Women in Tech

It is no secret that tech industries are largely male dominated spaces. Work is underway to address these inequalities, with schools launching campaigns to steer children towards careers in tech, but meaningful change is still a generation away from making a difference. The women already holding positions in tech are the vanguard for this change, but is it enough to hold down the fort? What are the realities of being a woman in tech and what should the wider industry be doing to help?

With Wembley Stadium as the stage, we brought together a group of CISOs, CTOs, CIOs, and key industry heads and directors to discuss the responsibilities of being ‘women in tech’ and more about:

  • Industry double standards
  • Mentoring the younger generation
  • Inter-gender vs. inter-generational differences
  • How the rise of remote working has impacted women in tech

The responsibilities and challenges

Not every woman has the same journey or experience in the tech industry. Some have had to fight to be recognised, where others have been supported and nurtured as they progress up the ladder. Regardless of their journey, there is an assumption that because ‘women in tech’ has such a spotlight on it, everything is OK now. Instead, these women who now hold positions of influence within the industry are burdened with a great responsibility. Not only is it on their shoulders to present the tech industries as viable career paths for women, but they also have to fight against the assumptions that they got to where they did because of diversity KPIs.

Consciously working to promote better diversity at every level of an organisation is not a bad thing, but there will be people who struggle to see it as little more than a diversity tick box exercise. Greater diversity has been proven to increase creativity, problem solving, and drives innovation. At the same time however, there is a risk that women who are promoted prematurely are unintentionally set up for failure – thereby fuelling the fire that women don’t belong in tech.

Ironically, efforts to drive diversity have created a culture where perfection is demanded of women because one slip up might erase years of progress in an organisation. Women are therefore under immense pressure to be role models for the next generation while also being held to much higher standards than their male counterparts.

Forging the path

For a lot of the most senior women in tech today, their career paths have been more about jumping on opportunities than they have been about following a structured path. How then are they to support the next generation when they themselves had no structure? When speaking and mentoring today, these women are instead emphasising the diversity in tech roles and encouraging their mentees to take on roles and opportunities that might seem out of reach on paper – something their male counterparts have no trouble doing.

Getting into the tech industry is often prohibitively difficult, with high demands for certain skills and qualifications. However, with no clear route into or through the industry, there needs to be a greater emphasis on the softer skills. It’s no coincidence that these soft skills most needed in the industry, but least valued, also happen to be areas where women tend to excel. Changing the way the industry thinks about skill requirements and hiring practices would go a long way to levelling the playing field, but hiring is not the only place where this bias against women persists.

Talent review boards, appraisals, and every other occasion where an employee might be judged on their skills and character are also prone to being too heavily weighted against women. Some women can easily be passed over for opportunities because what they bring to the table is misrepresented and pejoratively labelled “shy” or “emotional”. More senior women within an organisation need to be involved in these processes to ensure that unconscious gender bias isn’t handicapping staff, but at the same time, if women just mentor and appraise women, and men just mentor and appraise men, the gender divide only grows. Instead, work needs to be done at a higher level to change the way these situations are approached.

It’s no coincidence that the soft skills least valued in the industry also happen to be areas where women tend to excel

Mentoring the future

Taking young staff under your wing is a fantastic way to nurture and support staff to help them achieve and thrive within the industry. One thing that mentors need to be mindful of however, is ensuring that the wisdom and guidance that is being passed down is still relevant. A lot of women in tech have fought tooth and claw for their positions and this has come at the expense of turning a blind eye to inappropriate comments and poor working environments.

Yes, there is an important element of helping mentees to know when to pick their battles, but at the same time, it is vital that we don’t teach them to repeat the mistakes of the past. Times are changing and just because the incumbent women in tech have had to turn a blind eye and knuckle under, doesn’t mean that the future women in tech should.

Fortunately, the young women and men coming up into tech are not ones to shy away from these confrontations. The inter-gender dynamics that plague the upper levels of the industry are no way near as common in the new generation, and both men and women will more than happily address injustice and inappropriate behaviour where they see it. As such, it is as important to ensure that mentees get a chance to reverse mentor in the hopes of conquering the inter-generational divide. Instead of preparing young women to handle the industry, we should be educating the entrenched senior leadership who perpetuate the problem.

Ending bad habits

An outdated approach to handling male colleagues is not the only bad habit women risk passing on to the next generation. As a result of all the pressure placed on them to be perfect, by the industry but also by themselves, women tend to overwork to validate their position in the company. This is also true of men, but not to the same extent. The senior leadership who struggle to fully disconnect when taking holidays, if they take them at all, need to be mindful of not passing down these unhealthy habits.

It is easy to get so distracted with overwork that opportunities to advance and progress with a career are missed. A key piece of advice for anyone who feels like overworking and burning out is the only route to success in the industry is to not let your job get in the way of your career.

Instead of preparing young women to handle the industry, we should be educating the entrenched senior leadership who perpetuate the problem

The remote working debate

Remote working represents an interesting opportunity for women in tech. On one hand, it allows women from a wider variety of backgrounds to more easily enter the workforce. On the other, remote working disproportionately affects women in the way it alters their career trajectory. In traditional workplaces, being seen and being present go a long way to impacting your future career prospects within an organisation. In a remote environment, this is largely driven by asking for it.

Women are far less likely to ask for a raise or a promotion and are far more likely to be underpaid as a result of not feeling comfortable asking for what they deserve as they are just grateful to be given the opportunity. Offering effective hybrid working solutions is vital to bridging this gap. Again, this is less of a problem with newer generations, but this change is still a generation away and pay transparency as well as clear pathways for advancement are required to combat these inequalities in the current generation.

Getting better?

It is difficult enough to be operating at the top of their field without women in tech feeling like the burden to improve the situation sits solely upon their shoulders. As it stands, the situation looks optimistic for the future, but until that future comes, the current generation are left struggling in an industry that needs to evolve. The rise of ‘woke/anti-woke’ sentiment has driven a wedge between the genders as well as the generations and the previously receding tide of sexism threatens to come in again.

One thing is absolutely clear – the men currently occupying leadership roles within the industry aren’t doing enough. The situation will only be improved with better education and greater diversity within the industry, but until men step up and take their fair share of responsibility when it comes to improving the industry, we’ll be stuck waiting for the next generation.

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