There are more women in tech than ever before.
Although this is an exciting step forward for what’s typically known as a male-dominated industry, the truth of the matter is, female representation and participation in tech are still lacking significantly.
In light of International Women’s Day, let’s dig a little deeper – because by identifying both the barriers and strengths of having an inclusive tech team, we further our success both in business and as a society.
From events to conferences, awards, and scholarship funds, to early STEM programs and clubs, girls and women are being encouraged, supported and inspired to join the tech industry.
But there is still a long way to go. According to Canada’s Gender Equity Roadmap – an October 2018 study of women in tech conducted by Women in Tech World – women make up 25% of the tech industry in Canada, with only 13% at executive levels. In BC, women only make up 18% of this workforce.
One of the most obvious barriers to women pursuing tech is the lack of role models. It is challenging to picture “you” in a tech role when you don’t see any “yous” doing it. With a lens trained on gender and inclusivity, more diverse role models are emerging. According to a survey by Maru/Blue on behalf of SAP Canada, on the perceptions of the tech sector and STEM careers among this group, STEM students in BC are nationally the most likely to have fellow female STEM classmates—a great sign.
More subtle is the nuance of belonging that exists outside the boardroom. Social inclusion in “beers after boardroom” strengthens relationships in a way simple office etiquette cannot. Tech is still very much considered a “bro club”, and this can be intimidating and unwelcoming.
A benefit of being a woman in tech is that there is no recognizable, generations-old set of rules and habits to emulate. There is room to craft a leadership style based on one’s authentic self. This is potent.
The call for authenticity and integrity-based international businesses is loud in 2020. We now consider how we want to make an impact and self-reflection is encouraged. As leaders, it’s vital to have a keen sense of identity and pinpoint that “golden nugget” that separates us. Being ourselves and leading in our unique fashion may throw some of the old boys off, but it broadens the definition of leadership and success to include women.
Hiring and promoting more women in tech is not just about optics or equality. It is also good business. Hiring, engaging and listening to women at all levels of your business results in a product that also reflects their needs, wants and wallets. Exclusion from the conversation reduces relevance and sales—a massive economic miss. High-growth, high-potential companies want to reach all genders. Speak to the broadest audience, your total addressable market. You want to be able to prove that your market is massive.
Part of inspiring other women in tech is sharing our stories, our whole stories, with candor. Admitting to a group of young girls that you too found it hard to imagine what steps to take next gives them both a clue and a sense of validation. Don’t just tell them what you did right. Tell them what you did wrong. You don’t know what’s going to resonate with them. Authenticity is always welcome.
Women in tech, especially C-Suite women, have a responsibility to mentor, support and connect with other women. We must demonstrate that tech is an environment in which women can thrive. Granted, this is easier said than done, as these roles are fiercely demanding and time is limited.
Hiring more women in tech and at executive levels is not just about women. When there is diversity at the table, no one is the odd one out. Everyone is comfortable, and there can be an inclusive, balanced approach to conversation. A diverse team aligned with important company decisions is a reliable indicator that you are on the right track. This means serving a wider audience, growing faster and responsibly and having a more significant impact.
Historically, our definition of success and leadership across much of the business and tech world has been too narrow, and it has cost us both economically and socially. Success used to mean financial success exclusively. Now it includes accountability, transparency and empathy. To address the gender gap, we also have to acknowledge our own gender bias and consider it carefully. If it is top of mind, it is hard to unsee. As a tool, awareness is a powerful vehicle for change. This is not a barrier to success, but a substantial opportunity not just for women, but for everyone.
Through inclusion and understanding how gender bias affects us all, we can increase the diversity and number of women in tech and enjoy more profitable, comprehensive companies and a healthier, more balanced society for all.
Nadia Tatlow is the CEO of Shift.