This month, we attended the 2020 Women in Technology World Series online festival (WiT). From living rooms, bedrooms, and home offices across the globe, over 10,000 tech professionals and diversity advocates came together to celebrate women in technology.
To start, it is useful to understand the current situation for women in tech. In the UK, women represent one in six technology specialists and one in ten engineers. Women within the sector leave at twice the rate of men.
WiT festival gave a unique perspective on the topic, showing the speakers both as experts and individuals who talked openly about vulnerability and the barriers that they had faced during the pandemic and throughout their careers.
Speakers at the WiT festival articulated how workplaces remain unequal, despite the benefits of diversity having been demonstrated. Some of these benefits include:
• Diverse teams ‘make better, faster, more accurate decisions’ (TIME’S UP, 2020)
• Gender equal workforces are more productive and innovative
• Increased gender diversity improves profitability by 21%
Challenges for women in technology
The festival encouraged all participants to explore why, in spite of the clear benefits, the disparity in representation and retention still exists for women in tech. Keynote speaker Tina Tchen, President & CEO of TIME’S UP, shared her thoughts and research on some of the key difficulties that women face on both a societal and professional level:
• Within society: Women are shouldering a disproportionate amount of caregiving and unpaid labour at home. During the pandemic, 80% of women said they do most of the housework and home-schooling, and 70% said they do most of the childcare. Women of colour have a greater burden, with black caregivers spending an average of 28.5 additional hours per month on caregiving than white caregivers.
• Within the workplace: Consciously or unconsciously, women are assumed to be subordinate within the workplace. 47% of women in tech have been asked to do lower level ‘housekeeping’ tasks that male colleagues don’t do - for example, taking notes during a meeting or making the hot drinks. 88% of women in tech have experienced their clients or colleagues address questions to their male peers that should have been addressed to them.
• Structural inequalities: Structural inequalities continue to hinder the progression and participation of women in the workplace. For example, 66% of women in tech felt excluded from key networking opportunities on account of their gender.
• Sexism and sexual harassment: Sexism and sexual harassment continue to be a problem in the workplace. 97% of women in tech reported experiencing demeaning comments from male colleagues and nearly 60% of women say that they have faced gender discrimination, racial discrimination, or obstacles to higher paying jobs. Women of colour experience these injustices at a much higher rate; black women file sexual harassment cases at three times the rate of white women.
How can we improve things for women in tech?
Many opportunities for improvement were presented for all attendees to recognise and take back to their daily lives and organisations:
• Identifying micro-aggressions and calling them out: Whether these are passed off as ‘casual jokes’ or someone is excluded from a meeting, they signal that a group is not welcome in a certain environment. Stereotypes should be questioned, and behaviour should be challenged to ensure that tech is inclusive for all.
• Address the structural barriers: Leaders should go beyond the legal requirements and question the structure of their organisations. Focusing on eradicating the structural imbalances for women’s participation will improve representation through women’s retention and career progression, rather than looking at quick fixes or placing the responsibility on women within their organisations.
• The importance of male advocacy and allyship: Diversity and Inclusion is a collective movement, and everyone should be part of the solution. Companies should move away from D&I events aimed at women and organise events with a focus on communicating everyone’s responsibility to improve representation. Men should be encouraged to become sponsors and champions of women within the workplace.
For us, the key message that we have taken away from the Women in Technology World Series festival is that it is our responsibility to create an environment and structure where everyone, regardless of gender, can thrive within tech.
This year, our Diversity and Inclusion team (DISCo) further improved our gender representation through a series of D&I training sessions, female listening groups, and networking sessions focused on supporting women throughout their careers.
For our 2021 Diversity Agenda, we want to build on this to incorporate what we have learnt at the Women in Technology festival, with a strong focus on allyship and advocacy. We remain focused on building and retaining a diverse and inclusive working environment for all.
If you are interested in helping us on our diversity and inclusion mission, take a look at our recent vacancies.