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Top Women in Tech Discuss the Gender Equity Puzzle and the Change Needed

10 months ago by Louise Smith
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Three women having a panel discussion in front of a group

This year, as part of our networking group, Gravitas Women in Tech, I was delighted to host a virtual panel discussion on the theme of embracing equity, as part of International Women's Day 2023.

A diverse group of women working in tech attended, from across the industry, contributing to an informative discussion led by our panel of three inspiring and established women working within technology...

  • Sarah Persov | Engineering Team Lead, Head of Women in Tech at Dojo
    Sarah talked about her experience leading a backend software engineer team and pioneering Women in Tech advocacy to help promote a more inclusive culture and empower women.

  • Neelam Khosla-Stevens | Higher Education Consultant & Interim Registrar
    Neelam is an experienced HE professional who shared her thoughts on the many types of equity challenges in the workplace.

  • Esther Ogunmefun | Software Engineer
    Esther discussed her views on equity in the workplace, how we can aim to achieve it and some of the challenges faced.

The aim of the discussion was to gain an understanding of how organisations can create gender equity in the workplace. Our guests considered topics such as, the differences between equity and equality, why equal opportunities in technology are no longer enough, and the real costs of not maximising the talent of all genders in the workplace.

Despite the varied individual insights and experiences, some common themes emerged:

  • Culture

  • Allies & mentors

  • Education

  • Leadership

In this article, I’ll take a closer look at each one of these themes, sharing insights from the event to assist you in your own personal or workplace journey to gender equity.

One of our guests very beautifully summarised the discussion and its themes as the "different pieces of the equity jigsaw puzzle". Let’s take a look!

Assess your culture, onboarding, and development, to ensure retention

Embracing equity means truly embracing cultural change. Mandatory tick box exercises do not work. Whilst progress has been made in many organisations, our guests believe that, in general, progress towards gender equity for women in technology, is nowhere near where it should be.

Whilst the wider narrative often focuses on the lack of women entering the technology profession, our panel believe that this is something of a misconception, with the biggest problem being retaining female tech specialists once they join a team.

The question to ask before hiring women should be, “is my company inclusive and open to change”, then take a long hard, honest, look at your culture. Any problems need to be addressed. Ask difficult questions such as, "is everyone embracing the idea from the top down?”, “do we have the right benefits and policies in place”, and “is our onboarding process fit for purpose”.

This should be applied not just in the case of gender, but diversity in general. If not everyone in the organisation is behind it, if it isn't fully embedded into the culture, it’s likely that those people you've spent time attracting and hiring, will leave.

How allies and mentors are crucial to gender equity

All panellists vehemently agreed that mentors and allies have a crucial role in helping to retain women and advancing gender equity. A strong mentor or coach, especially a woman a few years further down the career path, can be invaluable in helping support individuals.

'Individual' is the key word when aiming for equity versus just equality. Equality is about giving everybody the same opportunities; equity is about recognising that people will all come from different starting points. Recognising the fact that two people, even in the same role, will have differing needs, and providing access to personal mentors, helps provide the personalised support required to develop personal strengths, overcome challenges and ultimately achieve growth.

However, the point was made that mentors don't need to be women, that men can be great mentors too. Reverse mentoring has also been a hugely successful strategy that our panellists have experienced, such as a senior male leader mentoring a more junior female or vice versa. Paring women mentors with men, aids education enabling greater mutual understanding.

Everyone agreed that powerful male allies play an incredibly important role in not only supporting individuals, but also changing a culture from the inside out. Having respected males in the organisation, pointing out things like micro-aggressions, at the point they happen, can often have more of an impact than formal training, policies or processes.

Encouraging education and open conversations can create tangible change

This links into the education piece of the jigsaw. A number of our women recounted negative experiences within male dominated tech roles. Although, disturbingly, some had spoken out against gender discrimination only to be met with more discrimination, others had felt unable to even discuss the topic. Regardless, the end result was the same, those women felt compelled to leave the organisations and find new technology jobs.

Whilst there’s not much that can be done about companies that don't want to understand or evolve, it was pointed out that often issues arise from a place of ignorance. In these cases, it might be helpful to reframe speaking up, not as calling out bad behaviour, but more in terms of 'educating'. For those women that are fearful to speak out, the process becomes less intimidating and more about empowerment.

Of course, for this to be able to happen, the desire for change needs to come from the top of the organisation. Companies need tangible plans, and clear ownership, to address culture issues, with specific targets and accountability, while encouraging open conversations and feedback loops.

The right leadership are key to building genuine gender equity

Leadership, and in particular the influential males we spoke about earlier, are the final, yet most significant piece of the equity jigsaw, according to our panel. Although progress has been made, 61% of FTSE100 boardrooms positions are still held by males and, from our discussion, men are still leading and dominating committees that make policy decisions in many sectors, such as higher education. How do we ensure that decision-making considers the diverse needs of women working in technology, to enable us to move forward and embrace equity?

Leadership certainly needs to be open to those conversations, to listen, learn and educate themselves and others around them, becoming genuine allies of women in technology. As allies that embrace equity themselves, they are then able to drive equity and create cultures, where, even if women are in the minority, they still feel included, because, as one of our panellists rightly pointed out, great diversity is not always equal to great inclusion.

Building gender equity into a hiring strategy

Find out more about how to build a gender equity into your hiring strategy with our women in tech series:

Do you want to be part of future women in tech events or wider industry discussions? Visit our events page and get in touch!

About the author

Louise Smith, Client Relationship Practice Lead, has been a passionate advocate for Women in Tech, setting up the Gravitas Women in Tech networking events back in 2019. Louise has worked at Gravitas for over 6 years, specialising in developing client relationships, adding value, and meeting hiring needs across the technology sector.

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