Business is about people…all people. But, due to many complex reasons, we find ourselves revisiting the diversity dilemma in tech this International Women’s Day. 49 percent of the working population is female, yet women remain underrepresented in many industries, including tech. The odd thing is women have always been in tech and were at the forefront back when it was considered “menial”. But as tech became more profitable, high status and salaries grew, it changed from a space that empowered women to one where they no longer felt welcome.
A hangover from this is still being felt in tech, with reinforced gender biases proving hard to budge. Even if women are no longer banging their heads on a glass ceiling, the fact it’s still perceived can manifest in very real ways, influencing women’s career choices and slowing their progression once they’re in a role. Here at Softcat, we’re working hard to increase diversity across all levels. We signed the Tech Talent Charter in 2018, publicly committing to improving gender balance in our industry. Our hugely successful Women in Business Network is attracting more female talent to our company and helping to develop their careers into existing and future roles.
Softcat is committed to creating a culture that women can thrive in. Our overall gender balance has increased by 4% to 31% in recent years and we’re looking to reach 35% by 2030.
In our Management Team, gender balance is improving too – by 1% to 24%, as well as in our Senior Leadership Team – from 10% to 20%. We’re certainly moving in the right direction and are looking forward to building on this success.
Covid-19 has disrupted the status quo
COVID-19 has disrupted every part of life, including work. And there’s no doubt this shake-up of the status quo has been both a catalyst for change in some ways while undoing decades of progress in many others. Some women have risen up, demonstrating strong leadership, clear thinking and empathy during the chaos of the emergency phase of the pandemic. While others became overburdened by the unequal division of labour at home, cited by studies as one of the biggest challenges facing female employees during the pandemic, forcing women to juggle their career with childcare, home-schooling and housework.
In my view, it’s fair to say women have disproportionately borne the brunt of the COVID-19 storm and are at risk of burning out. Organisations must keep their eyes open and ears to the ground to identify and support employees through these difficult times and remember the lessons the pandemic has taught us about the people who make up the workforce, and their unique personalities, histories and skills.
A spotlight on leadership
Interestingly, tech leadership has a better gender balance than the overall workforce; 23% vs 29% according to a Tech Nation report. This may look positive, but as in any industry, there are leadership roles like marketing and HR that are more likely to be headed by women than say finance, sales or procurement. Another issue seems to be the same senior women in tech moving around the circuit at the expense of fresh female talent joining the industry or climbing the ranks from within. The absence of women across all leadership roles has a knock-on effect on every area of a business, including profits. It also trickles down to the decisions being made by girls and young women, who lack female role models when they start their journeys in education and the corporate world, fuelling a vicious cycle.
Choose to challenge
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge” and challenge we all must. The reasons why women are underrepresented in tech leadership are complex and therefore initiatives to reverse this must be multi-faceted. For females with a dream to reach the top in tech, my advice is to go for it and always be yourself. Let your drive and achievements shape opinions and excel your career – don’t try to be something you’re not. Never be put off from applying for a new role or a promotion. Demand more from yourself and your organisation. Question more. Reach out to others and develop those all-important connections and relationships that can open up opportunities to catapult your career. Understand that your unique qualities are why you’re so valuable.
If you’re a leader in tech, use your position to benefit female colleagues (be it through mentorship, calling out bias when you see it or identifying the next generation of talent). Try not to fall victim to imposter syndrome which can hold back your achievements, and those of others. Being in a position of power doesn’t mean you’re alone - bring your team on the journey with you.
For those, of any gender, responsible at the top for creating an inclusive place to work, it’s important to understand women don’t want to be treated the same as men because we’re not. True equality is where our differences are celebrated and championed, and to achieve this, organisations must support equality of opportunity for everybody.
A key example of this is women’s health awareness and policies to support female employees across life stages such as pregnancy, maternity leave and career breaks, and the menopause. Some women choose to have children later in life once they’ve established a successful career, while others reach leadership at a time when the menopause can present huge challenges – emotionally and physically.
Workplace benefits and initiatives can help immensely, such as flexible working arrangements for those who need it, “returnships” to re-build skills and confidence when women come back after a career break, and networks where women at all levels can share their experiences openly.
The future is female
The changes I’ve witnessed working in some of the UK’s largest tech companies over the past two decades have been truly inspiring, but it’s clear we’ve still got a long way to go to smash tech’s glass ceiling once and for all. As the first female Director of Public Sector at Softcat I’m committed to using this platform to challenge bias, lead by example and pave the way for the next generation of female leaders in Softcat and the wider industry. Together, we will succeed.