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My own career path into technology can be traced all the way back to my childhood. Desperate to get my hands on a computer, I started doing odd jobs for neighbours in return for time on their computers. We couldn’t afford our own, and it would take a lot more trips to the grocery store on my neighbours’ behalf to raise the money for a computer than my patience would allow. Working this way, trading jobs for computer time, meant I got my hands on the keyboard and mouse much quicker and I began teaching myself how to code. The rest, as they say, is history.
For me, computer science became an obvious choice: it was something I enjoyed, fortunately I was good at, and could get paid for, the three key foundations for my career checklist all ticked off. Many women would likely be able to answer these questions in the same way as me, with just as much passion and potential talent. But too often for women in STEM industries, their passion isn’t materializing into promotion or opportunity.
The state of the sector
With the theme of this year’s UN’s International Women’s Day, ‘DigitALL’, focusing on the impact of the digital gender gap, the need to make STEM more inclusive and welcoming towards women is high on leaders’ agendas. Despite the recognition that companies need to make efforts to address the gender imbalance that sees 78% of tech directorial roles held by men, the proportion of women on tech boards has disappointingly remained the same over the last 20+ years.
With numerous campaigns, charities and organisations established in order to help get women and young girls into tech, it’s easy to assume that the problem is solved and that any imbalances will even themselves out eventually if we just give them time. But history has shown that this is simply not the case, and that industry and society as a whole need to work together in order to break the bias and fix the pipeline for getting women into tech roles.
How we can collectively help
One of the biggest barriers women face in trying to enter and be taken seriously within the tech industry are the stereotypes that shroud it. These stereotypes often start to eat away at women from a young age, with a recent UN paper warning that girls are being ‘steered away from STEM’ due to stereotypes often being perpetuated in media and curricula that make technology seem like an unappealing or unlikely career route for them. With women making up less than 20% of STEM professionals worldwide it’s unsurprising that 78% of students are unable to name a single famous woman in tech. With this outlook, it can be easy to continue to label it as a male domain and see it as impenetrable or unwelcoming, deterring women from applying or having ambitions to enter these roles. However, this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy that both women and men need to be conscious of in order to break. There is no easy fix to unconscious bias but a good place to start is having both men and women taking responsibility. This means that women have a responsibility to break the bias by taking risks, and we all break the bias by not judging women harshly when they do take these risks. Equally, women break the bias by applying for leadership roles, and we all help to break the bias by giving women a fair chance when they do.
How businesses can do better
Part of giving women a fair chance when they apply for these roles is making the means in which candidates are judged fairly too. Women are judged by what they have already done, whereas men are often promoted based on their potential. This is detrimental especially when it comes to promoting and hiring women in leadership positions because their potential is ignored until it is proven. Helping women into leadership positions isn’t about special treatment or favouring female candidates, it's about giving them an equal chance to compete and a level playing field in which to do so.
Alongside judging candidates by the same metric of potential and proof, it is equally crucial that the pipeline reflects what companies are trying to achieve: a more equal workplace. With the economic conditions freezing the hiring process for a lot of companies, they are in a great place to be able to enact this change now and approach hiring with more diversity in the future. At Druva we always talk about ‘antifragility’, the idea of being able to see opportunities in uncertainty and embrace them, and this is one of them. By companies taking time to adapt the pipeline for talent to reflect what companies are trying to achieve, they can truly be the change they wish to see and make positive steps towards welcoming more women into the industry.
However, equality in the workplace doesn’t just begin and end with the hiring process, pay inequality is a big hurdle that companies need to overcome as well in order to bring opportunities for women and men into alignment. Without addressing the pay gap, which 32% of women identified as their biggest challenge in tech, companies face losing female talent. This is particularly crucial in the technology sector, who have been revealed to have a larger than average pay gap of 16%. It is also the case that women occupy less than a quarter of top-paying jobs in the industry, while holding about 40% of the lowest paid jobs.
Pay equality is often thought of in black and white terms: that if a woman and man had the same job, they’d be offered the same pay cheque, but the issue of pay equality runs deeper than this, reflecting women being underrepresented in senior roles. Organisations can begin to make a difference here by looking more closely at the salary paid not just by job but also by level and function. Companies have historically gotten around this by placing women in lower level roles and showing parity on pay but this doesn’t count. Firstly, women need to be promoted based on the same metric of potential and not just proven experience and, when this happens, companies need to ensure that equal pay is given for equal value of work.
Changing the status quo
It’s not too late to change the trajectory and widen access to jobs in the technology sector for women. I’ve had the pleasure of working with several inspiring men and women alike and seeing their career paths go in equally exciting, inspiring and fulfilling directions. However, this can only happen when companies create an atmosphere that is conducive to success. This means organisations fixing the pipeline to promotion so women have opportunities, that they’re judged fairly and on equal metric in the process and if they succeed, they’re paid correctly and in parity with their male colleagues.
Preethi Srinivasan, Director of Innovation, Druva
Preethi Srinivasan is the Director of Innovation at Druva, the organization that pioneered a SaaS-based approach to data protection, eliminating complex infrastructure and related management costs, and delivering data resiliency via a single platform spanning multiple
geographies and clouds. She enjoys leading innovative product initiatives and exploring new technologies.