In April of this year, Tech Nation announced that applications for its Exceptional Talent Visa Scheme were nearly five times higher than in 2016, and with good reason: there is a strong need for high-level tech talent in the United Kingdom. In fact, three in four UK businesses have reported a digital skills shortage amongst their employees, and only six months ago, TechUK called upon the UK Government to address the big data skills gap. With all of this going on, one would have thought that we would be positively embracing women in technology and that the number of women in technology fields would be on the increase.
But we are not, and it isn’t.
It’s not just here in the UK, either. USA Today reported that women in Computing might decline another 2% by 2025.
We work in what is arguably the most innovative industry in the world, and yet, some of us are still fighting gender battles that should have confined to history books decades ago. How is this happening?
Last week, I had the chance to attend a ‘Women + Data’ event hosted by EXASOL’s Eva Murray. There, I heard firsthand just how difficult it can be for a woman working in the field of big data analytics (and in the field of technology, in general). Subject matter ranged from outright bullying, personal space invasion and being judged for their looks and the way they might dress, to having to fight for an inclusive workplace culture.
I came away from the event feeling naïve, gobsmacked and conflicted. As we discussed the topics, I openly questioned if it was truly still the case that this discrimination was happening to such an extent in the workplace (opening myself up to a barrage of comments). In hindsight my question was naïve, but the overall outcome from that question was a much greater personal appreciation of the struggle faced by women in technology companies.
Of biggest concern to me personally is that even today, gender still plays a large part in the way a person will be perceived. Many men within the workplace still have a condescending attitude towards their female colleagues and that is not OK.
One of the suggestions at the event was to “Convince them with your Competence”. I believe this is good advice irrespective of if you are male or female. But why is it that, as a woman, there is still a need to go over and above the capabilities of your male colleagues in order to be seen as an equal?
High-performing teams are non-negotiable for an organisation to be successful, and I fundamentally believe that these teams have to be inclusive of all ages, genders and ethnicities. Without that level of diversity, an organization simply cannot achieve its full potential. And yet, some employers continue to overlook or discriminate against women.
So what can we do to help change the culture?
When I started at EXASOL, I made a personal commitment to employ a diverse team of ‘A-Player’ talent. It just doesn’t make sense to discriminate against half of the intellectual capital in the world. I always use a scorecard that describes the mission for the position, outcomes that must be accomplished, and competencies that fit with both the culture of the company and the role. Using a scorecard enables me to evaluate every individual against the role fairly and without innate biases.
In the same way that we hire A-Players, we should promote them. I believe that we do need a bias towards female candidates in this area. According to a study by Grant Thornton, women now account for 25% of senior management roles. If we want to create an environment where women feel like one of the team and not an inferior minority, this will need to increase. Women entering the workplace need strong role models and mentors to learn from.
I have a growing number of young people joining the organization, both male and female, and I don’t want either gender to be influenced by what may have been previously acceptable behavior. It is important that every organization provides an internal structure which enables female colleagues to discuss these issues. More importantly, organizations must actively put solutions in place to ensure that discrimination and bullying of any kind is not tolerated and does not occur in the future.
The response to this is clear: don’t allow condescending behavior in the workplace, irrespective of gender. There is no place for men interrupting women in the workplace, devaluing and putting women down or making “jokes” at their expense. Everybody should be given their opportunity to present their point-of-view and ideas without feeling belittled or bullied.
We also need to make the workplace more inclusive. This was one of the other topics from the event that got me thinking. We work out of a serviced office that has a beer fridge and PlayStation with various sports-related games. Yes, some women like beer and sports, but to anybody looking around the office, the perceived culture is one of beer drinking, sport playing males. We need to think about what our workplace says about us as a company.
It is a sad state of affairs that, in many cases, it is simply due to the societal norms that encourage men to view women differently. God forbid, a woman becomes pregnant and has children; imagine how much time they will need to have off! Biology dictates that only women can bear children, but why should the default position be that it is the women who will need to take time off in the case that their child is ill and cannot go to school? By making it more acceptable for fathers to take time off for parenting duties, we can begin to change the way women are viewed in the workplace.
It is not acceptable to condone discrimination anywhere, in the office or in life. The only way to end this ridiculousness is for everybody to take responsibility for their own actions as well as the actions of those around them. Change is gathering pace and talent comes in all shapes and sizes. Our organizations need that talent. As Uber is finding to its cost, you don’t want to exacerbate that skills shortage by ostracizing 50% of the workforce.