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Why and how men in the technology industry have helped women progress

Many have argued gender parity will not happen in the technology industry without help from the top. Since the top is predominantly male, we’ve reached out to some of the men in the industry who are helping to drive tech equality

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The technology industry is still undeniably male-dominated and, despite efforts to increase the number of women in the space, the percentage of women in technical roles has stayed roughly the same for the past 10 years.

There are a lot of men in the technology industry who are helping women to progress in the technology industry, for various different reasons.

The two key reasons given by advocates for women in tech for supporting the advancement of women in the industry are human decency and that diversity makes “good business sense” – as the number of diverse team members increases, so does the number of different ideas, making diverse teams more innovative.

Paul Briault, senior director at CA Technologies, says it’s especially important in the technology industry that internal teams reflect customers so they can better serve the market.

“The only way to do that is to have a diverse team, and the only way to have a diverse team is to have diverse skillsets – focus on the core strengths of individuals rather than [have] them all come from a certain mould.”

Like many firms that are pushing for increased diversity in technology teams, CA Technologies wants to employ a varied group of people who can “bring something different to the party”, and diversity of thought leads to increased innovation.

“We embrace diversity, we think it’s essential and not having it would cause us to be less competitive in the market,” says Briault.

The business case for diversity and encouraging young people

Many believe that women need to have support from those leading the organisation to be able to break the glass ceiling in the technology industry. In the technology industry, the leaders of organisations are predominantly white males.

“There’s absolutely a responsibility for everyone on a leadership team to drive parity so, by default, it’s the responsibility of men to do that,” says Briault.

But the office is not the only place Briault is promoting diversity and advancement for women in the technology industry. He says he has a “dad perspective” on the diversity crisis in the industry as he wants his daughter to understand what possible jobs and roles might be available to her in the future.

Industry experts suggest that dads rarely stand in the way of their daughters pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) as they want to believe their daughters can go on to achieve any desired career.

Many of the men Computer Weekly spoke to are fathers to daughters, and none had dissuaded their daughters from entering the industry.

“I’ve got three daughters, and they all went to good universities. They didn’t take technology courses, but they all work in IT now,” says Rod Flavell, CEO of FDM Group.

“It’s not only that I want to see my kids have great opportunities, but I want to see my friends’ kids, if they are girls, getting into an industry that pays well, [where] there are lots of opportunities.”

Build an inclusive culture and promote tech diversity

But parents are often cited as dissuading girls from studying Stem, because they are concerned about the environment they are sending their children in to.

Flavell states one of the firms he previously worked at had a “testosterone-driven culture”, which meant it was terrible at retaining staff of both genders. He believes firms will not retain a diverse talent pool, even if they can attract new people, unless they focus on making environments inclusive.

The technology industry is a “highly stressed pressurised environment”, according to Flavell, and firms should be doing more to “make our working environments appropriate for ladies to succeed”.

“If we can create the right working environment and women feel like their voice is going to be heard, they will fly – we don’t want too much chauvinism out there, it’s got to be balanced,” says Flavell.

While pushing for a 50/50 split among all of its own teams to “create a level playing field for promotion”, FDM also runs a returners programme, Back to Business, which trains women who have taken career breaks to return to a tech role.

Flavell encourages leaders in the technology industry to speak out about diversity in the technology sector and challenge others to do something about it.

“When I go into shareholder meetings, I hammer the point home with some of the country’s largest pension funds about the importance of this issue,” he says.

Flavell believes the spread will even out over time eventually, however the fact still stands that the number of women in technical roles in the industry has remained at approximately 15% for a decade.

Michael Keegan, chairman and head of product business for Fujitsu in Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa, previously told Computer Weekly that hiring managers should consider diversity when making employment decisions.

He reiterates that the more the men in the technology broadcast what they are doing to support women and increase diversity levels, the sooner their male counterparts will “jump on the bandwagon” to push change faster.

This starts with practices such as unconscious bias training for hiring managers to make them more aware of why they choose certain candidates.

“We’ve rolled out unconscious bias training courses to all hiring managers in our UK organisation. If you leave people to hire replacements when they need them, they tend to hire the people who are like the people that left,” says Keegan.

He admits he wasn’t aware how much he could contribute towards driving positive change in the industry until he became a manager, but that “it’s always been in my DNA”.

As he attends more meetings, press briefings and one-to-one team building sessions, his audience for pushing the diversity agenda grows. “This is an issue you can talk about at all those meetings,” he says.

Creating role models and building the pipeline

Keegan says any practice put in place should not just be seen as a “box ticking” exercise – firms should focus on increasing diversity to drive positive growth and innovation for the sector.

“Having more women at all levels in companies is critical to unlocking growth potential,” he says. “Companies that are more diverse and they make better decisions.”

In 2017, Keegan acted as a judge for the FDM Everywoman in Technology Awards, and admitted that, when he looks back on his career, most of the people who helped him get where he is now were women.

Women have acted as strong role models for Keegan throughout his life and career, and he emphasises the need for these female role models throughout the technology industry to show others what roles are available and that it is an environment where women can succeed.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has been working to promote women to the top of its business and showcase them as role models. Jon Andrews, head of technology and investment at PwC, says it has partnered with many other firms to promote the importance of having women in technology roles.

The firm also has a Women in Technology programme to support the women in the business, a maternity programme that partners women in the firm with a “buddy” to help them transition back into work after having a baby, and a scheme that allows students to shadow female members of the leadership team. 

“For a couple of years now we’ve had a specific female leader in PwC who is running our Women in Technology programme. We’ve also increased the amount of women we’ve recruited into our technology business. What we need is action rather than people talking about it,” says Andrews, adding that more emphasis should be put on building a diverse pipeline into the industry.

Many believe the skills gap in the IT industry can only be solved through collaboration between schools, firms and the government, and PwC has led discussion evenings to promote this collective effort.

“One of the key issues is not just what you do in the corporate environment, we need to engage with younger children,” says Andrews.

Overcoming stereoptypes and unconscious bias

As well as getting role models in front of children so they are aware of technology careers, Andrews says firms need to make it more clear what roles are available.

Some claim women often choose not to go into a technology career as they are not aware of what these jobs involve, only focusing on the negative stereotypes of the types of people who do tech jobs.

“Women were less attracted to roles in tech because they didn’t see them as creative, or they’re demotivated because they don’t see it as a career choice that will make the world a better place,” says Andrews.

He believes there is a “real issue in academia” as teachers are often not aware of what specific roles or industries entail. He adds that his daughter is pursuing Stem subjects, but this is not because the school was “supportive” of girls taking part in these areas.

Research has found that many teachers begin unconsciously gender stereotyping children from a young age, and so far the government’s efforts to encourage children, especially girls, to pursue tech careers through the creation of the computing curriculum has yet to show results.

Young women with a passion for Stem exist – they just need a place for it to be a social norm
Jon Andrews, PwC

Organisations such as Code First: Girls, Apps for Good and Stemettes are working with industry to encourage girls into tech careers and to help them understand the roles available.

Will Coleman, director of developer relations for Emea for Salesforce, has been working with Stemettes on its Eat Sleep Stem Repeat documentary promoting girls in Stem to spread the other message to other young girls.

“These young women with a passion for Stem exist – they just need a place for it to be a social norm,” he says.

Making women in Stem the social norm

During the first quarter of 2017, Lego reviewed the idea of a Women of Nasa play set, and the release of the film Hidden Figures brought the idea of women in Stem roles to the forefront of people’s minds.

Coleman believes there is a need to create a “social norm for young women to be into Stem” and that young women who are involved in Stem subject and programmes often go on to become advocates.

“It would be amazing if there was a young female developer in something like EastEnders,” Coleman says.

“That old adage of you can’t be what you can’t see reigns true, but at the same time there needs to be a platform, an area and a space for falling in love with Stem and for that to be normal.”

A lack of role models is often cited as a reason girls do not choose Stem careers, and organisations that encourage girls to learn about technology often encourage women already in the space to share details about their careers so the future generation is more informed about the opportunities ahead of them.

As well as promote Stem programmes, Coleman has been working to spread the word among friends and colleagues that men can be “allies” in the fight for diversity.

When speaking to other men in the industry about acting as an advocate for diversity, Coleman states “some have been willing but a bit afraid and daunted” but that men should be educating themselves to better understand the issues women are facing in the workplace.

“We’re making a difference, we’re seeing the impact of that now and it’s going to balloon from there,” he says.

Some people in the IT industry also take smaller personal actions towards promoting diversity in the industry, such as refusing to appear on single-gendered panels.

Rush Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates, says sometimes taking a more subtle approach pays off. “This is a sensitive issue, and by screaming and shouting I think it would put people on the defensive,” he adds.

Making diversity a personal agenda

Shaw tries to encourage more women into the technology industry by providing advice and mentorship wherever possible, and ensuring events run by the 35 Tech London Advocates working groups have gender-diverse speakers and panels.

“I want this to be reflective of what’s really going on out there – our showcases are our events. I don’t think we’ve had an all-male panel for a very long time and I won’t let it happen,” says Shaw.

“We’ve had open discussions around why diversity is so critically important and yet we have our own in-built biases, which we don’t even realise most of the time, but we’ve got to address that. I will do that in individual conversations but, likewise, I’ve said those things publicly.”

Higher up in technology firms, such as at senior management or board level, there are even fewer women then in other roles across the technology industry. Shaw says he made sure there were senior women considered in the selection process for his replacement when he recently stepped down from a board.

“I could not hand on heart say we wouldn’t get a woman [on the board], and start making sure we have better diversity for our board directors. It was interesting for me as a man with other men on the board – my inclination would have been, if both candidates were equal, to give my preference to the woman,” he adds.

Ultimately, Shaw thinks that affirmative action in organisations, such as implementing quotas for the number of women that need to be hired, is the only way to up the pace of change in the industry, although he is aware that many disagree with these types of actions.

“That will force the change and force people to learn first-hand what it’s like to have a board of directors that’s 50/50. It won’t be easy, but it will force people to say, ‘This is the right thing to do’, and that’s self-perpetuating,” says Shaw. “This makes great business sense, why wouldn’t you do this?”

Read more about women in technology sector

  • IT firms in London need to do more to reduce a gender bias and increase diversity in the workplace, says research.
  • Technology is driving change throughout the world and enabling increasing diversity, so how can organisations deal with their changing way of working?

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