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If we want equality in tech, we need to ‘evolve the conversation’, says panel

Achieving parity in the technology industry depends on moving away from an entirely gender-focused discussion, say experts

To increase diversity in the technology industry, we need to “evolve the conversation” and talk about more than just getting women into tech, according to a panel of experts.

A Bluewolf panel at the Salesforce World Tour event in London discussed the lack of gender diversity in the tech industry and how to address the issue. It came to the conclusion that to achieve equality in the workplace, there must also be equality in the conversation about gaining more diversity.

“As we look at diversity, we have to look at shifting the conversation slightly,” said Vera Loftis, managing director of Bluewolf. “We need the men to be part of the conversation.”

Many in the technology industry believe that to help gain equality, women need the help of men in the industry who, in most instances, hold senior positions in companies. To increase diversity, said Loftis, there needs to be more focus on inclusion, which does not just involve women.

Claire Day, product owner operator for BP, said: “While we talk about this with just women, we are never going to move the dial.”

This includes making sure that men and women get the same benefits from achieving parity, such as flexible working and parental leave after having a baby, said Day.

Michelle Calcutt, head of client experience at Aviva Investors, explained how her firm had just introduced equal parental leave for men and women in the business after having a child.

“It begins to give them opportunities that aren’t always associated with what a man would normally be doing,” she said.

Such an approach begins to break down the stereotypes surrounding gender roles at home and in industry. But more needs to be done to encourage both young men and women into science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) careers by further breaking down the stereotypes about these careers.

BP’s Day said gender stereotyping “starts at a very young age – we talk to boys and girls very differently”.

A lot of misunderstanding surrounds what particular jobs in Stem industries involve, she said, which does not just apply to young women who avoid the Stem industry, but also parents and teachers and other young people.

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“There are a lot of men who go into engineering thinking they’re going to be swinging spanners – and that’s not what an engineer does,” said Day.

To address such misconceptions about Stem careers, Day said people in the industry need to have “conversations about what we do on a day-to-day basis” so that young people who are either looking or not looking for a career in Stem know what to expect from a Stem role.

Kanika Chaganty, chief data officer at Vitality, said that as well as breaking down gender stereotypes, part of the responsibility for correcting the balance lies with parents.

“As parents, we have a great responsibility,” she said. “To create gender balance at the workplace, it has to start at home. We have to teach our girls and boys that they are equal and they can aim for equal opportunities.”

Many have highlighted the importance of calling out bad behaviour to ensure it does not become the norm, which will help the industry to move forward and David Buttle, global marketing director, commercial at the Financial Times, said it is important to “start dialogue” about issues faced in the workplace. Some of these conversations will be awkward, he said, but that should not put people off having them.

Buttle said that a culture of change needs to be led from the top of the organisation down, and to be adopted across the entire company. “It needs to start from the position that the status quo isn’t OK,” he added.

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