Women in Tech: Time to Close the Gender Bias Gap
by Kim Coombs, Vice President HR and Talent EMEA at†Riverbed†Technology
November 15 2022 - Women have come a long way in the world of tech. Weíre seeing an increasing number of female C-suite tech pioneers who are leading the way, including prominent figures such as Facebookís Sheryl Sandberg and YouTubeís Susan Wojcicki generating headlines for their innovative work at tech giants. Itís also encouraging to see some progress being made in rebalancing gender roles in the industry.
However, whilst the technology industry is booming, it will take 135.6 years to reach gender parity, according to the World Economic Forumís most recent Global Gender Gap Report. And a recent update by Harvard Law School on Women in the Boardroom 2022 suggests that women occupy just 20% of board seats globally and continue to be excluded from the highest levels of corporate leadership. Whatís more, data obtained by London Tech Week found that 68% of female respondents believe gender bias is still alive and well within the tech industry. Several women cited this as the main obstacle stopping them†from applying or advancing in roles, while stereotyping and lack of support (60%) are the biggest barriers to joining the profession.
All of this is happening amidst an exponentially increasing demand for tech talent since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The need for tech talent to support rising digitalisation is creating a hyper-competitive tech talent market.
As such, now is the time for tech companies to make a concerted effort to cultivate the unique skills and diversity that women bring to the workforce, or potentially face being unable to retain key talent and/or meet skills demands. Male colleagues have a pivotal role to play in this, advocating for women and giving them the space to grow and be heard - in terms of the challenges they are facing and what more can be done to ensure equity.
In this article, weíll explore how gender equality is not going to be achieved by a single group of people, but rather teamwork and collaboration from all.
Gender bias†in todayís technology industry
Despite the progress thatís been made in the technology sector, organisational challenges and biases still exist for women and are widespread. Tech organisations are historically renowned for primarily sourcing talent from the same, limited groups and relying heavily on their network channels, which, as we know, still remain hugely male dominated. Whatís more, the affinity bias - where we tend to gravitate towards people who are like us - frequently results in hiring biases. In addition, from a female candidate perspective, thereís nothing more discouraging than experiencing an interview process that does not demonstrate diversity and thatís a huge detractor. Female candidates will opt for an organisation they feel represents the kind of environment that will suit and support them in their career, over job titles and pay.
Evolution of thought and culture
To overcome these challenges, companies need to move away from thinking about the diversity of gender to the diversity of thought. Creating diverse interview panels with people who have sway in the final decision will help to ensure that biases can be identified and eradicated. Itís also imperative that organisations make sure they are being more inclusive and include a diverse candidate pool to choose from when hiring new employees. This should be implemented at the beginning, when recruiting teams begin to source new talent throughout the hiring process.† Through executing this, organisations will gain a competitive edge because of the unique skills and perspectives that a diverse workforce brings to an organisation.
Furthermore, creating an inclusive culture with clear career paths and policies aligned to womenís needs can help to address the challenges women still face with regards to progression and opportunities. Itís still commonplace to see women not applying for roles, because they donít see themselves as suitable or ready based on factors such as not having all the required experience or skills listed on the job description, compared to men who tend to have a much lower threshold for considering themselves as ready/suitable. This is compounded by the fact women are still overlooked for opportunities and generally tend to remain in their role/level longer than men, because they have a lower tendency to create their own platform and spotlight their achievements, which can result in them being side-lined.†
How businesses can empower women to succeed in their roles
As part of the evolution in culture, we need to see more women in senior leadership positions where they can act as role models. When I started my career in banking this was severely lacking, but in the tech sector now weíre starting to see more and more women on Boards and in leadership roles, and this is a powerful statement for many reasons. Primarily, this demonstrates to employees that the company values diversity and women have a place at the highest levels. Meanwhile, for women, it gives the sense that anything is possible, removing myths or barriers that they might have imposed on themselves. At Riverbed, we are extremely fortunate to have female representation at senior and executive levels and a diverse Board demonstrating times have changed.
Secondly, finding ways to illuminate the great work already being done by many women, often hidden from view, is a strong signal of encouragement for others and an invitation to join their colleagues! Allies can help to shine a light on individual successes. Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and Employee Resource Groups (ERGís) coupled with employee communication programs can ensure these inspiring stories make it onto the stage.
Finally, when talking to most leaders about their journeys, having a mentor often plays a vital role, especially for women trying to navigate male dominated environments. At Riverbed, we have recently introduced a new Global Mentorship Program, open for employees at all levels wherever you work in the company. We view the opportunity to connect people, share skills and knowledge, as a great way to grow, attract and retain our talent.
The power of allyship
As I reflect on my personal experience at pivotal stages in my career, Iíve asked myself if Iíd have been recognised and got this far if allies hadnít proactively advocated for me and assisted me in positioning my ideas in a way that would resonate across my entire audience, including men.
The fact is, you can work twice as hard, deliver more, care more, and do better but this alone doesnít result in recognition and progression. Iíve quite often witnessed women quietly and diligently contributing significantly to business success and not being seen because their male counterparts think and see the world differently to the way they do. To be seen and heard in this climate, women need to be understood and accepted.
The answer to acceptance isnít for women to try and be more like men, but to become comfortable in their true selves at work. Afterall, we all have something unique to offer. In my experience, playing to my strengths, building relationships, and collaborating led to me building a strong network of both male and female supporters.
And the value of allies isnít just felt at an individual level. Allies can draw on the different perspectives that men and woman bring to challenge each-othersí points of view and ultimately broaden ones thinking. This in turn leads to better decision-making and outcomes, while also creating a stronger more positive environment and culture of trust in the workplace.
We have the method, now we just need action
Ultimately, we know how to address gender bias in the workplace so the only thing left to do now is to act. By doing so companies can not only attract and retain female employees, helping to address the skills gap, but also achieve the diversity in thought needed to open new doors to business success.