17 ways to improve gender diversity and equality in the tech industry
STEM initiatives have been flying the female flag for technology, encouraging girls to take up everything from coding to programming. With help from leading women in tech, Molly Raycraft explores how B2B can join the gender equality march
B2B Marketing's InTech 2018 boasts a strong line-up of women who’ve played an influential role in shaping the B2B tech marketing industry. But despite appearances, the tech sector is still lacking in female uptake, with a 77% male majority dominating the STEM scene (Women in STEM 2017 Report). While the demographic is slowly evolving as awareness and diversity initiatives grow, more can be actively done to ensure women have a fairer foothold in tech.
Here are 17 ways we can improve gender diversity and equality in the tech sector.
1. Educate schools about tech
The tech seed is planted in our schools, as the gender gap in STEM topics often germinates in early years of education. Coding, design and engineering should be equally encouraged across all genders if tech is to come to fruition as a career goal in later years.
“The gender disparity in tech is a manifestation of complex societal factors that discourage young girls from pursuing careers in certain industries that are arbitrarily ‘masculine’,” says Jada Balster, VP marketing at Workfront. “We need to start at home and school to improve these numbers and influence women in tech.”
2. Challenge the geeky stereotype
We’ve seen it in everything from Jurassic Park to The IT Crowd – the nerdy middle-aged IT bloke. Promoting a broader representation of tech workers will quash this exclusivity and promote the playground of personalities that exist in the sector. “We need to fix the image problem that tech has,” stresses Doctor Christine Bailey, CMO at Valitor. “Girls need to see that tech is cool and not just something for geeks and middle-aged men with beards and glasses.”
Sophie Leang, global head of marketing at OpenGamma, agrees, “More needs to be done to challenge this stereotype, and to show the many different types of roles and personalities that can be found.” Although, as Sophie points out, progression isn’t stagnant in this area, with campaigns such as ‘Kode with Klossy’, which saw American model and entrepreneur Karlie Kloss take up coding alongside young girls in an attempt to inspire tech leadership qualities.
3. Be the gladiator for your team
Sometimes, such a profusion of opinions can seem daunting, particularly if you’re the in the brave minority seeking to enter the proverbial lion’s den. Leaders need to be the gladiators in these instances – championing and supporting where necessary. “In order for women to maximise their potential in the industry, it’s imperative managers and leaders promote and fight their corner,” says Sophie.
4 ways marketing leaders can champion women:
- Understand the extra challenges they face.
- Go the extra mile to ensure no unnecessary challenges come their way.
- Be approachable and understanding when issues do arise.
- Address all challenges immediately through action, as well as words.
4. Mentor young women
Getting one foot on the ladder is the easy part, but scaling it and smashing through the proverbial glass ceiling is the real challenge. Females in tech need access to mentoring from senior figures in order to learn the skills to break into the often impenetrable c-suite. “Having someone to show you the ropes and guide you can significantly impact your future in a company,” Jada explains. “When women are underrepresented, the importance of a senior female mentor takes even greater significance.”
5. Encourage women to rotate roles
Similar to the phrase ‘try before you buy’, rotation roles can be a good opportunity for women to dip their toe into various skill sets without permanently committing. Malin Liden, VP, SAP Experience, has witnessed first-hand just how much these roles can develop a woman’s industry knowledge, and encourage businesses to rotate their female staff. “Prioritise women when it comes to fellowship or rotation roles because it gives them valuable exposure to the industry.
"It doesn’t mean that person will get the job permanently,” she reassures, “but they get a chance to learn in an accelerated way and it’s that exposure that may help them get their next big job where, in turn, they can promote diversity among their own candidates.”
6. Shine the light on female role models
While it’s crucial to nurture the next generation, there are already large numbers of female marketers plying their trade in tech without the deserved recognition. These women have the potential to be key players in paving the way for future generations, so shine a light on them.
Jane Morrin, director of digital marketing at Corvil, says there’s equally an onus on these women to advocate the tech industry to fellow females. “Women in senior-level tech roles have a responsibility to talk about their position to younger generations,” she explains. “Their very existence in these roles gives a positive perception to younger women that these positions are attainable.”
Exasperated at the lack of network support for women in tech, Malin decided to take matters into her own hands. “I was told there are few female influencers in the technology space,” she recalls. “So, I decided to create a network of influencer women in the company environment.
“Whenever we have a huge event, I get these influencers together at the end of each day and I broadcast a discussion with them.”
7. Consider women in succession planning
What will happen when you leave your c-suite throne? Who will succeed you? Even the British royal family has ditched the archaic ‘male-only’ line of succession, so make sure you’re adopting the same attitude. Analyse the succession plan of your entire company and tackle the areas suffering from a lack of diversity.
And your current plans to implement gender equality will be worthless if you don’t consider the future. “If you want to change the next generation of leadership and key positions, you need to look at succession planning,” says Malin. “If we only have white males as successors, what’s going to change? Not much.”
8. Write more attractive job descriptions
Women are much less likely to apply for a job if they don’t meet 100% of the criteria, compared to males who apply even if they only meet 60% (Hewlett Packard Internal Report). With this in mind, job descriptions should emphasise the opportunity to learn, which will attract so-called ‘diversity candidates' – who are classified as minorities in the workplace.
“It’s about writing job descriptions in such a way that you get the diversity candidates you want by using language that appeals to them,” explains Malin. “Often, diversity applications can be scrapped really early in the process, so the hiring manager, who may be a really big supporter of diversity, doesn’t even get the chance to look at them.”
9. Promote your company as diversity-friendly
The hiring process isn’t a one-way street anymore. As much as a diversity candidate needs to sell themselves as a potential employee, you need to sell yourself to them as an employer.
Failing to appear relevant and unbiased will serve as a red flag to potential candidates, but if you succeed in passing go, your business could become a magnet for female talent.
“We have to show we’re attractive to diversity candidates,” stresses Malin. “If people look at a company and see only white males in management positions, how are they going to look at that company as an employer who can grow their careers?”
10. Share gender diversity data
A transparent view of company’s gender demographic figures would leave no ‘policies’ to hide behind – encouraging businesses to be more proactive in championing gender equality. “Many companies resist change simply because there’s no one to hold them accountable,” explains Jada. “Publishing figures on gender diversity encourages tech companies to take active steps to address the situation. Transparency is the best disinfectant.”
Jane disagrees, suggesting data should be published on a departmental basis, rather than company-wide. “In some cases the overall gender balance could appear quite healthy but when broken down into department it may be found that most female employees are confined to certain departments,” she says.
In the UK, companies with 250 workers or more must publicly share their gender pay gap figures, with over 500 brands having already published their findings ahead of the April 2018 deadline.
11. Tackle recruitment bias
Unconcious bias – making a decision based on prejudice without realising – is present in most businesses. To avoid any risk of discrimination and promote equal opportunities, Jada suggests blind recruitment drives. “This method – with CVs stripped of names and other ways of identifying the individual – means the best candidates will rise to the top. More often, these might have been highly qualified women, in favour of men.”
Nicola Anderson, VP of marketing at GoCardless, also suggests putting at least one woman on the hiring team and explains if you want to attract a diverse team, you need to try diverse methods. “Broaden your talent pool by going beyond the usual recruitment channels,” she suggests. “Review your recruiters, LinkedIn advertising, events, meet-ups and other channels that may have become bias, and look at fresh sources to promote opportunities at your company.”
12. Acknowledge the benefits of gender equality
You may feel worried that making a fuss over gender ratios in your workplace will ‘rock the boat’ and cause friction. The best way to deal with these fears is (like most things in business) to communicate the value and benefits clearly.
It’s also a good idea to tell staff it’s not a case of eradicating men from the office in favour of women, it’s about giving everyone a fair opportunity. “It’s not about men versus women, or trying to get women to be like men,” argues Christine. “Diversity is good for business.”
13. Encourage women to seek sponsors
It’s going to be an easier journey if you’re not sailing against the wind. Therefore, it’s imperative to involve everyone in championing gender equality in the workplace.
Christine argues more male advocates and sponsors are needed. “Women are becoming good at getting mentors, but far fewer women seek male sponsors, compared to the number of men sponsoring other men,” she explains.
And sponsorship goes beyond mentoring – with a sponsor actually giving their chosen protégée tangible opportunities and projects rather than just advising on how to reach career goals.
Also, it may be that some of your male colleagues turn out to be some of your biggest supporters – which Malin notes demonstrates significant progression.
14. Focus on mid-level positions
Like middle-child syndrome, the mid-career point before entering the c-suite is often overlooked in favour of new hires and senior leaders. Ensure you devote some time to those women occupying mid-level roles to ensure they receive opportunities to grow further. “There’s a lot of attention on female CEOs, but often, women never reach the top because the middle of the journey is such a hard slog,” explains Christine.
4 ways to beat the mid-career point:
- Begin at the beginning.
- Develop the talent you have.
- Establish networks and communities of interest.
- Provide strong role models.
15. Provide proper maternity leave and childcare
Legitimate levels of maternity (and paternity) leave have become more common in the workplace over recent years, but surprisingly, flexibility is still a major issue for many.
Recent findings from the BBC that women were actually sacked for taking maternity leave really drives the point home. But for Nicola, this isn’t a shock at all. “[Providing proper maternity leave and childcare] has been discussed so many times, but is still a major issue with women believing they have to choose,” she says. “Flexible working hours are part of our culture and I’m always amazed at how many new hires are so surprised at this.”
Corvil’s Jane Morrin also encourages men to take advantage of these family-friendly policies. “If more men took advantage of these policies, it would level the playing field and women would be in a more equal position in the workplace,” she explains.
16. Drive awareness of tech roles
Tech roles don’t just stop at wiring and coding office software, there’s a whole chocolate box of jobs and responsibilities, so make some noise about all that variety.
That way, you’re more likely to receive a higher uptake from women currently discouraged by the stereotypes presented to them. “It’s not just engineering roles – there are opportunities in all functions from marketing and sales to design and data,” says Nicola.
17. Learn from successful diverse businesses
It’s not just about mentoring women to help them progress, it’s about mentoring yourself. Look to successful businesses that have championed diversity within their teams and determine how to apply this within your business.
“Understand what and how the successful companies have done this, and try to replicate it in the tech sector,” says Nicola. “For instance, what can we learn from the Nordics or tech companies with a high percentage of women in senior positions?”
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