Why there are so few women in technology – can we go from discussion to action?
- 04 December, 2017 12:42
What if we shifted the question from ‘why there aren't more women’ to ‘what have you done so that more women join technology, boards and STEM fields?’
When I posted my article "Corporate misbehaviour, abuse of power, and why there are so few women in technology", I meant to share a cathartic and personal experience, wanting to get out of my chest what I would have answered my male colleagues, who do not always ask women the question “why there are so few women in technology”.
As a matter of fact, male colleagues tend to ask the question to themselves and/or to their gender peer group. It is harder to detect and gain awareness of any unconscious bias within your own demographic of technology executives.
However, I did not realise I hit a nerve until I saw the ‘likes’ on LinkedIn climbing. The first responses and comments came from women, and regardless whether they worked in New Zealand or America, it seems the sentiment about the corporate environment being bullish, with abundant posturing and unconscious bias behaviours was shared across borders. Later on came the male readership and comments.
The oldest document I found online referring to the gender gap is from 2010 Women and girls Summit Report (County of Santa Clara, USA), which already mentions the need to move women into non-traditional STEM subjects and careers.
It would be pointless to increase the intake of women in technology, and in boards for more women to experience the negative aspects such as abuse of power and bullying.
The latest statistIcs on McKinsey's Leaky Pipes survey found that 48 per cent of women entering the technology workforce, only 21 per cent reach C-level; or the Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO survey which indicates no progress on women in IT leadership despite 35 per cent of the companies with a formal diversity initiative. The Tech Challenge Charter, that PWC and Deloitte have just joined, admits that the industry is male-dominated. In summary, not much progress has been made.
If the number of women in tech or boards or just corporates is to increase and stay, the environment has to be welcoming, and this is not just a benefit for women, everybody in the organisation benefits. It would be pointless to increase the intake of women in technology, and in boards for more women to experience the negative aspects such as abuse of power and bullying.
As Prof Jeffrey Pfeffer wrote, “The pervasiveness of workplace bullying is another, albeit different, manifestation of workplace power imbalances that permit people to get away with actions that harm--psychologically, physically, and emotionally--others.” And he forecasts that “the backlash against sexual harassment may have the fortuitous consequence of sparking more discussion of and less tolerance for other forms of workplace abuse.”
How much more discussion needs to happen? How many more articles and op-eds need to be written and disseminated? It is always flattering to get clicks on one’s articles, and it is liberating to discuss issues close to our hearts. In the spirit of wanting to be part of the solution, to take steps toward a solution, so that all the articles written for the last ten or more years about women in the workplace don’t fall on deaf ears, what could be done? What would happen if the question shifted from ‘why there aren't more women, to ‘what have you done so that more women join technology, boards and STEM fields?’
What would happen if each organisation, unit, team, group of men and women working together had an honest, open, time-boxed discussion about the behaviours at work, how different behaviours are enacted and perceived? Which ones are positive, which ones are negative for each gender? Then take action to fix that group, and then another, and another – like a chain reaction.
How about borrowing the words from the White Ribbon campaign ad, as a conversation starter?
Model respect, talk about respect, show respect
What if we started changing the workplace one team at a time? It is the working relationship which needs to improve for inclusion. Like any other relationship, the parties need to understand what is and what is not working, and then act to change.
Let’s collectively create this ground swell by shifting the energy from discussing to doing something, albeit small, which multiplicated, could make a positive difference. Let's crowdsource that determination to affect change.
Is this too idealistic?
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Claudia Vidal is an independent director for Skills4Work Inc, an advisory board member (industry representative) for ITP's (IT Professionals NZ) Accreditation Board; a member of the advisory board of the Strategic CIO Programme (Business School, the University of Auckland), and external member advisory board (audit and risk) of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. She is an editorial advisory board member of CIO New Zealand. She is a senior technology leader with specific strengths in business strategies enabled by digital, and programme delivery. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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