The dialogue around women in technology has come a long way over the last 12 months. It’s been on the industry agenda for a while now and through the concerted efforts of many within our field it’s become a big talking point this year and the gain in momentum is encouraging.
I believe that there is more openness and opportunity to discuss the issues, and a willingness of others to listen and take action. This will help to create an environment that grows existing talent, as well as opens the door for young girls to feel confident pursuing a career in tech.
I have enjoyed being an active member in the evolving conversations throughout this year. It’s been very satisfying to see organisations embracing diversity in the workplace and encouraging the next generation of female STEM talent to flourish.
Organisations like the Stemettes have been doing some fantastic work to actively nurture young women striving for STEM careers. Salesforce worked with Stemettes this year to open a residential summer school that helped a group of 13 to 22 year olds develop their coding and entrepreneurial skills.
>See also: Women in IT Awards
This immersive experience saw a whole host of business concepts emerging, from health-tech ideas to tech solutions designed to combat negative social issues, such as sexual harassment.
It is wonderful to see this progression and passion (particularly when such innovative thinking is coming from young minds) but we must be careful not to rest on our laurels. We still have a long way to go – this is not an issue that will disappear overnight.
Last year, I noted that women made up less than 17% of the technology sector workforce. Disconcertingly, there is nothing to suggest that this number has risen yet. So while I am continually heartened to hear an ongoing dialogue, we must all make sure that these conversations result in positive actions.
There is a growing force of female role models who are using their voice to call out to others, with inspirational outcomes. We have powerhouses like Martha Lane Fox, vociferously denouncing ‘unconscious bias’ in the workplace. Dr Sue Black evangelises that women CAN have it all – motherhood, a successful career and equal pay. In fact, her personal success story is testament to what can be achieved through hard work and determination, even in the face of adversity.
Last year’s winner of the ‘Woman of the Year’ category at Information Age’s Women in IT Awards, Emer Timmons, is another force to be reckoned with. As well as holding a senior role in tech, she is a founding member of the Board of the National Equality Standard, is a member of the Women’s Business Council and still finds the time to work tirelessly on behalf of numerous charities.
It’s also been great to see the creation of a specific technology stream of the UK 30% club striving to ensure that tech companies have at least 30% female representations on the boards. We all know just how much better organisations with women on their senior management teams perform.
And it’s not just women who are driving change – we are also seeing more and more influential men who are just as vocal and passionate about supporting the growth of women in tech. The United Nations seems to have captured this perfectly with its HeforShe campaign and so many male UK CEOs I speak to agree with the idea of male advocacy for gender equality. This is great news for all of us.
It’s increasingly important that we all recognise the role we can play in promoting diversity and equality. While we’ve collectively made great strides in recognising women in technology, and giving their voices a platform, I believe there are three core pillars required to increase our numbers in the sector in a meaningful way.
1. Availability and visibility of role models
Technology companies and industry partners must continue to dedicate events, awards programmes and initiatives that highlight the very best in the sector at all stages of their careers.
By calling out success stories, we offer a whole new wave of inspiration to young women rising up through the ranks. It’s positive reinforcement and I see it working, which is wonderful.
This is why occasions like the Women in IT Awards are such a pleasure to be a part of. They showcase women’s achievements at all different levels and if we want to promote industry role models, this is a great way to do it.
2. Education and ongoing mentoring
Adding coding to the national curriculum has been a critical milestone. How this manifests itself over the course of the next decade will also be critical. STEM education cannot stop at school-leaving age – otherwise, we perpetuate a skills gap. We cannot overlook this, on behalf of both girls and boys. They are our future business leaders, and digital business is so intrinsic to all aspects of our economy.
However, the number of young girls choosing STEM-related subjects, while rising, is still disproportionately low compared to their male counterparts. We need to engage young women in a thoughtful way and readdress the imbalance.
For example, I recently visited a secondary school where all the year 8s completed a large chemistry project on cosmetics. For many of the girls this really brought the subject to life – and not because it was about make-up but because it was about the application of science in the real-world. Rather than being about something theoretical, this was a topic they could relate to and see themselves actually doing as a stimulating and cool career.
Mentorship is also very important. I still benefit from time with my own mentors – I have five of them (men and women). I owe a lot of my success to a number of dedicated mentors over the years and I believe that mentorship has a phenomenal impact on retaining top female talent and encouraging people into the industry. Girls studying STEM need mentors too.
At Salesforce, we believe that you can’t be what you can’t see, so it’s important for women to share their experiences and be given a platform to tell their stories. Only by doing this will we make sure that more and more women are seeing that there are clear, sustainable career choices in the technology sector.
Regardless of gender, we are all responsible for supporting the growth of women in tech. Unless we are committed to transforming the narrative into tangible, positive outcomes, we won’t see that 17% of women in tech rise any time soon.