On International Women’s Day, Silicon UK celebrates women across the tech sector. With key insights, unique skillsets and a drive to succeed, women are transforming the technology sector.
Sunday, March 8th is International Women’s Day (IWD) Beginning in 1911, IWD is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
Internationally, purple is a colour for symbolising women. Historically the combination of purple, green and white to symbolise women’s equality originated from the Women’s Social and Political Union in the UK in 1908. Purple signifies justice and dignity. Green symbolises hope. White represents purity but, is no longer used due to ‘purity’ being a controversial concept.
The gender bias across science and technology is well known. However, new research from The Knowledge Academy indicates a shift is beginning to take place: The degree which sees the highest percentage increase in female students in Computer Sciences (11.6%).
From Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin, to the contemporary Cori Bargmann, women have contributed immensely in the world of science and technology. And while it used to be, and still is, a male-dominated industry; the number of women choosing to study related degrees is growing year by year. In fact, in the UK, figures from HESA have shown a 3.1% increase in women enrolling in science subjects from last year.
“International Women’s Day is a fantastic opportunity to reflect on the achievements of women and to highlight what can be done to improve diversity in business and push for change,” said Angela Logothetis, CTO, Open Networks, Amdocs.
“As a woman in a senior leadership role, I consider myself fortunate to be given a platform to discuss the industry and diversity issues that I’m passionate about. Not all women in similar positions are given the opportunity to become a voice for the company. This exclusion can influence the public perception of a company, create a gap in role models for the next generation, and can proliferate the lack of diversity in business.”
“However, I am encouraged by some of the recent initiatives that I’ve witnessed to help empower women in the workplace. In some Nordic countries, for example, maternity and paternity leave is divided equally between parents. Being on leave for nine months to a year can result in women falling behind their peers in training, development and promotion.
“By sharing parental leave, it ensures men get an equal opportunity to raise their families, and that women have equal opportunities at work. Meanwhile, it’s great to see more UK businesses supporting flexible working. This includes flexible hours and working four days a week while holding a fulltime role – opportunities that are now available to all employees, including those in very senior leadership roles.
“One piece of advice I always give to both my female and male peers who are aspiring to be leaders is to network as much as possible and build relationships with successful people. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they’ve risen to the position they’re in, and how they’ve overcome challenges in their career. This advice can be invaluable. Asking for what you want can’t be overvalued – whether it’s for help or even a promotion – if you’re confident and direct in your ambitions, you are much more likely to get to where you want to be, faster.”
Jobs for the boys
According to the latest Women in Work Index, the top three countries in the Women in Work 2020 Index are Iceland, Sweden and Slovenia, while the UK remains in 16th place. If the female employment rate across the OECD countries matched Sweden, OECD GDP would be boosted by more than US$6 trillion (£4.63 trillion).
Closing the gender pay gap across the OECD would increase total female earnings by US$2 trillion (£1.54 trillion). Female earnings in the UK would increase by £93 billion – a rise of 20%. On average across the G7, women account for only 30% of the tech workforce, highlighting the need for businesses to improve opportunities for women in the sector.
While the UK performs above the OECD average and is second only to Canada when compared to other G7 economies, its position has barely budged since 2000 when it stood in 17th position, despite improving its performance across all five indicators.
Jing Teow, economist at PwC, commented: “Although progress has been made across both the UK and OECD, the rate of improvement is still slow, despite the prospect of huge economic gains from increasing female participation in the workforce.
“In order for these gains to be realised, businesses and governments need to work together to help get more women into work and ensure that there is a fair and equal pay structure. It’s also crucial that women get the right opportunities to upskill in the face of increasing automation as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
Also, Laura Hinton, Chief People Officer at PwC UK said: “Technology is front and centre for businesses and wider society, so it’s vital we take steps to make the industry as inclusive as possible. It’s encouraging to see progress being made in opportunities for women across the UK as businesses invest across the country, but more needs to be done.
“Long-term, targeted solutions will be vital in making changes sustainable. We know that in areas such as STEM women are under-represented. In order to build and sustain a pipeline of diverse talent, businesses need to work together to encourage girls at young ages through initiatives such as Tech She Can – a programme which inspires and educates young women to get into tech careers.”
Neira Hajro, Partner at McKinsey Digital also explained her experiences: “I’m regularly the only woman in the room – and I don’t doubt that I still will be for several years to come. That brings a lot of attention but also opportunities to make our voice heard.
“As a woman who has always worked in the tech industry, I can confidently say that there are still differences in both how men and women in the sector think – and in how we are perceived. However, change is on the horizon, more organisations are setting hard targets for the number of women at all levels including Boards, and we all, men and women, have a role to play in sponsoring and empowering our female talent.
“Businesses need to show employees that they are supported through all the key moments. Be it transitioning into a new role, going on maternity leave or coming back from one, or juggling both a busy family and work life. A great way to do this is by developing a forum that gives everyone across the business a voice. My teams have regular check-ins where we discuss what each of us needs at the beginning of each project, and we visit those needs and norms throughout to ensure we are supporting each person and providing them with the environment where they can be their best.”
Initiatives to support women in the tech sector are developing. One example is QuantumBlack – McKinsey’s advanced analytics consultancy. The Consultancy’s Helen Mayhew, COO at QuantumBlack explained: “At QuantumBlack, we are actively promoting greater inclusion of women and minority ethnic candidates both in the workplace, as well as outside of it. We recently partnered with [not-for-profit social enterprise] Code First Girls to offer our first QuantumBlack-curated training course designed to help women access the interesting and well-paid opportunities available in the fast-growing data industry.
“Tech needs to do more to attract and engage women starting out in tech, and this 12-week course offers an introduction to Python, one of the most prevalent coding languages, with an emphasis on learning the employable skills needed to take your first steps in the data industry. Offering free-to-access training programmes, focused on teaching employable skills, provides a gateway into a sector which can often feel like a closed club.”
And Anya Rumyantseva, Data Scientist, Hitachi Vantara said: “When I was at school, I took part in a programming competition and I was the only girl in the competition. That’s what it can feel like as a woman working in the tech industry nowadays – being the odd one out, under the spotlight, having to prove yourself repeatedly just because of your gender or even age, not the skills you possess.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll see positive change occur, and it already is in some companies. But this should be the standard. Creating an inclusive environment for women of all ages, where they have equal opportunities and are empowered to achieve their career goals is imperative. Technology is the future and women must have a seat at the table. We should aspire to reach a point where we don’t need to have this conversation anymore.
Creating a level playing field where gender has no bearing on success continues to be a goal all businesses should strive towards. On International Women’s Day, the tech industry should take stock and realize the massive resource that is available.
Silicon in Focus
Carlene Jackson is CEO of Brighton-based tech company Cloud9 Insight, a Microsoft Gold Partner which has provided more than 700 UK businesses with cloud-based CRM software systems. Founded in 2010, the company has 30 staff and is also an award-winning provider of training and apprenticeships programmes which it runs through its sister company Vantage Academy.
Carlene established her first business in Brighton aged 17 and then spent nearly two decades in the software industry working for companies including IBM, Xansa, and Sage before going it alone to take advantage of the booming cloud technology sector. Carlene is one of the ‘Top 10 Female Tech Entrepreneurs to Watch’ according to About Time Magazine.
On International Women’s Day, what is your key advice to women that want to enhance their careers in the tech industry?
As a woman in tech, you must be brave, put yourself outside your comfort zone and try new things. It’s often said that guys are more likely, on average, to apply for a role they don’t yet have the skills for. Many women discount themselves before they even get to the interview stage – don’t undersell your transferable skills and the value of passion, drive and a thirst for learning.
I have found that, in business, people actually want to help. Asking for help or for someone to explain something to you is actually a pretty good way to learn things. Sometimes, women talk about ‘mansplaining’ and so on, but if somebody wants to reveal everything they know about a subject then I’m going to let them.
Is gender bias still a major issue for women across the tech sector?
I wouldn’t say I have never encountered any gender bias, but I don’t feel that it’s really held me back. I think that, if you are expecting discrimination then you will tend to encounter it. Women in tech should stay positive, move forward and, if occasionally you do bump into a troll, don’t allow that to slow your progress. Stand up and be a leader; I promise you’ll find that others will want to follow behind you.
Pay is one area where gender bias is often an issue. When women say they aren’t being paid fairly, I often ask them if they have actually asked for a pay rise. In business, nobody wants to give money away, and many bosses will happily pay you a lower rate if they think they can get away with it. So, be brave, and learn to negotiate and know your worth.
How can the tech sector become more inclusive?
Our industry is known for people working long and unsociable hours, which can be completely impractical for women with small children. At Cloud9, we don’t call people on the holidays. We don’t have long hours. And we’re embracing the concept of flexible working as well as unlimited, unpaid holiday.
Also, it’s important for tech employers to take into account the fact that different kinds of people behave differently. For example, I know that women who work for me are generally less likely to ask for a pay rise than men, so we have competency frameworks in place to give transparency on pay levels based on skills, competence and experience. This helps make sure people are being paid fairly, rather than us just reacting to requests.
Are our educational institutions doing enough to encourage women into technical careers?
I’m not satisfied with the status quo at schools. I have a daughter, aged 17, who isn’t being offered the kind of STEM education I think would be helpful. It’s the same in my son’s school; they’re not being offered the chance to learn technology at a younger age, it’s not a skill that’s required or a subject taught in many schools. As an employer, having employed many 19-year-olds, it’s rare for many employees to have even the basic technical skills needed in a modern workplace.
Where technology is being taught, it is at a later age and it’s quite specialist; you’re being forced to really narrow down. But schools play a critical role in influencing career choices and they need to make sure they’ve got more ambassadors for STEM careers coming into the school that is out of the ordinary.
We need women who have, for instance, worked in the space industry, speaking in public and inspiring girls. It’s not just about the job, but leadership itself, and for girls to imagine themselves as the next leaders in their field. The concept of leadership and entrepreneurship needs to be promoted more at schools. I don’t remember ever actually being encouraged to be a leader, or even consider being an entrepreneur.
In the technology sector, innovation, creativity and problem solving are critical skills needed, which many women have in abundance and need help to appreciate how these strengths could help them excel in the tech sector.
Is it now the norm to see female CTOs, or are women in these roles still the exception rather than the rule?
I wouldn’t say it’s the norm, I have often found myself in rooms where I am the only woman. There are more C-level roles being created for the first time, such as CIO, CXO, and CMO, that are attracting more women, which is helping balance the gender gap on the Board.
What do you think the future looks like for women in the tech sector?
The future is very bright for women entering into the tech sector. Businesses need diversity to thrive, tech businesses in particular. By offering a different perspective, whether it’s through being a woman, an ethnic minority or being neurodiverse like me – I’m dyslexic – you’re helping to build a stronger business that reflects the diversity of our population.
The most successful people I have met in the tech industry have had official or unofficial mentors. Find yours, perhaps more than one. The best ones will be impartial and believe in you, even when you don’t always believe in yourself.
I would love to see more female entrepreneurs. The opportunity lies where there is lots of competition, so don’t be shy to give it a go!