Women’s Equality Day – celebrated on August 26th – celebrates it being exactly 100 years in the US and over 100 years in the UK since women secured the right to vote.
But, despite over a century passing since that historic day, women still don’t have an equal footing to men in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) industries.
DiversityQ spoke with nine IT experts, to get their perspectives on why the gender gap in STEM is still one of the largest and what the sector can do to ensure it doesn’t take another 100 years to close it.
Encouraging the younger generation
As Isabel Hutchings, Applications Engineer at Content Guru points out, this year’s Women’s Equality Day comes at an interesting time, as it follows “the recent chaos around A-level results and the Government’s monumental U-turn and apology for the distress it caused students.”
Hutchings continues: “Overshadowed this year was the continued gender divide in students taking STEM subjects. Despite some positive examples, such as an increase in girls studying computing, the gender divide in most of these key subjects is still a telling reflection of an industry-wide issue with seemingly no end in sight.”
Girls must be encouraged into taking these subjects from a young age, believes Graham Jackson, CEO at Fluent Commerce. “Educating and encouraging girls to excel in these subjects starts at primary school and hopefully in doing so, will lead to an increase in the rate of women opting to continue the study of these subjects into further education and consider a career in STEM.”
Hutchings continues: “It’s such an important age to capture students’ imaginations. Unfortunately, we’re not yet getting this right. The education system as a whole needs to do more to build not only awareness and knowledge about what engineering is like as a career – but also passion in the subjects more generally.
“A recent report from Engineering UK found almost half of 11 to 19-year-olds knew little or almost nothing about what engineers actually do. Worse still, engineering was seen as difficult, dirty, and a career better suited for men.
“Until we expand the perception of engineering in young people – particularly girls – and unlock the hidden passion in students to pursue the many opportunities this area offers, we can expect to see the same statistics rolled out year after year.”
Turning STEM into a career
The problem isn’t solved completely by encouraging girls into choosing STEM at school. Once women have the qualifications needed to continue into a career, there are still barriers they need to overcome in the workplace.
Karina Marks, Data Scientist and Training Lead at Mango Solutions, agrees, following her experience of getting her first job: “When I was looking for my first job, there were a lot of incredibly male-dominated places, with no women in the office or my interviews. Both interviews for Mango had one female and one male interviewee – it gave me a positive representation of Mango in that there are a good number of women in the data science team.”
Diane Albano, Chief Revenue Officer at Globalization Partners, points out that: “According to a LinkedIn report looking at the top trends of women sales professionals, only 21% of Vice Presidents in sales are female.
“If companies don’t have women represented in areas such as the c-suite, marketing, and especially the sales force, they are missing out on a big opportunity to improve their organisation’s performance and drive revenue growth. Women and men simply bring more to the table when they come to it together.”
This is a notion that Samina Subedar, VP, Marketing at StorCentric, backs. Subedar says: “Research shows that companies with a diverse workforce are more innovative, better prepared for decision-making and perform better financially than their homogeneous counterparts.
“When we speak of women’s equality, we must factor in race, socioeconomic status, ability, religious beliefs, and so much more. Diversity is good for business, but it’s also important to embrace our differences, fight prejudice, and actively promote inclusivity and equality in the workplace, now and in the future.”
Advice for future generations
Taking all of this into consideration, how can businesses ensure that they are doing all they can to champion equality in the workplace?
Kleopatra Kivrakidou, Channel Marketing Manager EMEA at Ergotron advises that: “Recent global circumstances have put the spotlight on working mothers, with many organisations implementing flexible work structures to help them maintain a work-life balance during this difficult period. This includes enabling them to continue to work from home, if their circumstances don’t allow a return to the office, and providing the right technology and equipment to support both productive working and wellbeing.
“Working environments that build their success on respecting diversity, giving equal opportunities for development to all, and who trust their workforce for who they are, become, by definition, the ones where you find more women.”
Investing in the right technology will also have a positive impact on helping to bridge the diversity gap. Hugh Scantlebury, Co-founder and CEO at Aqilla, believes that: “As technology develops to increasingly include automation, job descriptions will also likely begin to change. It will mean that users will be able to focus less of their time on crushing numbers and creating reports and utilise their time to solve business challenges. I believe this will be the catalyst for the increase in the number of women working in the industry that we’ve been waiting for.”
It’s also important for organisations to make sure they are encouraging and nurturing their employees. Yumi Nishiyama, Director of Global Service Alliances, Exabeam shares her own experience: “Young women in tech need to build their network. When we talk about being a strong woman in the field, we need to focus on not just hard work and a solid sense of self, but also the importance of relationships. Throughout my career, I have been able to surround myself with a strong support system. This Women’s Equality Day, I encourage young women to begin to start building their network immediately by finding a mentor to help them advance professionally and personally.”
Donna Cooper, Global Marketing Director at WhereScape, rounds things off nicely by sharing the following: “The technology field itself does not necessarily need to change. The gender-typical attitude that women have of themselves needs to be the roadblock that is addressed. This is hardly surprising when you consider the thousands of years of training and mentality that needs to be undone.
“We need to remind women that no matter how they feel, who they are and what unique values they bring to the technology table that they should be treated equally. It’s important that women trust their own mechanics when entering a role in the technology field, keep on learning and moving forward.”