In this blog series, we’re looking at the under-representation of women in tech and the positive steps that can be taken to redress the balance. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the industry’s equality issues, it is crucial to examine how girls are introduced to the tech sector. A recent PWC report, citing an OECD study, found that; “girls still lack the confidence to pursue high-paid careers in science and technology, despite their school results being as good as – or better than – those achieved by boys.”
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that women who do transition from education into tech industry roles, carry this imposter syndrome with them. So how can we support those who are currently breaking new ground, and foster an open and inclusive workplace for the next generation?
1. Building a community
As I mentioned in my previous blog, cross-company networking can help tap into a broader community of peers – especially in industries where women are underrepresented. There are some great organisations championing inclusivity across the tech sector, but it’s also important to consider specific programmes which often have underrated benefits.
Change Catalyst is a great example of broad strokes action for diversity in tech. Created in 2014 (when the Silicon Valley tech sector released its first round of diversity numbers), Change Catalyst responded with an initiative that specifically advocates for women and minorities. While many organisations do a good job implementing policy change in tech – through workplace schemes, events, and strategic advice – it’s also important to discover smaller networks within your particular business niche.
I’ve recently been working with Women in Streaming Media: a networking organisation which connects women globally to offer mentorship schemes, explore business opportunities, find events, and share job postings. Being part of this group has given me a chance to further my own career development while also providing very specific career insights to the mentee I’ve been partnered with. The Women in Streaming Media Linkedin group currently has more than 800 members, and community building is one of its core strategies.
These types of online networks, where members can discuss professional as well as personal experiences with other women in their sectors, are incredibly valuable – especially in times like these with widespread social isolation. This approach offers more than just a networking exchange; it also has the potential to build genuine friendships within the industry. As we’re currently seeing on a global scale, these types of micro-communities can have a huge impact on our collective mind-set.
2. Meeting professional goals
If you’re one of a handful of women within your company, it can sometimes be difficult to discuss strategies for meeting career goals and identifying potential barriers. A successful mentorship scheme offers the opportunity to take a step back from the day to day whirlwind of projects in order to identify and clarify your long-term goals.
A good manager has a deep understanding of what motivates their team and makes sure to leverage employees’ strengths. Similarly, good mentoring should be tailored to the individual. The Harvard Business Review recently discussed the stumbling blocks for internal equality initiatives, identifying that in some cases, the focus was on teaching women to “fit the existing mold” instead of giving them the tools to reinvent said mold altogether.” It’s always useful to plan your career development with a level of self-awareness. That said, there is a huge difference between identifying a skills gap that you need training for and trying to achieve promotion within a flawed system.
One thing mentoring and networking have in common is that they put things into perspective. It’s not always about what you need to achieve next, it could also be about promoting your existing achievements within the organisation. Does your company embody a culture that supports fair evaluation, with clear and measurable criteria? If not, an external female-focused group can help identify bigger initiatives to combat this challenge and champion them across your industry.
3. Pulling each other up the ladder
Traditionally, the idea of helping others up the career ladder has been focused on supporting young team members who are new to the workforce or industry. However, a junior title is not always indicative of the employee’s experience level. A recent report shows that more than 20% of women over the age of 35 are still in junior positions (and overall, women are more likely than men to stay in junior roles – regardless of their age). If job titles and roles don’t reflect the real insights women have to offer, we must view network-building as a cross-pollination of ideas and solutions – rather than just a way to get a step-up from someone more senior.
The tech industry shows high rates of women leaving employers mid-career, so a support network is not just a nice thing to have – it’s a career survival skill. Initiatives such as “returnships” have proved a great way for women to get back into more senior roles after taking a break from their careers. In the UK, around 37 companies supported “returnships” last year and 90% of the participants were women. Networking groups such as Women in Tech, play a key role in promoting the awareness of these sorts of programmes.
Overall, developing a network is as much about giving as it is about getting. My recommendation is to always take part in initiatives where the focus is on mutual support and sharing information. The more people you meet and get to know, the more you will feel worthy of a seat at the table.An environment of collective support is not only vital for women’s career development but for the future success of the industry. A Deloitte study found that “companies with inclusive cultures have 22% lower turnover rates, 22% greater productivity, and 27% higher profitability”. Those are the sort of benefits we can all shout about.