Nuria Manuel, QA Technical Lead at Distributed, a UK-based software building platform, discusses the most effective ways to highlight female experiences, participation, and opportunities in tech.
Are you involved in any women’s networks in your sector? If so, how effective are they in championing the cause of female inclusion in the male-dominated tech industries?
“Championing women in technology is something that’s very close to my heart. I spend a lot of time in online forums, such as the Ministry of Testing, Allbright, and Women in Tech forum, talking with other people in the industry about how diversity and equality issues can be overcome. These have been especially valuable during the pandemic, while in-person meetings haven’t been possible.
“Although these forums are brilliant for networking with other people in the industry who have the same values, they aren’t effective enough on their own to drive change – we need to shout louder.
“The technology sector is ultimately still far too male-dominated. The crux of the issue is that not enough women even consider it as a career path in the first place, which means the pipeline of female talent is very small. It’s therefore vital that education institutions and businesses in the industry work together closely to better promote the career options available. This kind of action is what’s going to drive actual, tangible positive change.”
How important is networking with other female leaders in the industry(s) to raise awareness of lack of female participation?
“Networking with other female leaders is very important to provide a platform for sharing experiences and establish role models in the industry. However, networking itself isn’t what raises wider awareness. As women in a male-dominated industry, we are very familiar with the broader issue, so the aim of networking should be to build alliances and collaborative initiatives that actually drive awareness further afield.”
In your experience, what are the most effective ways to highlight female perspectives in tech and drive inclusion through action?
“The most effective ways that I have experienced include highlighting female employee stories and experiences within organisations – either via blogs, video or social media – and mixing up teams to bring diverse views into them. Mixing the teams allows for a broader perspective, which encourages team creativity.”
Does the post COVID-19 world offer the opportunity to create more flexible and inclusive workplaces for groups that didn’t always benefit from rigid office life (working mothers, disabled workers etc). Do tech firms have the potential to be forerunners here, what is needed?
“As a result of the pandemic, Distributed has made the decision to become a 100% remote workforce. Making that decision wasn’t just about saving money, it was about being a frontrunner in a new era for the tech industry and business practices more broadly.
“Taking a remote first approach absolutely paves the way for increased flexibility and inclusivity in the workplace. Tech firms don’t necessarily have an advantage here, as firms across all sectors should be striving to give their staff more flexibility.
“More than where the workforce is located, flexibility also refers to when and how. As such, remote working offers new opportunities to groups who were disadvantaged by an office-based structure or were unable to commute. However, businesses must keep in mind that when embracing this model, they must still encourage a good work life balance. Normal 9 to 5 hours don’t work for everyone and that’s fine, but it’s down to employers to give their staff the flexibility to work when suits them.”
What role can software play in creating a more flexible workplace?
“Software allows companies to manage outcomes and results by automating a lot of the workflows. This has previously been done by using manual project management tools to measure project outputs, efficiencies and inefficiencies in the project management process for continuous improvement. Software also allows us to create a culture of accountability and transparency, as we have more visibility of the work across all team members.”
How can we convince cynics of flexible/remote working that it does lead to greater productivity, especially in tech, how has the COVID-19 period been like for your firm, for instance?
“Distributed’s Elastic Teams have actually always worked remotely, with our developer community based all over the world and our core team previously based in London. We found that having this ‘hybrid approach’ was in fact almost detrimental to cross-team collaboration and productivity.
“As such, the pandemic encouraged us to adopt a fully remote approach across the entire business, which has been a blessing for the company. Our teams feel more aligned than ever because we’re all working in the same way, meaning our productivity levels are at an all-time high.”
You were one of the first employees at Distributed, what was that like? Did it have an impact on how the company pursued D&I going forward?
“It was a very welcoming environment and I always felt like part of the team and that we were working together to solve customer problems. From early on, Distributed embraced having a diverse team and expanding its reach to more applicants from diverse backgrounds. In my opinion, the company began to increase its visibility via social media platforms such as Linkedin, Twitter and AngelList to spread more awareness on the jobs available. We have also begun to offer more mentorship schemes over time, which offer more opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds to develop their careers in software development.”
Is tech a sector that women and other underrepresented groups can pivot into? With digital transformation on the horizon, are employers being more open to candidates without the usual experience?
“There are so many opportunities on offer in the technology industry and businesses are crying out for talent. The problem is that many are reluctant to take on the burden and costs of upskilling when hiring new staff, which can make it difficult for many to pivot into without the requisite qualifications.
“But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible or won’t be in the future. More companies than ever are realising that training on the job must become part and parcel of entry level roles and even more senior positions too. The digital world is moving so quickly that even those with experience can struggle to keep up, which has made upskilling crucial.
“At Distributed, we are hoping to soon be able to provide our developers with the option to join apprenticeship schemes within the company. These will offer opportunities such as learning new coding languages from other experts in our developer community so that the team is continually upskilling.”
If tech firms don’t start employing people that better reflect the diversity of society, will they eventually come to stall on innovation?
“A lack of diversity won’t bring innovation to a complete halt, but it will significantly limit it. That’s because when we restrict the pool of candidates we hire from, we naturally reduce the quality of talent. Now that more companies are taking a remote approach, they have access to worldwide talent that other companies still tied to the office don’t. When a business forces its employees to work from a centralised office space, it is limiting the pool of talent it can choose from to just those who are within a commutable distance. That’s ruled out thousands of skilled workers that could have been suitable for the job. Limiting the pool of talent from a diversity perspective behaves in the very same way. Ultimately, it’s bad for business.
“Another key factor to consider, especially for technology companies building artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, is that having a diverse workforce is crucial to avoid inputting societal biases into the automated platforms that we will subsequently rely on to make decisions for us.”
How important is male allyship for women in tech, have you experienced it?
“It is very important! In a lot of industries like technology, men still dominate the workforce, especially in leadership positions. So, to achieve greater equality and balance in the future, it is crucial that men have a clear understanding of the importance and benefits of having a diverse workforce and truly believe in this. In order to achieve true gender equality, male allyship is crucial. “I’ve had brilliant male allies throughout my career who have championed my work and sponsored me to help me progress and grow in my role.”
It’s one thing making tech more diverse in terms of more female hiring, but how can firms ensure that women feel they “belong” in the sector?
“Firms can ensure women feel as though they belong in the sector by allowing more women to have key decision-making roles in the business. It’s also important to champion and celebrate key awareness days within the business, such as International Women’s Day, to not only show women that they belong, but also to drive the narrative that the business is fostering a diverse environment.
“It’s also critical for organisations to define what constitutes constructive, inclusive behaviour and to highlight examples of it in action. It can be a great idea for firms to engage regularly with their female employees and get their opinions on what is working and what isn’t within the current processes.”