‘Gender diversity in tech is good for business – it’s not rocket science’

Two women back to back on a purple background, one in a green shirt and the other in a black jacket.

On International Women’s Day (8 March), Sarah Watson, chief product officer at PinkNews, shares insights on how employers can promote gender diversity in the tech sector.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that having more gender-diverse teams leads to businesses having better productivity. On average, companies that practice gender diversity in their leadership teams outperform their peers by 20 per cent or more.

We can also safely say that if big tech firms (naming no names … ok, Samsung and Apple) had more gender-mixed teams designing their mobile handsets then someone may have pointed out that the latest supersize models are actually too big for most women (and a fair few men) to use comfortably one-handed. It also took a significant backlash for one of the previously mentioned tech companies to clock on to the fact that their health app would be a lot more useful if they incorporated a period tracker over a chloride intake tracker (I know!). And lest not forget Microsoft’s first ultra-masculine looking wearable that looked more like a prison tag than a fitness band. 

Yet despite it being blindingly obvious, women only make up 22 per cent of software engineers in the US and there’s even less representation in Europe, where only 5 per cent of tech leadership roles are held by women.

There is a growing demand for skilled workers in the tech industry but a severe shortage of qualified candidates. Encouraging more women and gender-diverse people to work in technology not only offers them the opportunity to pursue an exciting career in this space, it also opens up the potential candidate pool available therefore helping to resolve this global shortage.

PinkNews Chief Product Officer sarah Watson
Sarah Watson is Chief Product Officer at PinkNews. (PinkNews)

So what can we do about this? Well, it does start right back in the early years of childhood (school age, maybe earlier). Children need to be shown that tech is a subject for everyone and told the inspirational stories of women and gender-diverse people who have excelled in a tech career and achieved their dreams. Parents and schools also need to encourage children to apply for STEM-related courses and be given the opportunity to join appropriate clubs and workshops outside of school.

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My daughter (age 6) recently went to a science-themed birthday party and as nerdish as it sounds, she absolutely loved it! It turns out creating chemical explosions and dancing in dry ice are just as fun as pass-the-parcel (at one point I did try to explain to her “80s discos” but I got given ‘The Look’).  From a young age, we need to show all children the opportunities that exist and give them clear pathways of how to get there. 

From a company perspective, there are some small steps to follow that could have a giant impact in the long term.

Create a more inclusive workplace

Use gender-inclusive language when writing job descriptions or adverts, offer flexible working hours and options to work remotely if feasible, shared parental leave, offer training and ensure equal pay.

Ensure that women and gender-diverse people are represented in your leadership team

Representation of women from all backgrounds is important not only for their perspectives, but it demonstrates to younger talent within your organisation that there is a future place for them in senior leadership. You ultimately can not be what you can not see. 

Offer the appropriate training

Companies who have implemented mandatory unconscious bias training for the hiring process had a female new hire rate of 34.5 per cent, compared to 28.8 per cent for companies with voluntary training. Unfortunately, up to 50 per cent of women report experiencing gender discrimination during the hiring process or at work. If the available talent pool is limited, consider training and developing existing staff who have an interest and are keen to learn

Provide mentorship and support

Connecting women with other successful women in tech, who can offer guidance and support, will help to retain and empower your female workforce. Women are 22 per cent more likely than men to report experiencing imposter syndrome in tech and STEM workplaces. Which leads to 50 per cent of women abandoning technology careers by the age of 35.

Making a real change of any magnitude is going to require some human transformation, but everyone will reap the rewards in the end. This isn’t just a gender-based issue either, ethnic diversity, sexual orientation, disability, socio-economic and religious diversity are all important. Our society is made up of more than just white males and the technology industry needs to innovate to meet the needs of the whole of our society. Unique perspectives lead to more innovative solutions and products plus everyone deserves to have the opportunity to have successful careers in this and any other space they choose.

One final thought, if Twitter was run by a woman would it be the toxic, troll-infested platform it is now? Perhaps that is one we will leave to the rocket scientist to work out.

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