Women in tech

With the gender pay gap reports due soon, TJ asked a variety of female leaders in technology about how organisations can improve women’s equality

The battle for gender equality has been around for hundreds of years, being traced all the way back to 1909, when a “Women’s Day” was organised by the Socialist Party of America in New York City. This inspired German delegates at the 1910 International Socialist Women’s Conference to propose “a special Women’s Day” be organised, and after women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, International Women’s Day (IWD) was created.

This year’s IWD’s theme was #EmbraceEquity, highlighting that true inclusion and belonging require equitable action and encouraging organisations to engage in impactful conversations that spur positive change. As it stands, 75% of all organisations have a gender pay gap in favour of men who earn, on average, 10.4% more than women. This needs to change. With 2023’s gender pay gap reporting deadline fast approaching, the question stands: How far have businesses come in the last year and how can they continue to ensure progress?

The beginning

One way to achieve equality lies in engaging women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) from an early age. Samantha Thorne, head of people at Node4, argues, “the roots of the gender gap start in education – girls are opting out of studying STEM subjects as soon as they can choose their own path.

“The key is to become the change we want to see. [We] actively work with local schools and colleges to give talks and interactive sessions to GCSE and A-Level students and offer several work experiences and placements each year, alongside our affiliation with Cyber First to bring the next generation of talent into the industry. By showing that there are new and exciting opportunities worth striving for, both male and female students are encouraged to consider their future careers in tech.”

“It’s not enough to simply get women in the door, there needs to be resources and support that keep them there

Ensure progression for all

Those women who do enter the tech industry also often face obstacles along the way. Gal Helemski, co-founder and CTO of PlainID, explains: “Even though significant progress has been made, particularly in the technology industry, women continue to experience lower pay, fewer promotions, and less access to leadership positions.”

With this inaccessibility for women to achieve executive, C-suite and board levels, it is important companies continue to try and understand why the ‘bigger’ jobs are being held by mainly men.

Ciara Harrington, CPO at Skillsoft, highlights: “It’s important for companies to continue to identify when and why women are falling behind and to implement better policies and practices to correct it, ideally in measurable goals. For example, introducing policies promoting equality in hiring and promotion, market-leading parental leave policies, having a clear focus on mentoring and coaching programs specifically for women.”

Whilst progress has been made, companies are struggling to retain women once hired. Hannah Birch, manager director – digital at Node4, explains: “Statistics show that 45% more women than men leave technology roles, and half of the women in tech roles leave before the age of 35.”

Where you work

Businesses must ensure attitudes and equality efforts keep pace with the speed of change in society and the workplace.

Sherrie Fernandes, vice president of product management and user experience at G-P, highlights: “On the one hand, remote work has the potential to offer much greater flexibility for the millions of female workers who also have wider family commitments. On the flipside, working from home removes the separation between work and family. For example, it can be hard to stop working as soon as it’s ‘family time’ because the line between work and after work is more blurred – and even then, you might miss the ‘you time’, even if that was only the 10-minute commute.”

Alexis Suggett, director, contracts and data protection officer at Cubic Transportation Systems, agrees, adding that workplaces need to ensure flexibility of hours to support parents. She explains: “There’s still a bias [against] promoting or hiring women who may be seen to want to take time off to start or continue building a family. The culture needs to shift to understand that the more hours spent online or in the office being ‘seen’ doesn’t equate to efficiency in output.”

The 3 R’s: role models, resources and returnship

Samantha Humphries, head of security strategy EMEA at Exabeam, contends that “it’s not enough to simply get women in the door, there needs to be resources and support that keep them there. For example, employee support groups, mentorship programs, initiatives such as menstrual and menopause policies, comprehensive medical insurance – the list goes on! Each business is different, and some of these may not be applicable to all, but the bottom line is that organisations need to adapt their policies to their people.”

Svenja de Vos, CTO at Leaseweb Global, adds: “when people do not have mentors or role models to look up to they are less likely to be able to envisage themselves doing that job.” She suggests: “To change perceptions, more female role models are needed who, supported by practical initiatives like training, open days and internship opportunities, can help to create a more compelling image for the tech industry as a sector that’s fun and rewarding to work in.”

Suggesting there may be light at the end of the tunnel, Caroline Mantle​ strategic alliance manager at Six Degrees, highlights that many “organisations have listened and many are making concerted efforts to increase the gender balance through various schemes and outreaches like ‘Returnship’ programmes to specifically help restart the careers of women returning to STEM roles.”

Advice for 2023

Regardless of the findings of the upcoming gender pay gap report, women must continue to be brave, pushing open new doors and ensuring their voices are heard in 2023.

Anais Urlichs, developer advocate at Aqua Security, proposes, “my advice to women already working in tech, as well as those considering it, is to not undersell yourself and don’t be afraid of roles that require you to learn new skills. Exploring new avenues is not always easy, but it can lead to a fulfilling career.”

Explaining her own ethos, Julie Giannini, chief customer officer at Egnyte, elucidates: “One of my philosophies toward creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce is paying it forward. Just as a long-time friend and former colleague helped me over the course of my tech career, I’m currently mentoring several young women, including one interested in pursuing a career in STEM.”

No matter who or what is proving to be a barrier, always be asking in 2023: “Why can’t it be me, too?”

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