Tuesday 8 March marks International Women’s Day 2022 – an annual celebration of women’s achievements and call to action to address gender inequality and bias. One of this year’s missions focuses on women in tech, to “celebrate digital advancement and champion the women forging innovation through technology.”
It’s an important sentiment in an industry where women make up 19% of the workforce. Women of colour in tech are even more represented, with Black and Hispanic women making up just 3% of workforce, and Asian women 5% (Technation). Despite the progress that has been made on diversity and inclusion, “the proportion of men and women being appointed directors of tech companies in the UK has remained almost exactly the same since 2000.” Add to that the fact that, “the quit rate in technology is more than twice as high for women (47%) than it is for men (17%),” (Women in Tech) and it’s clear we have more to do to attract, retain and nurture women into careers in tech and STEM.
With this in mind, we chatted to some of the smartest women we know to ask their thoughts on how we improve diversity and address inequality to support future generations of women in tech. Here’s what they had to say…
Supporting women in tech
A clear theme from our conversations was that more needs to be done to support women in the workplace, beyond the point of hiring, by creating a culture of pyschological safety.
Valerie Paur has ten year of experience in the industry. In her current role as Lead UX Designer at PickaTale, a reading and audio app for children, she manages a team of designers and researchers to deliver an extensive library of children’s books for families and schools.
“To support women when they are working in tech whether as designers, data scientists or any field,” she explains, “it’s important that employers work to create an inclusive environment. This means setting up a workspace where women will feel heard, respected and validated.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Vuokko Aro, VP of Design at Monzo, in her talk at Canvas Conference last year. “We talk about diversity and inclusion and have done a lot to ensure we’re hiring a more diverse team. I’m really proud of our progress but hiring is just the start. We need to make sure that everyone we hire – different backgrounds, different kinds of personalities, different things going on in their lives – all feel comfortable in sharing their opinions. We would be hiring for nothing if we then spun those people out. We need to make them comfortable with sharing their points of view.”
Shilpa Panchal-Astle, Project Manager at 383, talks about the importance of company culture in creating that environment; “I see more and more women speaking up when they feel unsupported. I think we have the potential to remedy under representation – it’s a combination of education and for those already in tech to empower us to speak up.”
"It’s important that employers work to create an inclusive environment. This means setting up a workspace where women will feel heard, respected and validated."
Valerie Paur, Lead UX Designer, PickaTale
Nurturing the next generation of tech leaders
Alongside supporting the existing workforce, we have a lot more to do to encourage women into tech careers in the first place. Education, training, and representation in leadership positions were recurring themes on this topic.
Victoria Olanipekun, UI Developer at Themis, is a software engineer with a background in product design, currently working towards reducing the global impacts of financial crime. She also runs The Code Champ an online social platform that helps people get into the tech industry through informative videos.
“There should be more awareness about the need for diversity and inclusion across every organisation, from the entry level employees to senior & leadership roles,” she says. “That way, more intentional decisions will be made to include and see more women in tech.
“We need more tech training focused programmes for women, more spotlights on women (just like you’re doing now!), because the more we see, the more we get inspired.”
Role models and mentors can play a big role in this – Victoria mentions Becky George-David starting a new role as Executive Director of Product at JPMorgan Chase & Co as a key inspiration. “It’s been a long time coming and seeing her achieve this feat was quite beautiful, from her technical competence, to seeing a woman in tech – and not just any woman, but another black woman like myself – was quite inspiring.”
Alongside representation, Valerie highlighted the importance of education. “Fundamentally, it comes down to encouraging young girls, whether in school, the media, or extracurricular activities, that careers in tech are not just for men,” she says.
It’s a misconception that starts early; research by Engineering UK shows that only 54% of girls aged 11-19 felt they were capable of becoming an engineer if they wanted to, compared to 69% of boys. The positive is that there’s evidence outreach and education can change those ideas, with young people attending a STEM careers activity over 3 times as likely to consider a career in engineering.
Stats like this highlight the importance of programmes like Girls Who Code, an international non-profit organisation working towards closing the gender gap in technology by teaching girls computer science, bravery, and sisterhood. With a virtual programme for 14-18 year olds, they provide much needed support to guide young girls and non-binary individuals into the world of tech.
"We need more tech training focused programmes for women, more spotlights on women, because the more we see, the more we get inspired."
Victoria Olanipekun, UI Developer at Themis
Looking to the future
The final question we asked focused on what advice our interviewees would offer young women getting started in tech.
Valerie: “Be open minded to different kinds of career opportunities, be curious and also don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. Nobody knows everything, so there’s no point in pretending that you do. Finally, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, even if that means ‘rocking the boat’, no matter where you’re at in your career.”
Victoria: “You just need to start! Remember that imposter syndrome is a thing, so be patient and be willing to grow. Your growth is paramount and you can network with other people deliberately to help with your career plans.”
Shilpa: “You don’t need to be great at coding, understand everything and/or know everything. I don’t and have never claimed to! The best experience you can gain is by always learning from the places you work, the people you work with, the jobs you work in, and the time and effort you put in.”
So, what actions can we take away from this, as individuals and organisations in tech?
Support ongoing training and opportunities for women.
Encouraging your team to grow their current skills, whilst offering new opportunities for women to thrive, will only have positive implications.
Recruit women for leadership positions.
Ensure that you’re actively diversifying your hiring pool and encouraging women to apply for roles.
Understand what changes need to be made.
Many organisations make the mistake of trying to change everything too quickly. Identify the problems within your own teams and highlight areas for improvement.
Searching for your next role in digital product? We’re always looking for superstars to join our team. View our open roles here and drop us your CV.
Images for this article come from #WOCinTech on Unsplash, an amazing collection of creative commons imagery.