Ada Lovelace Day: Tech leaders share their views

Tuesday 11th October marks Ada Lovelace Day, an annual celebration of women’s achievements across the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sectors.

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Despite Lovelace leaving a lasting impact on the technology industry, women still make up just under a quarter of the wider STEM workforce in the UK. With 84% now believing in the importance of increasing diversity in STEM roles, what more can be done to improve the representation of women in the industry? Some of the most influential leaders in the technology sector share their views:

Challenge stereotypes early

“There are so many damaging stereotypes surrounding women with careers in STEM that still deter prospective girls from pursuing a career in tech,” argues Vivian Knight, Technical Analyst at Grayce. This includes “misconceptions that the career is incredibly challenging, or that people who work in STEM have “unpopular” personality traits. These stereotypes are negative and uninviting to all.”

For Nicola Downing, CEO at Ricoh Europe, dismantling these stereotypes early on is key to changing the ongoing narrative around women in STEM. “Encouraging women to pursue STEM-related study or employment starts with giving girls and young women the opportunity to flourish at school, university, and throughout their careers.”

Continuing this momentum in the workplace means businesses need to be introducing long-term programmes and initiatives to continuously support women pursuing STEM careers. “Specific measures to improve gender diversity in the workplace are a necessity, from rethinking recruitment campaigns to focus on the social value benefits of a role, to creating returnships to enable an easy transition for women on a career gap back into work by up-or-reskilling,” argues Sue-Ellen Wright, Managing Director of Aerospace Defence and Security at Sopra Steria.

For Poornima Ramaswamy, Chief Transformation Officer at Qlik, leaders also have a responsibility to create balanced teams within their organisation, beginning in the tech sector. “AI is an area where we can make a start by ensuring we have teams that represent our diverse society and break the diversity bias we’ve had over the years. It’s an opportunity to write a new chapter in history,” she adds.

Honesty and transparency are also key to highlighting the contributions of women in STEM industries. “Women who are vocal about their past and current triumphs help change how everyone views and interacts with women in technology,” says Donna Johnson, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Cradlepoint. “Managers should encourage this to help shed new light on both what works and what can be improved. This is how we truly eliminate bias, by honestly addressing challenges head on, and providing the support to allow people to interact based on our real accomplishments, rather than through gendered assumptions.”

Encourage a diverse range of skills

It’s also important for women to remember studying a STEM subject at school or university is not a prerequisite for pursuing a career in the industry. “I transitioned into a STEM career after feeling demoralised about my long-term career and financial prospects as a university instructor,” recalls Kristen Foster-Marks, Technical Lead at Pluralsight Flow. Seeing the wide range of job opportunities on offer for computer programmers pushed Foster-Marks to learn how to code. “After a six-month intensive bootcamp, I was employable as a junior software developer.” Jamie Lyon, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at Lucid Software, agrees. “As someone who doesn’t come from a tech background, I have found there is immense value in bringing non-technical expertise and perspectives to the table.” Skills like strategic thinking, problem-solving and building strong business partnerships are all “hugely beneficial” to women considering a career in the industry, according to Lyon.

Rosie Gollancz, Software Engineer at VMware Tanzu Labs, echoes a similar journey to Foster-Marks, having had previous experience in product management before transitioning into her current role. However, she acknowledges that while having enjoyed a vast number of opportunities throughout her career this is “sadly not the case” for all women starting out in the engineering and wider STEM industries. “Additionally, in my early career, I found my clients tended to direct questions to the men in the room. I was lucky to have a strong mentor to put a stop to this behaviour which has spurred me on to strive for workplaces where gender is not a factor in how colleagues or clients perceive your contributions,” she added.

"We’ve seen more women enter the industry but it’s still not where we want it to be and there’s more that can be done,” agrees Hayath Hussein, Chief Operating Officer at Com Laude. Businesses should therefore be making a conscious effort to recruit from a wide range of skillsets, backgrounds and experiences in order to increase the visibility of women in STEM roles-starting with inclusive and accessible job descriptions. “Make them simple and avoid writing a wish list – include only what’s needed for the role because women do rule themselves out more often.”

Create more role models

Dismantling stereotypes and recruiting from a wide range of backgrounds will create effective role models for women in the STEM sector, argues Clare Loveridge, Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Arctic Wolf. “This will both improve the visibility of women in the workplace, while removing significant barriers to STEM careers. ”

More needs to be done in order to increase the number of women in the industry. “Many of the world’s biggest tech firms are still facing a dearth of women, which is unsurprising given that just 35% of STEM students in higher education in the UK are women,” continues Foster-Marks. Sharing and celebrating female achievements will therefore go a long way in “inspiring the next generation of tech talent” and creating strong role models for the future, she believes.

Increasing the visibility of women in STEM can also have long-lasting benefits for businesses too. “Women in leadership positions give junior colleagues something to aspire to – I would have loved to have seen this when I started out in the tech sector,” continues Downing. “Having internal role models that young women can learn from encourages ambition and solidarity within teams, fostering a more well-rounded business built on diverse skill sets and outlooks,” she adds. “Attracting a more diverse pool of talent will also allow businesses to indulge in more creative ways of thinking,” Loveridge agrees. This, in turn, will help contribute to the development of highly innovative solutions to the challenges facing business leaders today.

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