How to unlock potential and narrow the technology gender gap

Take a look around any IT company and you’ll be struck by a simple inescapable fact: there are an awful lot more men than women, especially when it comes to leadership positions.

IT is not unique, of course. There have always been industries that are more appealing to men than women – and vice versa.

But while it’s true the technology industry is male-dominated, with women accounting for only 18 per cent of ICT professionals, the number of women working in the IT space has grown exponentially. Nevertheless these improvements and changes have occurred more slowly than they could and should have. So, it is important that both society and organisations maintain the pressure to boost the participation of women and change women’s perceptions of the technology industry.

Showcase the great role models of today and fight micro-inequities

After spending a year at the Danish consulate in San Francisco, I moved to Silicon Valley and was highly motivated by the true meritocracy I found very early on. The IT Industry is so dynamic and energising – it provides great career opportunities for anyone who thrives in a fast moving environment.

Today, the common misconception of the role of women in the workplace is changing as more women are recognised for their contribution to technology – such as Marisa Mayer, the VP and engineer behind Google Maps, Earth, Street View and more. The fight against micro-inequities, that often suggests women should take a back-seat role, need to continue. Many of the stories Sheryl Sandberg shared in her book “Lean In” are experiences I and many of my female colleagues have experienced as well.

Make female talent a focus integral to every step  

So what can be done to give women more opportunities to shine and bring new and fresh perspectives into the core of technological advancements? First of all, promoting diversity in the workplace needs to be an integral part of everything a business does, from recruitment to training, promotion and the nurturing of future leaders. For the IT industry, that means fighting against the perception that it is an ‘all-boys club’ and taking direct, tangible actions to assist the progression of female talent in organisations. For instance, introducing career days and shadowing female role models within companies can help to inspire the next generation of female tech-leaders.

Marianne and her Chemistry teacher

Role models are incredibly important. I had a female chemistry teacher who was married to a very famous painter and could have easily chosen not to pursue a career. But through hard work and perseverance, she became the first female chemistry teacher in Denmark (and the best teacher I ever had). She was, and remains, a huge inspiration to me and I believe it is the responsibility of female leaders in the industry to be this kind of role model and empower future generations.

Provide support at all career stages with mentoring and coaching

The importance of mentoring programmes within businesses cannot be stressed enough. Nurturing the talent that is brought into the business is an important part of building a balanced pipeline of leaders. In my view, senior women have a huge responsibility for mentoring and supporting the younger women entering the workforce. As many women will go through significant life changes during their career, like having children, they can benefit from same-gender mentors. These mentors can not only aid in their professional development, but build confidence and help proactively address challenges that inevitably occur when they embark on their career. I have three children myself and found great support and advice from senior leaders when I first had to find the balance of juggling family life and my career.

Make STEM more accessible

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is the best starting place for female students aspiring to develop a career in technology, but it can be hard to get them interested. So it’s important that schools, parents and women in technology show and explain how these subjects can be interesting and applied in a way that is exciting to them. Perhaps cloud computing and data centres can be explained through popular online fashion outlets like ASOS and Nasty Gal – the latter, famously created by a young girl on a laptop.

It’s important to make the subjects relatable off the pages and outside the classroom. Girl Guides and Girl Scouts have recently updated their badges to include science and technology activities to encourage girls to be interested in STEM subjects. And it’s often forgotten that the original aim behind the launch of Dr. Who in 1963 was to get children interested in STEM.

The right balance

The technology industry has the ability to accelerate progress in equality and achieve gender balance in their operations as more and more female leaders emerge to act as role models for future technology leaders entering the industry. A balanced workplace encourages collaboration and productivity and, by bringing different perspectives together, enables businesses to be more successful, more creative and more innovative.

About the author

This article was provided by Marianne Calder, VP EMEA, Puppet.Marienne

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