.

The term ‘juggle struggle’ was used often during the pandemic to demonstrate how much women had to take on. Research from Boston Consulting Group showed that working mothers in the UK were doing an additional 31 hours’ housework each week compared to pre-COVID-19 days while trying to still do their jobs and look after their children. 

As we come through the pandemic, the end is hopefully in sight. I strongly believe that to be and remain successful, these tech organisations need to continue to offer and advocate flexible working arrangements and adopt a hybrid working culture. Women will embrace this opportunity of not having to choose between work and personal life choices.

Shaping a space for women across organisations

While focusing on attracting more women at a junior level, tech companies can’t lose sight of what’s happening at the top. A lack of representation in senior positions means women entering the industry have no role models like them to look up to and aspire to.

But it isn’t enough to hire a woman into a position of authority and expect the issue to be resolved. This kind of behaviour is ineffective at best and tokenism at worst. Diversity needs to be seen across the business.

Corporate culture must be shaped from diverse voices, both internally and externally. By doing so, businesses can fuel a culture where they create role models for women. DE&I teams should be set up to encompass people from all different backgrounds holding various company positions.

When we have more voices and perspectives represented at the table, only then can companies truly represent every employee and enact true change. But this isn’t to say they must do it alone. There are various independent bodies and charities for businesses to partner with to increase the support network for women in tech and provide them with mentorship and training opportunities. One organisation Snowflake works with in the UK is Women in Data. With specialisms in fields relating to data science, the team does truly pioneering work to promote greater representation of women in data-led professions, and we are incredibly proud to support them in the work that they do. 

Using data to eradicate workplace bias  

A key part of any DE&I programme is the data that informs it. It isn’t about just collecting numbers; it’s about how the numbers are analysed and used to decide how DE&I strategies can be improved.

As a first step, tech businesses need to identify the gaps in their strategies. By gathering data on diversity, equity and inclusion, they can find the starting point and kickstart their efforts. Once these gaps have been identified, businesses then need to implement continuous data collection processes for every part of the employee lifecycle, from recruitment and retention to pay and promotion. Each of these areas should be tracked and continually monitored for instances of bias or unfair treatment.

Bias in the workplace often occurs unintentionally, as people make decisions based on different qualities such as race, gender, or disability. Despite these decisions often being made without conscious awareness, they are a major contributor to a lack of diversity in businesses. While there must be multiple voices that challenge biases individually and structurally during the hiring process, data should also be used alongside these voices to inform decisions and ultimately help pick the right candidate for the job.

Data-driven decision-making when hiring candidates can help businesses look at candidate demographics to ensure they aren’t unwillingly discriminating against protected groups. With a DE&I strategy in place, businesses can drive progress, and sustained impact and ultimately create a more level playing field for women entering the sector.

Inclusion for women in tech and beyond

The tech sector is an amazing place to work, but I can understand why it could be looked upon as an intimidating place for women. However, I do truly believe its future lies in diversity, and the tech sector will be much better off when it is represented by a truly diverse group of people.

Every business has a responsibility to act and attract more women into roles. Flexible working policies, DE&I strategies, and using data to hire and eradicate bias are just three actions tech organisations can take to make a difference and ensure progress is being made. Even small steps will go a long way to drive industry change, but only through a concerted effort will these challenges for women and other diverse groups be overcome.

Women in tech

Alison Tierney is GVP, EMEA at Snowflake – The Data Cloud.

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