Where are we now? Why aren't women going into STEM roles?
How do we get more to enter the workforce?
THE FACTS – YOUNGER YEARS
Many of the issues that faced female inventors, dreamers and artists of history remain relevant today. It is with this in mind that we now focus on what to do to highlight the women of today, and of tomorrow. Asking questions such as; ‘How can we reach gender parity in the workplace?’ and ‘What can we do to encourage more women into STEM workplaces?’
If you are in any doubt about the need for more women in the tech industry we can turn to one thing everyone is interested in – the bottom line.
“The UK economy would benefit from an extra £2.6 billion each year if we increase the number of women working in tech to fill the prevalent IT skills shortage.”
The unsavory facts are that women and girls have a long way to go to become equal partners in all areas of the workforce, but the area hardest hit by the lingering murky shadow of the patriarchy is computer technology.
Whether it is a miscommunication about the reality of tech, stereotypes about spotty male loner geeks tapping on their laptop in a darkened broom closet or just that there aren’t enough women in the public eye as role models – there just aren’t enough females entering the industry.
Women and girls continue to demonstrate that they have the skills to excel in education and as such are 35% more likely than their male peers to go to university (Higher Education Policy Institute) and that gap is widening every year. Yet some countries are doing better than others at encouraging our brightest minds into tech careers.
Helen Briggs, reporter for BBC Online, recently stated that the UK has the lowest percentage of female workers in the field of engineering when compared to our European counterparts. Not just by a little bit either. Briggs highlights that Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus are attracting 30% of women into engineering roles whilst the UK is struggling to get up to 10%. So what are they doing right tha the UK could learn from? Little time or investment appears to dedicated to it by central government to explore this. The focus remains that of encouraging women at a younger age to ‘have a go’.
THE FACTS – IN THE WORKPLACE
In the workplace:
Just half of the girls that study IT and tech subjects at school go into a job in the same field.
More than 9 in 10 STEM apprenticeship achievers are men.
“We have a national digital skills crisis; there are something like 600,000 vacancies in the tech sector forecast to rise to 1 million by 2020.”
Susan Bowen from TechUK and Cogeco Peer 1.
THE FACTS – IN THE BOARDROOM
In the boardroom:
Only 5% of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women.
THE POWER OF PERCEPTION
Perception of gender parity has long been an issue when it comes to arguing for a focus on funding and continued discussion on how to increase the number of women in the workplace. If people don’t ‘see’ the real disparity but have noticed a change they can overestimate the impact of the progress made.
"What percentage of the world's 500 largest companies CEOs are women?"
Estimates VS Reality by Country
This is in no way saying that those that overestimate, as in the example above, are averse to change or are disinterested in altering the current status quo. Rather this is evidence of how easily a change in the places we work can warp perception as we tend to notice something that is different more than something that we have seen day in day out.
Whatever the perception of women in the upper ranks of business, the figures show that those companies that champion women are more successful.
At school level, there has been a noticeable increase in programs encouraging girls to consider STEM subjects. Some programs have been initiated by government, charities, universities and by employers. Many encourage interaction between educators, people working in STEM related industries and companies local to each enterprise. This creates a tangible pathway for girls interested in areas such as computer sciences to see the reality of that career and cut through the misinformation and stereotypes that usually prevail.
ARE WE CELEBRATING TOO EARLY?
With the increased focus on getting women into the workplace, and the self-congratulation by those companies who have programs, are we missing an important area that needs immediate and drastic change?
Working conditions, sexism, even serious assaults have been alleged to be rife amongst the world’s largest and long-established tech companies. Not just commonplace but routinely swept under the carpet. See recent claims against Microsoft and new exposé book, ‘Brotopia’ by Emily Chang, which shines a light on the sex party, strip club, bro culture that marginalizes and alienates female workers in Silicon Valley.
Is this due to the misogynist era in which these companies began their journey? If so, are younger, smaller, more agile companies better placed to deliver the kind of workplaces that enable women and men to be equal? It stands to reason that newer organizations have the opportunity to set the agenda for gender parity from the beginning rather than try and steer HR policies and engrained patterns of behavior in the right direction.
“At work, however, the playing field is unfavourable to women with cultural biases and institutional barriers actively hindering the advancement of women.”
Griselda Togobo, Managing Director of Forward Ladies
Sheridan Ash, Technology and Investments Director at PwC and PwC’s Women in technology – Change the ratio initiative lead, Sheridan Ash says
“We need to share our experiences, support one another, and make sure women have appropriate representation in senior roles. If you support this objective and want to make a difference, and let’s face it, we all need to take responsibility.”
Progress will not be made solely by making our offices and boardrooms 50/50. We need to change the working environment that has for living memory existed to suit men and women. We need to challenge bad behaviours, educate employees and equally reward outstanding performers.
Men need to be advocates and cheerleaders for female employees and co-workers that deserve praise. And women? Women need to continue to fight against the patriarchal establishment despite the pressure to conform the social norm and encourage the next generation of bright women.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
This year International Women’s day has asked companies to #PressforProgress. They want us to concentrate on what we can do rather than the problem with a series of commitments. Pick one (or more) and commit to it for one year and see how it works for you. It’s a baby-steps approach to real cultural change that may just work. And, it helps that they aren’t insurmountable promises.
sales-i, in further recognition of the importance of women in the tech industry, wanted to get involved. Our choice was an easy decision – to celebrate women’s achievements.
Although far from gender parity, in the UK workplace sales-i has at least one woman in every department. Each has a story to tell in how they found their way to a career in a tech, the obstacles they faced and the social expectations they had to challenge to become the valued members of the sales-i team that they are today.