International Women’s Day: Forging a gender-equal world

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Written by Jon Kennard on 8 March 2021 in Opinion
Opinion

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women across the world, raise awareness of inequality, and find ways to accelerate progress towards gender parity.

For the technology industry in particular, the equal representation of women and men may still have decades' worth of work left to go. Currently just 19% of the tech workforce are women. And, with nearly half (44%) of women maintaining that men progress faster than they do in the tech space, International Women’s Day is the ideal time to confront inequality head on.

This year’s theme #ChooseToChallenge aims to encourage all women to stand up and be counted, and for everyone to reflect on new ways to recognise and break down barriers as we strive towards a gender-equal world.

Let’s get technical

Whilst there have been numerous steps forward in recent years, inequality still plagues the technology industry. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Gender Parity report, women continue to be under-represented among workers with disruptive technical skills. 71% of men had disruptive tech skills such as AI, robotics and genetics compared with just 29% of women.

When other women and girls see themselves represented, they are far more likely to see the career possibilities available to them

“Not only are women vastly underrepresented in the tech arena, but female technologists also often have to work twice as hard to prove their worth,” said Samantha Humphries, Head of Security Strategy EMEA at Exabeam. “This needs to change, and that requires a genuine commitment - not just women supporting one another, but male allies too.

“Representation is essential, and women can absolutely help by being active in going into schools and universities, showing the next generation that this is what a technologist looks like. Happily, I’ve noticed recently that there has been more accessibility for women entering the field.

"At some of the virtual cybersecurity events I’ve attended in the past few months I’ve noticed that there has been improvement in the diversity of speakers. And, when other women and girls see themselves represented, they are far more likely to see the career possibilities available to them.

"When it comes to supporting women in the workplace, mentorship programmes also have numerous benefits: increasing confidence, communication and leadership skills, and helping attract and retain more female talent.”

“One area where men continue to dominate careers is in STEM,” Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft agrees. “One way of closing the gender gap is for organisations to focus on learning and development efforts for women." 

A report by McKinsey Global Institute revealed that around 30% of UK workers face having to transition between occupations or skill levels by 2030 due to technology adoption. So it makes pure business sense for organisations to invest and upskill their female workforce.

 

Helping them to learn a new programming language such as Python, or engage their cloud security skills can support the business, allowing it to flourish and create a culture of innovation.

“My advice to women is to continue challenging the stereotypes," says Nowakowsksa. "Women can thrive in tech, take Whitney Wolfe Herd, CEO of the dating app Bumble, who recently made the news for being the youngest female CEO to take a company public in the US. Take inspiration, trust yourself and continue learning to be your best self.”

Not all women are made equal

International Women’s Day is about celebrating, breaking down barriers and raising the bar for all women. However, It is important to understand that some women face additional challenges and stigmas relating to their culture, ethnicity, religion or sexuality. 

“Culturally, there are still significant barriers that need to be broken down for women all over the world,” Mini Biswas, Presales Manager at Node4 explains. “The UK seems to be ahead of a lot of other countries for this, but globally it is still a huge problem.

“It’s something deeply ingrained into people. For example, I’m a woman from an Asian background; my full name is Mininder Kaur Biswas, given to stamp my Indian identity, and it was just expected of me to teach, cook and get married.

“There are family pressures and stigmas that people need to break through. Women need to find something that promotes self worth and self belief. UK businesses are now looking at equal opportunities regardless of age, race and gender. While that is becoming standard practice now, 20 years ago it was completely different, and many countries are still in that position. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Encourage empowerment

International Women’s Day enables us to elevate women’s voices, celebrate their achievements and reflect on how we can make better progress towards gender parity. Female representation is crucial if we are to break down barriers and eliminate gender stereotypes.

“While it’s more popular for people to follow celebrities on Instagram and Twitter, by adding in a few more inspirational women to their timeline it can have a big impact on people’s mindsets,” Mini continues.

“Women like Lilly Singh and Saron Yitbarek are often sharing their experiences and knowledge to their followers and it can be extremely motivating. Women who have that platform to reach thousands of people in minutes should be encouraged to help empower others.”

“However, the reality is that while many women and male allies are championing workplace diversity, only five of the top FTSE 100 Index companies are steered by women. And at that current rate of growth, it would take more than 80 years for the number to reach 50%,” concludes Nicole Sahin, Founder and CEO, Globalization Partners.

“To achieve greater balance sooner, management teams must make equality for everyone a priority - from the recruiting process, through professional development and management training.

“All female leaders need to claim their place at the table. After all, time and time again research shows that teams that have a mix of all genders, sexualities, and ethnicities will be more collaborative, creative and successful. I’ve found that to absolutely be the case in my experience.

"And whilst making a commitment to creating a diverse, inclusive culture requires more than a simple step. The data clearly indicates that diverse companies perform better and are better for society in turn – the return on investment in gender equality efforts are undoubtedly worth it."

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