International Women’s Day is something that WeAreThe City fully supports.
This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter, promoting the fact that a balanced world is a better world. However, not all industries are good advocates for gender balance in the workplace. The STEM industry is an example of this – it’s often seen as a being very male-dominated, which can actually discourage women from applying to jobs. In fact, women make up 50 per cent of the UK workforce, but less than 15 per cent in STEM jobs.
With this in mind, WeAreTheCity spoke with eight IT professionals – all of whom are women – to get their thoughts on why gender balance and diversity in the workplace is important, and their advice for other women as to how they can get into the tech industry too.
Breaking through gender barriers in the workplace
One of the biggest hurdles the STEM industry faces is the stereotype that already surrounds it when it comes to gender. As Estee Woods, Director of Public Sector & Public Safety Marketing at Cradlepoint points out, “as a sector devoted to innovation and connectivity, the technology industry is uniquely positioned to help close the gender gap in the workplace. Yet, as recently as 2016, 43 per cent of the 150 highest-earning public companies in Silicon Valley had no female executive officers at all.”
It’s a shame that this has become the norm for STEM, and as Lucie Sadler, Content Manager at Hyve Managed Hosting comments, these “age-old stereotypes about the industry do not reflect the fast-paced, progressive nature of technology, and this needs to change.”
“This year’s theme of #BalanceforBetter reinforces the need for diversity in our industry,” Sadler continues. “IT companies must strive to be fully inclusive, and this change must come from within. Diverse teams work better, bring different perspectives to the table and make employees challenge their own thinking. And that’s a really good thing.”
This notion of diversity is something that Liz Matthews, Head of Community and Education at Mango Solutions agrees with. “Companies are investing in data-driven digital transformation more than ever before and the diversity of roles available in advanced analytics and data science is certainly increasing,” Matthews says.
With this in mind, Liz Cook, People Director at Six Degrees’ advice for the industry, is to make sure that organisations have a “balanced, inclusive workplace that celebrates and enables everyone’s brilliance.” Cook also goes on to mention that it’s important for businesses to “challenge outdated stereotypes and engage people in promoting gender-balance and driving a better working world.”
Encouraging the next generation towards STEM careers
“I think there are two main reasons women aren’t working in technology – a lack of role models, and the perceived culture in IT,” believes Kate Gawron, Senior Database Consultant at Node4. “Young kids learn their entire world from what they see, ‘girls like pink and unicorns, boys like blue and cars’,” Gawron continues. “By the time girls come to do their GCSEs and commit to a career path it’s too late, they’ve already been convinced that IT isn’t for them.”
Gawron has really hit the nail on the head when it comes to addressing the association of STEM with men. ”I’d never planned to become a Database Administrator,” she shares, “but it turns out I’m more than suited to the job. I believe it’s important to have the confidence in yourself to stick to what is important to you, and more often than not another amazing opportunity will open up.”
This is a subject that Jeannie Barry, Director of Technology Enablement at ConnectWise is also passionate about. “Young girls today need people surrounding them who can help to boost their confidence and inspire them to dream big and follow through on those dreams,” Barry says. “With social media all around us, girls are comparing themselves to other girls, causing a lot of self-doubt and lowering self-worth. We need to make sure we’re constantly providing opportunities to grow their confidence and ensure they are focused on their own journey and not trying to be like someone else.”
Encouraging the next generation into choosing STEM as a career path is something that almost everyone agrees as being the first step in solving this imbalance of gender in the industry. “Tech is very male dominated, which can be overwhelming for women considering careers in the sector,” points out Crendal Kear, VP Sales Operations at Exabeam. “People want to work with others that relate to their experiences and the challenges that they face.”
“At a young age, girls need to see that there are more and more women with successful careers, who balance careers and families,” she continues. “As a society, we must encourage and empower girls to say yes to an opportunity and embrace it.”
Finally, Sophia Zheng, Product Manager at Bitglass shares her experience from school, and the fact that she believes the root of the gender gap in the technology industry to have stemmed from there. “I remember being chosen for a gifted and talented ‘Maths Enrichment’ class, and at one point, I was the only girl,” she says. “At ten years old, I didn’t want to be the only girl in the class and, because of that, I didn’t really want to be there at all. I wasn’t the only girl because the school was trying to push out girls, it was simply about how well you performed in maths class and on standardised testing, and I guess not a lot of girls qualified.”
“I think that if the class had been open to everyone who was interested it would have fostered more growth for a wider range of students,” Zheng concludes. “I think that having the option is better than not having one at all. It could have a long-term impact on seeing more girls interested in STEM subjects from a younger age.”
There’s certainly a long way to go until the gender equality in the STEM industry is balanced, but the awareness that International Women’s Day brings can go a long way towards tackling it. It’s important that businesses are aware of the diversity, and that they do all they can to ensure a balanced working environment.