For many of us, answering questions related to the ways in which smart technology has benefited our lives is relatively easy. However, ‘why are women a minority in the smart technology workforce?’ is not one of them. While the smart technology world may appear to have a diverse range of talent, it is an industry that has developed a strong reputation for being male-dominated. Yes, technology has helped improve many elements of our lives, creating a significant impact across many other industries; and there remains female under-representation across the technology workforce. Does this obstruct potential market growth and shelves the next big innovative idea?
New technologies are developing at lightning speed and the industry is expanding at a rate that allows it to create endless career opportunities. And yet these opportunities are only available to a limited number of candidates. It has gradually become clear that a gender imbalance exists across the technology sector, and it is this imbalance that is preventing women from being competitive in their pursuit of a career in technology.
Across many continents including Europe, North and Central America, the Middle East and Africa, under 20 per cent of technology leadership roles are occupied by women. Quite frankly, women in technology leadership roles are a rare sight and many think that this boils down to gender stereotypes that have lingered for decades. For years, the assumption that ‘boys are more advanced at science and maths’ has hindered the professional careers of many skilled women. Today, women can spend their whole careers trying to ‘catch up’, fighting a social bias that is deeply embedded in a company’s culture and operating structure. If the industry wants to find success in building a female leadership pipeline to create lasting change, it will need to refine many corporate policies and marketing initiatives with the aim of attracting and retaining women.
Silicon Valley is full of innovative, well-educated professionals, who create advanced solutions that help make our world a better place. However, Silicon Valley is not immune to the gender inequality challenges that the rest of the world faces. According to a recent survey on female employees working in Silicon Valley, women revealed that they initially felt disinterested in applying for jobs in technology due to the ‘bro-tech’ attitude in the workplace. Such a culture has caused many leaders to speak up and act in concrete ways. In today’s corporate world, it is the actions of leaders who set the values and culture for a company, and most of the responsibility lies with them to make it clear that they value diversity.
As one of the world’s largest technology companies, Apple’s latest annual diversity report shows that gender equality is a realistic prospect; 32 per cent of current Apple employees and 37 per cent of new hires are women. Shareholders have placed additional pressure on the corporation to ensure more minorities are represented on Apple's board, and senior management positions.
Apple is not alone. Within the last year, Intel has pledged $300 million toward building a more diverse workforce, including tying managers' compensation to their improvement in that area.
A diverse workforce within a company enables innovation to flourish. Many Sociology experts hold the belief that the existence of a gender bias complex has the power to obstruct individual and team growth.
“You need diverse experiences to make diverse technologies,” says Judy Wajcman, a sociologist at the London School of Economics. “If the people who are designing our technologies are a bunch of young white guys (because racial diversity is also under-represented) it is a very limited experience base.”
A hiring technique that is starting to gain momentum is blind recruitment. In an effort to overcome gender bias, many agencies and companies alike are adopting the practice of removing personally identifiable information from the CVs of job applicants including: candidate names, gender, age, education. This screening process is greatly helping companies achieve diversity in the workforce, and is starting to reward a growing number of companies. Multinational companies such as Deloitte, HSBC, the BBC, have noticed a considerable uplift in workforce diversity since implementing this employment strategy.
Actively seeking promotion within the workplace is an experience that many people face at some point during their career and that inherently requires a confidence. In many cases, women are less likely to put themselves forward for a promotion, and in fact, may perceive their abilities as being worse than they are, compared to their male colleagues.
This was demonstrated during a time when Google relied on employees nominating themselves for promotions. When senior women in management conducted a series of workshops that encouraged women to nominate themselves for promotion, the number of women at Google receiving promotions increased. In this sense, companies should not solely rely on self-evaluations in performance scoring. Instead, leaders and managers need to regularly reinforce the benefits of employees individually auditing their own performance against an objective competency framework.
Wo(men) Friendly Values
High tech companies often find their employees complaining about long hours and minimal work-life balance. More importantly, an office culture that overworks their employees and rewards people who stay late or eat dinner at the work, puts direct pressure on employees with families. This particularly becomes disadvantageous to those employees who are mothers. Moreso, recent research has shown that this behaviour is not good for your health - figures show those who work excess hours, do not improve their individual long-term productivity, with many claiming that workers begin to burn out after a few weeks.
For women to feel truly happy and productive at work, they need an employer who is mindful of their needs, because women are more likely to work for companies that aligned with good corporate values. In recent months, IBM researched what women really wanted in a career, and it was unveiled that women felt more motivated by being part of a company that made an impact on the community and real difference. As a result, IBM immediately changed its messaging, and refocused their recruitment advertising on the ‘Smarter Planet’ campaign. The core focus of this initiative was to push the idea that working at IBM would give employees a chance to change the world. To no surprise, applications from female candidates instantly spiked.
A Societal Shift
To put it simply, the field of technology will become smarter if it includes more women in the workplace. Businesses can start by reviewing their hiring methods, and perhaps adopting new screening techniques that remove gender bias and give equal opportunity to female candidates.
In many industries, including technology, some companies will recruit identical numbers of men and women but lose the women within a few years. As a consequence, we have seen that the lack of women in senior positions within a company can become the main cause for the divide. To improve retention and overall engagement, companies should consider introducing female-friendly workshops, where woman can share their challenges and triumphs, while looking to improve their confidence in the workplace.
But beware, women won’t be fooled or lured into a career that they don't like or enjoy just because somebody told them that there was a gap that needed to be closed. They will want to see change and action.
When companies go to greater lengths to attract, employ and retain female workers, they are not only supporting workplace diversity, but also proving their commitment towards innovation, revenue growth and overall product quality.