Last month we asked some questions about gender quotas in the workplace and whether or not that was the way to encourage more women into the world of IT professionals.
Our poll indicated that 86% of our Blog readers think that gender quotas are NOT the most effective way to equalise the IT gender gap, as one comment on our post stated:
To me, quotas seem like the well-intentioned, but ill-conceived path to diversity by avoiding cultural change and avoiding the problem of biases and institutions that create monoculture. – Jyee
But what is the answer? Or perhaps we need to reconsider the question; instead of exploring how to encourage more women to embark on an IT-based career, maybe we first need to find out why they don’t already consider it an option.
- In a traditionally male-dominated industry fully equipped with its own negative stereotypes it’s difficult for young women embarking on their careers to find role models in IT: ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. Often women report hostility, or lack of opportunity in the workplace, finding themselves overlooked in favour of male counterparts:
The top two reasons why women leave are the hostile macho cultures — the hard hat culture of engineering, the geek culture of technology or the lab culture of science … and extreme work pressures – Laura Sherbin, a director at the Center for Work-Life Policy
- It isn’t obvious what sort of tech roles are available until you start in the industry. A tech knowledge is a major part of almost all professional roles in contemporary society – it’s not just coding. The sector is developing rapidly, but a huge amount of this is not visible externally – girls in school may never consider that they could be in tech jobs creating robots, designing games, running start-ups, because this side of the industry is rarely touched upon as a career choice in schools. If young women in secondary education were aware of the potential of developing tech skills they might be more inclined to engage with tech-related subjects at school.
- Women in tech have not had the best time of it. In the public eye women can see things like GamerGate and the ruthless persecution that can follow women who actively become involved in tech or web-based activities. Although this is far from the norm it’s what is predominantly shown in the media.
Clearly a culture shift is required, rather than short-term measures. Actively encouraging school-aged girls to take up an interested in technology is a way of opening up routes into the industry early on. Eliminate the notion of ‘gendered subjects’ and highlight the opportunities that a tech role brings both to individuals and to the future: it’s an ever-developing, changing exciting industry to be a part of and that’s something that will inspire boys and girls alike.
Technology pervades almost every element of contemporary culture and at least a basic knowledge of technology is becoming standard for the majority of professional roles. Using this as a way to destroy the trope that tech jobs are done by geeky men in a basement with no social skills and a penchant for online gaming.
But what are industries currently doing to tackle the problem of gender imbalance?
Companies like Google have introduced training schemes which aim to fight cultural biases and make the workplace a more positive and neutral environment. Participants take part in word association games and are often surprised at how often women are habitually associated with less technical roles. Hackathon are running a series of women-only events in India, Microsoft are running ‘DigiGirlz’ days all over the world and the Welsh Government’s WAVE scheme aims to help women improve their career prospects though training opportunities, networking opportunities and career development.
But what can smaller businesses do to help?
Companies need to research the biases that prevent women from getting ahead and then devise ‘interrupts’. Instead of single training sessions companies need to make systematic changes. – Joan C Williams.
This, to us, sounds like a DevOps approach. Like optimising your cloud-computing potential, gender equality in the tech industry is not something you can ‘do’ once; it’s an ongoing series of cultural and attitude changes that will deliver the best results for companies and employees. And remember: change takes time
We’d love to hear the strategies companies in the UK are undertaking to address this gender imbalance in the workplace. If you have any thoughts, suggestions or news you’d like to share, please get in touch.