International Women’s Day 2021: maintaining support for women in tech

This year’s International Women’s Day observes the theme ‘Choose to Challenge’, aiming to raise awareness of gender bias and inequality within many industries including tech, while recognising the achievements of women. Despite much progress being made, only 19% of the UK tech workforce are women, according to Tech Nation.

With this in mind, we take a look at how prospective and current female tech employees can be better encouraged and recognised, while challenging bias and inequality, on International Women’s Day and beyond.

Challenging inequality

In line with this year’s International Women’s Day theme, Elisa Costante, vice-president of research at Forescout, stressed the importance of challenging bias in order to ensure a more diverse environment in tech.

“Having chosen a career in a traditionally male-dominated industry, I know that it is important to call out bias – whether conscious or unconscious – whenever we see it in order to create an environment where anyone, regardless of their gender, sexuality or ethnicity, can succeed,” said Costante.

“Managers and senior leadership have the insights and decision-making power to prevent common equality blockers like the gender pay gap or maternity leave from having a detrimental impact onto someone’s career.

“My hope for this year’s International Women’s Day is that we will all take a moment to reflect on how we can make workplaces an unbiased and diverse environment so that everyone is able to live up to their full potential. On an individual level, I don’t believe that advice we give to women on how to have a successful and fulfilling career should be any different to men – if they work in an equal opportunities environment!

“In my view, the advice boils down to three things: you need to work hard, believe in yourself and not be afraid to voice your opinions.”

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The importance of role models

With women increasingly taking up leadership roles within tech, having those women serve as role models for those who are beginning their careers in the sector can be impactful for encouraging confidence.

Revathy Jeevanantham, technology manager at PARK NOW Group, explained how learning from women around her from an early age inspired her to succeed: “I grew up in a big family surrounded by strong women, but their strength was displayed in lots of different ways. Whether that was determination after a tragedy or being the glue that holds the family together, these women shaped me. That is not to say I always made choices that they agreed with; I wanted more and pushed the boundaries of what was expected as a woman.

“Leaning on others has also helped me succeed – finding women who can be your sounding boards and who make you feel like we are all in it together; whether that is home schooling or pushing through a work project, are so important. It’s a wonderful feeling to be inspired by the women around you and to feel solidarity with them.

“As a woman in tech, I think the biggest barrier to the industry is actually instilled in us as children. We need to make careers in technology appealing to little girls, to show them how exciting and accessible they can be. Once you hit university or first jobs, it is often too late to encourage a career in technology. It has to happen at a young age and women like me, in technology roles, need to step up to make this happen.”

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Considering working mothers and carers

The Covid-19 pandemic has redefined what is possible in the world of work in many ways, and this includes working while caring for children or other family members in need. It’s important that employers continue to back and be considerate about the additional duties of women, in the tech sector and beyond.

“This year, International Women’s Day comes at a time when our world, communities, governments, and businesses across the globe adapt, reassess and reinvent themselves in the wake of a persistent pandemic,” said Sarah Shin, chief diversity officer at Cloudera. “Women have found themselves balancing work, child care providers, teachers, and caregivers for older family members – the Jill of all trades – overnight.

“With nearly 70% of women experiencing adverse changes to their daily routine, the juggling act many of us have had to endure throughout the pandemic is predicted to undo decades of progress for women in the workplace. When it is taken into account that companies with more than 30% of female executives are more likely to outperform companies where this percentage was less, letting years of progression unravel is simply out of the question. It is imperative women’s positions in the workplace are put back to the top of this agenda.

“Any person who has a child/ren or elder care requirements, and needs to balance their career with these responsibilities, should be given the provisions to do so. The pandemic gave us no other ‘choice’ but to work it out, however in doing so, it’s also shown it is possible to work in a different way.

“It is outdated and archaic to think that there needs to be such a clear distinction between when we work and when we become ‘mums’. Unsurprisingly, when given the flexibility, women can flourish at doing both. It’s time to tear through convention and use the pandemic as a moment to pause and ask what’s possible, now? Because when we do, we’ll find women are the power workers we’ve always had, but never fully appreciated.”

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Diversity initiatives

It’s also vital that diversity and inclusion are held at the heart of company culture, and initiatives relating to these matters can go a long way in integrating this.

“Diversity and inclusion need to be top considerations for all businesses, with initiatives designed specifically to promote the growth of female employees, as well as those from ethnic backgrounds, within their organisations,” said Sarah Wood, head of Women’s Business Network at NTT DATA UK.

“Recently, we have seen more and more businesses embracing these kinds of diversity initiatives. Driving female leadership, in particular, has become a top priority across the industry in the last 15 to 16 months.

“Going forwards, it is vital that the right support is available to those who need it. When employers take each employee’s individual needs into account, not only will they get more out of their people, but they will also cultivate a more inclusive and supportive working environment. In turn, this will lead to greater creativity, collaboration and innovation amongst teams – key ingredients for a successful business.”

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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.