Women’s Equality Day – Time for change in the STEM sector

The 26th August marks Women’s Equality Day, a US holiday that celebrates women everywhere and reiterates the importance of gender equality

The 26th of August marks Women’s Equality Day, a US holiday that has gained recognition around the globe as an opportunity to celebrate women everywhere and reiterate the importance of gender equality.

One area where gender equality undoubtedly lacks is within the world of technology. We are in an age where women leave the tech industry at a 45% higher rate than men. According to the Elephant in the Valley study, this is because most women in technology face sexual harassment, feel excluded, and are victims of unconscious bias. Not all companies are like this, but it is clear that women in technology are a minority. That culture needs to change to support women rising up the technology ladder.

With this in mind – and in honour of Women’s Equality Day – four female technology executives have come together to share their experiences and explore tips for women on how to face adversity in tech head on.

Potential vs performance

Janna Hu Senior Data Scientist, machine learning, cyber security on STEM
Janna Hu Senior Data Scientist, machine learning, cyber security on STEM a-levels women’s equality day

My love for technology and tech-related subjects like math and physics began in elementary school. In part, that’s why joining the technology sector as a data scientist became a natural evolution of my career after graduate school. As a driving force in our society, technology presents innumerable opportunities to change the world and how we live in it. Unfortunately, there remains a disparity in opportunities for women to lead that change, versus their male counterparts. In fact, a 2011 report by McKinsey & Company stated that ‘men are promoted on potential, while women on performance.’ That observation has held true in my personal career experiences. And so, I feel strongly that women in tech must be free to assert our ideas and express our opinions. We must insist that our voices are heard, and that we take on roles that will shape the changes to our world. The best way to do that is to recognise women as capable and provide equal opportunities for leadership in technology. If the industry can clear this gender hurdle, it would open so many possibilities for women to fulfil their potential.

The work environment and productivity

Betsey Banker Wellness Market Manager ergotron women's equality day
Betsey Banker Wellness Market Manager ergotron women’s equality day

With fewer women in STEM than men, the trick in this competitive market is having the right tools to attract this smaller but highly talented pool. Giving women an opportunity to thrive, both in work and personal well-being, and to avoid burnout and physical fatigue is key. Consider a work environment that promotes optimal energy management. There are inherent well-being and productivity increases in dual monitor set-ups and in sit-stand computing. Encouraging sound health and ergonomics in your workplace, such as sit-stand computing and walking meetings, can help you attract and retain a more diverse workforce. It might even attract more women to STEM in the future.

Stereotypes and unconscious bias

Chief Marketing Officer at Skillsoft STEM a-levels gender
Chief Marketing Officer at Skillsoft STEM a-levels gender women’s equality day

The UK is moving towards gender equality. Enforcing gender pay gap reporting is a step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go. We need to keep pushing. One big roadblock is unconscious bias. As children, boys are told they’re smart whilst girls are told they’re beautiful – right from an early age unconscious bias is instilled. This translates beyond childhood and into the world of work, perpetuating the age-old view: that women are better suited to social and artistic careers and would struggle to make tough leadership decisions. Take the government’s Hampton-Alexander Review, which aims to ensure that one-third of FTSE leadership positions are occupied by women by 2020. Despite evidence showing this could add £150 billion to the UK economy by 2025, FTSE 350 Chairs and CEOs are still giving shockingly sexist reasons for not having more women on their company’s boards. It’s comical, really, that excuses like ‘all the good ones have been snapped up’ and ‘board issues are too complex for women’ are being offered by FTSE business leaders in 2018. Let’s face it, when people hire those they identify with, negative attitudes are fostered, leading to damaging stereotypical behaviours. When industries like tech are traditionally made up of males, the unconscious bias ultimately affects the education, hiring, promotion, and retention of women. It’s no use trying to force diversity on someone who believes there are no qualified female board members. We need to help them recognise and observe their own biases and establish how best to overcome such prejudices to improve diversity in the workplace.

Tara O’Sullivan, Chief Marketing Officer at Skillsoft

Time to promote equal gender pools

Swati Chopra - Director - Global support services and Customer success bitglass STEM a-levels gender
Swati Chopra – Director – Global support services and Customer success bitglass STEM a-levels gender

As it stands today everyone can promote women in STEM to create a large female workforce in technology and science. We need to motivate our sisters, daughters and wives to gain higher education and aspire for executive roles! Companies who aspire to gender parity and equality need to incorporate 3 R’s in their corporate blueprint: respect, role equality and remuneration for women. When it comes to respect, women who ask for a raise or a promotion may be perceived as bossy or aggressive while their male counterparts are perceived as ambitious and career focused. Firms must give equal respect to women and support them when they aim high. Looking at role equality, it is time to promote an equal gender pool of prospective candidates for every promotion. And when it comes to remuneration, organisations should do annual audits to make sure men and women are paid equally in the same roles and for similar skills. At the end of the day, companies should hire women in the same ratio as men so there is more diversity and gender parity within the organisation. Every team or organisation should have a healthy mix of men and women. Salary and promotion criteria should be the same for men and women, and equal opportunity promotions should exist to promote from within a diverse pool of prospective candidates.

Swati Chopra, Director of Global Support Services and Customer Success at Bitglass

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