Learning from the past to build an equal future
As Women’s Equality Day celebrates its centenary Olivia Manning talks to female tech industry experts about gender inequality today.
Women’s Equality Day is rooted in celebration of the day that American women were officially granted the vote in 1920, and when the 19th Amendment was added to the US Constitution. It is now both an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come to achieve greater equality in the last one hundred years, and to shine a light on persisting gender inequalities in the world today.
Whilst there is now a record number of women in full-time work in the UK, women still earn an average of 19.8% less than men. And, with decisions about pay and promotion made through processes that disadvantage women, women entering the workforce find it more difficult to progress upwards than their male colleagues.
Despite this glass ceiling, “women are achieving leadership positions at an accelerated pace,” says Nicole Sahin, founder and CEO at Globalization Partners. “Within my own organisation 50% of my team are women – proof that diverse teams render better results.
Also promising is that, according to McKinsey , today, 44% of companies have three or more women in their C-suite, up from 29% of companies in 2015. This is a reminder of everything that women can achieve, especially if they are in an environment that supports and encourages their success.”
I've been told in the past that I was 'emotional', 'loud' and 'aggressive', whereas my male colleagues got to be 'passionate', 'zealous' or 'plain-talking'
However, Sahin also observes that the past is still with us, and, “despite this progress, women continue to be underrepresented at every level: for every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired. From recruitment, to development, to women-friendly policies, Women’s Equality Day reminds us about the importance of prioritising equality across every aspect of the organisation, to ensure women's progress is accelerated further.”
Making a commitment to change
“In business, particularly the technology industry, these inequalities are stark,” agrees Connie Stack, chief strategy officer at Digital Guardian. “According to recent research by PwC, in the UK only 23% of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) roles are filled by women, and only 5% of leadership positions. The world should be a place of equal opportunity for all, and yet research consistently reveals just how far we have to go before this is possible.
“Importantly, many organisations are making a huge effort to change, and change can be as simple as being more female friendly. Unremarkable as it may sound, we chose a brand colour palette made up of colours generally associated with men (blue) and women (pink), signalling to prospective female employees that they were welcome at our company.
"Creating an inclusive environment where females are welcomed, encouraged and nurtured, is the first step towards greater gender equality, paving the way to a more inclusive future.”
Supporting diversity and inclusion in STEM
For the first time, there are more than 1m women working in core STEM roles across the UK . This is an outstanding achievement, but we still have a long way to go.
Sam Humphries, security strategist at Exabeam, argues that diversity is crucial for development: “If you want to see new ideas and innovation and spark positive change, then you need different individuals who think, speak and act in different ways, otherwise you’ll fundamentally end up with more of the same.
“For the last three years, I’ve been involved in The Diana Initiative , which is one of the many conferences that take place at ‘Hacker Summer Camp.’ They’ve done an amazing job of creating a safe space focused on diversity and inclusion in cybersecurity, where participants feel comfortable to network and learn, and be inspired by speakers at a conference that embraces everyone.
"I’m also proud to be part of the ExaGals programme, which looks to support and empower the women in our organization, as well as women in the technology community at large, with career development, education and personal growth opportunities.
“My hope is that by supporting programs that expose and encourage women and girls to the possibilities of an education and career in tech and creating more remote work opportunities, we can help address the skills shortage and lack of diversity by introducing new perspectives and problem-solving skills to the industry.”
Dismantling double standards
For Emma Leigh, partner manager at Aqilla, women’s equality means dismantling the double standards and stereotypes that are put on women. Discussing her own experiences, she explains: "I've been told in the past that I was 'emotional', 'loud' and 'aggressive', whereas my male colleagues got to be 'passionate', 'zealous' or 'plain-talking'.
"It's our job to help and nurture young women coming up in the ranks, encouraging their ideas and opinions day in day out. We've come this far, let's not stop now."
Paula Jory, EMEA messaging supervisor at Commvault, agrees that gendered misconceptions hold women back. She describes: “I think it’s important to remember that the education system fundamentally offers the same opportunities to both genders – male and female – and that it is making a concerted effort to encourage young women into technology.
"I believe that the reason for the gender gap is actually rooted in a lack of encouragement from parents, friends, etc. Parents bear most of the responsibility to encourage our daughters to pursue their interests that they are passionate about. The options are there; we just need to gently guide young women to follow their heart.”
Women’s Equality Day is also a reminder for organisations to question whether they are doing their part in removing gender discrimination from the workplace.
“It shouldn’t just be about this day, it should be something that’s embedded into HR policies and company culture – something that’s being addressed all year round, said Agata Nowakowska, area vice president EMEA at Skillsoft. “After all, gender equality isn’t just an issue for females in a business, it affects the organisation as a whole.
“We’re now in 2020, women should be equally paid and for this to be addressed, more organisations need to be transparent about their salary bandings and who is being paid what.
“For women to be truly equal, we need to teach about gender equality within schools. Both boys and girls need to learn to regard themselves as equal and they are both capable of taking up any role, whether that’s in STEM or leadership. Educating children at a young age is the only way to remove unconscious bias that affects us later on in our professional working life.”
Confronting women’s equality is even more timely because “in this new reality of pandemic uncertainty, gender imbalances have been exacerbated,” Liz Cook, people director at Six Degrees, concludes.
“Women’s Equality Day highlights the importance of supporting women and men alike through agile working structures that level the playing field and empower people to be the very best at what they do, no matter what their circumstances.
"As the people director of a technology company, I am passionate about working every day to deliver these agile working structures that promote gender-balance and drive a better working world.”
Gender equality has come a long way in the last a hundred years. This Women’s Equality Day, let’s make a commitment to accelerating equality, now, and moving forward.
About the author
Olivia Manning is a freelance content writer.
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