The 2018 conference for Wise, a campaign for gender balance in technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem), highlighted some of the key failings of the Stem industries when it comes to gender imbalance and emphasised the need to call these issues out when they are apparent.
It’s not news that tech has a gender problem, with the number of women in the tech industry staying at around 16% over the last 10 years, and the technology industry is not the only one trying to shine a light on these issues.
But in the wake of the #metoo and the Time’s Up campaign that have surfaced this year, in what has been labelled the Year of the Woman, the message is clear that nothing will change unless we shout loud.
We need to shout that we have these issues, we need to shout about what’s causing them and we need to shout about how we can tackle them.
Helen Wollaston, chief executive of Wise, used language as an example of where the Stem industry can commonly fall down on the equality front, and where we can highlight this issue when it needs calling out.
For example, when looking for candidates a male graduate may be described as young and promising while a female candidate with the same background may be described at young and inexperienced.
Similarly, she cited the common anecdote of the difference between men and women when applying for jobs- when men only have part of the required traits for candidates they apply anyway, whereas when women have most of the requirements but not one or two, they consider themselves too inexperienced and do not apply.
Wollaston used the example of a recent job advert a firm asked to be placed on the Wise website – the job title was CHSE ecomm lead, and one of the experience requirements was SCE2E.
After explaining this job was in community health and that supply chain end-to-end experience was required, Wollaston stated even taking acronyms out of job adverts can even out the applicant playing ground.
She claimed Wise called the company out on its mistake, and said: “It’s not enough just to put ads on the WISE site if you don’t first look at what those ads are saying. The way those jobs are described are not as inspiring as they could be.”
It’s commonly stated that women are less likely than men to speak up about their abilities, or to confront others about issues such as this.
But we still need to stand up and say something when we can see things are exacerbating a lack of parity, whether this be in a meeting, during a conversation or as part of a wider initiative to shift culture.
“There’s no doubt about it, there’s still bias in the system that is making it harder for women to succeed in science and technology,” Wollaston said.
“We’ve all got that bias, and we need to call it out.”
Admittedly, taking it upon yourself to comment on poor practice can be difficult, but Maria Stukoff, director of the Morson Maker Space at Salford University, said she speaking up can be as simple as saying you don’t find a sexist joke particularly funny.
“It’s not easy. Just be bold, be yourself, if you’re not happy about how someone is talking to you or to the room ask if you can change the note or the tone.” she advised.
Though she admitted this can be “scary” she explained it’s important to speak up at that moment or else the bias becomes accepted, and can end up becoming part of the culture of a team, group or company.
We do live in a society where even terms such as “man up” or “blonde moment” are acceptable terms to use, and these might seem like small things but they stand to highlight the inequality western culture still faces despite recent steps in the right direction.
We all have to take it upon ourselves to call out these smaller issues as well as larger ones so we can gradually begin to shift the dial and move towards gender equality in the male dominated world of Stem.