While the 20th and 21st century have seen massive improvement for gender equality, with previously unheard voices, perspectives and stories hitting the media. The #MeToo movement brought hidden issues to the surface and created the space to look at the reality of being a woman in the West despite the progress we’ve made. The UK’s mandatory gender pay disclosure brought to light how senior positions are still dominated by men. Every year it seems we learn more about inequality, but lack the ability to make real change happen quickly. This is understandable as change always takes time, but our ability to track and measure gender equality in the workplace is challenging. Facts and figures concerning the number of female board members or gender pay won’t tell you everything about the amount of sexual harassment, discrimination and unconscious bias that goes on in the workplace.
Take for instance the tech industry. According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, women hold only 25% of jobs in the sector and 11% of senior positions in Silicon Valley tech companies. But we all know that the figure can reaffirm the ideology that women are simply not interested in technology or good at computer science. It doesn’t highlight the barriers that female coders face in starting and developing their careers. Many self-taught female coders still present their work and use online platforms under male pseudonyms to be taken more seriously and have greater opportunity to learn. With regards to the UK’s gender pay gap, you only need someone to mention that the pay gap is a problem about motherhood rather than gender to throw the whole debate out the window.
The imbalance of male to female employees in the tech industry is not down to one single factor, such as motherhood. I believe we should be examining our education system, parenting and the films we watch, all leading back to imposed cultural expectations and organizational bias. It’s important to understand all the different roots to the problem, or at the very least be open to understanding how complex the problem is. It is not only a matter of changing the number of women entering these positions and industries, but changing an entire culture.
Changing the industry from the top down
KPMG’s IT’s Her Future project saw an increase in female graduate employees from 34% in 2015 to 54% in 2018. The project was created to draw more women into IT, by targeting women from a variety of sectors, such as the Arts and Humanities, as opposed to only STEM and IT. The result of the scheme revealed that performance had minimal connection to previous studies. Code First: Girls is a social enterprise that also attempts to change corporate recruitment policies and strategies to marketing.
A cynic would argue that KPMG is only making this move for marketing purposes. Having a balance gendered workforce and good ‘morals’ about diversity will produce a respectable image and reflect well in the public eye, which is a contributing factor to a company’s success. Marketing and media reputation plays a key role in the success of a business, which companies are starting to realise. The results of KPMG’s project show how much influence companies have in raising the number of female employees. If equality does come from numbers, then companies should be taking this influence more seriously. Even if gender equality comes from trying to look good, at least it’s creating change.
Changing the industry from the bottom up
Tech entrepreneur and keynote speaker, Martha Lane Fox, discusses how unconscious bias in the tech industry means that women have to work extra hard to appear credible. As we enter the next Industrial Revolution and digital era, women who want to achieve senior positions in tech will not only need to adapt and respond to the fast-paced expansion of technology and have much stronger analytical skills in programming than we’ve ever needed before, but also have collaborative, social and leadership skills.
Women are often taught to reflect on their behaviour and their performance, which leads them to feel held back by the imposter syndrome. Business coaching can develop our way of viewing leadership, and helping women realise that it’s not about being an agreeable or disagreeable person, but by having vision for a company and having the ability to listen to and learn from a pool of perspectives. It gives the space to consider professional goals that are often pushed upon men from a much earlier age. The problem lies in the values we’ve grown up in, so we need to begin changing the script and challenging the unconsciously embedded image of what a leader should look like.