In this guest blog post, Vivian Chan, Founder and CEO of Sparrho, suggests three ways in which leaders can increase diversity in tech.
Women make up the largest single economic force in the world, account for 47% of the UK workforce, and according to the Women and Work commission, unlocking women’s full social and economic potential could be worth £23 billion a year to the Exchequer. So why are women still left out in the cold when it comes to tech, an industry rapidly dominating our 21st-century lives?
It should come as a (big) surprise that just 17.3% of FTSE 100 directorships are held by women. After all, studies have repeatedly proved that the more women on your company’s board, the better: companies in the highest percentile of female-led boards outperform their counterparts in sales return, investment return, equity and data auditing. Having at least one female director on a board cuts a company’s chances of going bust by about 20%.
And tech companies, more than most, are tasked with keeping their collective finger on the rapid pulse of business. So how are so many still lagging behind? Nearly 75% of private tech companies have failed to appoint a single woman to their boards; none of the seven biggest social networking and tech giants in the US can boast equal gender representation amongst their directors; and here in London, over half of tech teams admit to a paltry 15% or under of their team being female.
Sadly, you’ve probably read a version of this post a hundred times: or, if you’re a woman in tech like me, experienced the frustration first-hand. We know there’s a problem – what we’re stuck on is how to move forward. So let’s get down to business: how can we change?
Hammering out misconceptions
Despite an ever-growing women’s movement, we’re still seeing a lack of assurance among women – especially in the tech sector – when it comes to job-hunting. At Sparrho, we consistently see smaller proportions of female applicants for roles ranging from developing to marketing due to the tendency for a woman not to submit an application unless she fulfils the majority – if not all – of the criteria. The commonly held misconception that women are less likely to ask for a pay rise than their male counterparts (in fact, women ask for raises just as often, but are simply less likely to receive them) also teaches women to shy away from asking for the pay they deserve.
Ultimately, we need to use the power of workplace education to smash these misconceptions and build a fairer playing field. Teaching both men and women about the biases that are perpetuated in the workplace will help us to move through outdated and regressive myths towards equality, and to ensure that the right person finds the right job every time.
Help through mentorship
There’s no better way to convince young women that a successful career in tech is within their reach than to show them. Signing up as a willing mentor on dedicated mentor pairing sites could be the first step to a lifetime partnership that will prove beneficial to both members: for the mentor, understanding gaps and upcoming trends in the market can be an invaluable insight gained from constant contact with young people.
Beyond one-on-one mentorship, Katrin Verclas suggests that female leaders consider running company-wide mentoring programs, sponsoring scholarships, or offering paid work experience to female secondary school science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) students. In particular, intra-company mentorship schemes can act as talent pipelines.
Bemoaning the lack of women in tech should be the catalyst to look at how you might bring about a more equal gender ratio to your company’s office floor. Concrete actions that can be taken towards this goal include tracking the gender of applicants to jobs, and – if the ratio is skewed towards men – analysing how role descriptions and ‘beer and banter’ office culture might be subconsciously putting women off applying in the first place.
Companies that make the extra effort to retain the women they hire – by identifying and addressing unconscious bias, discouraging gendered language, and making fair maternity and childcare allowances, for example – will, as proved earlier, only benefit in the long run.