It’s a strange juxtaposition – the seemingly contradictory stuff we see in the news about women. On one hand, more women than men (and more women than ever) attend and graduate from university, but on the other, they go into tech fields less frequently and, if they do, are sometimes made to feel unwelcome. We see more stories than ever about inequality and subsequent attempts to enforce equality (whether by requiring corporate boards to appoint an equal number of women or giving both men and women adequate parental leave rights, for example), but where is equality in practice? Well, other than in the new Canadian government cabinet, where the newly elected prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said he appointed 50 percent women because “it’s 2015”.
Is tech not for girls and women?
Where the mismatch between how we talk about equality and what we do about equality is felt most acutely perhaps is in science and technology-based industries. A recent Pareto Law white paper, The Tech Divide: No Girls Allowed, explores the challenges of attracting and keeping women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) oriented careers. The thesis of the paper, though, argues that the issue bypassed mere “equality” questions ages ago. It’s now a question of being able to meet business-critical survival and compete globally. With talent pool skills shortages at all time highs (the paper cites a shortfall of 40,000 STEM workers in 2015, predicted to continue growing), it’s shocking to consider that only seven percent of tech positions in Europe are filled by women. The paper points out that female representation in technical organizations is low across the board – not only in technical positions, which has its own implications for organizational culture and business growth. At what point are women losing interest in or stepping away from STEM-oriented education or career paths, and how can they be engaged?
The paper explores why gender balance is important and the value it brings to business and how to implement strategies for addressing the inequality. Perhaps most importantly, though, to addressing both shortcomings is the underlying causes for the lack of diversity? Is it perception (the paper mentions that a Guardian study indicates that 73 percent of tech industry workers think the industry is sexist; a persistent belief that “tech is not for girls”)? Is it an actual lack of understanding of the opportunities available? Is it an exodus from the STEM disciplines at an educational or job level because of actual gender discrimination experience? The paper explores the root causes, which is essential in identifying real solutions.
Solutions aside, the fact that women are still a minority in tech in year 2015 is puzzling. Especially when studies consistently demonstrate a clear relation between gender diversity and corporate performance (the white paper lists a long list of studies confirming this). Are tech companies not as focused on financial results as they are on keeping tech as a male turf? Or is it an unconscious bias/blind spot that is actually doing damage to the bottom line?
We’re a tech company of course, and while we’re not perfectly gender equal, we are cognizant of bias and actually do have well over average numbers of women working in the company as a whole and in the tech team. But we know we can, and actively strive to, be better and more proactive.