Women in tech: The big talking points

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

SME Magazine talks to leading women working in the tech industry ahead of this year’s International Women’s Day on Wednesday

Natalie Cramp, CEO of data consultancy Profusion on bridging the STEM gap:

“The first step is to start really listening to women in the industry. There’s plenty of talk about diversity, but in many instances the conversation is dominated by men. I know more often than not their intentions are good, but change will only happen if they stop talking for a moment and listen to what women who actually experience the industry say needs to happen.

“There’s a huge amount of gatekeeping in the tech industry. Many hiring decisions are biased towards particular technical qualifications, backgrounds or coding languages. Tech founders should hire for transferable skills and teach the tech or data knowledge required. We’ve taken this approach at Profusion and now women make up the majority of our senior team – something that is very rare in the data industry. Also, offer part-time roles, women do the majority of the childcare statistically and often don’t move roles because they worry they can’t secure part-time or job share arrangements elsewhere – offer this from the start and it will set you apart from competitors.

“Ultimately the tech industry can play a much bigger role in tackling one of the root causes of underrepresentation – the lack of women studying STEM. The stats haven’t changed enough in the past few years, so it’s clear more must be done. Research shows gender stereotypes are formed as young as seven, the net result seems to be that when young girls get to secondary school many are locked into a path that precludes a huge number of career choices. The tech industry can and should help break this cycle by educating young people, teachers and parents on all the possibilities and benefits of STEM careers, addressing stereotypes and providing work inspiration and experience opportunities.”

Lydia Kothmeier, Vice President of Operations at enterprise tech Storyblok on curating a culture of equality:

“It’s really important that businesses, especially those involved in tech, go beyond viewing gender equality and the wider diversity mandate as just another corporate box to be ticked. The reality is that it’s much bigger than that. It’s about breaking age-old biases and barriers and creating a place where every single person – be it male or female – feels equally valued, included and heard. For example, it doesn’t matter if we have a part-time or full-time team member or a person who will be on maternity leave for a while. We want to give them the chance to grow at Storyblok, involve them in interesting projects and ensure they are part of our story. Everyone is welcome to come up with suggestions, take over responsibilities or lead a team.

“For us, the right attitude and experience is much more important than working hours. Excitement, passion and curiosity isn’t something that can be quantified by figures or charts but must be lived and breathed from the top down. If your team senses a lack of authenticity, it’s likely that they will be less inclined to get on board and the impact of even the most comprehensive diversity strategy will fall to the wayside. In this way, it’s about curating a culture of equality that is not just part of your corporate strategy but deeply ingrained in your entire brand philosophy.”

Sarah Gilchriest, President of Circus Street, on how upskilling can support a more diverse workforce

“Creating a more gender diverse workplace is both a moral and commercial imperative. Having a plurality of experiences and backgrounds creates more points of view, positions and ways of thinking. But it can be easier said than done.

“Companies that lack diversity more often than not suffer from institutional problems that prevent underrepresented groups applying for roles, being hired or developing into more senior leadership roles. Research indicates that unconscious bias can play a major role. People either hire or promote new team members that are like themselves or have perceptions of particular groups that lead them to believe they would not be suited for a particular role. Many business leaders also argue that diversity is inextricably linked to the skills gap – there simply aren’t enough people from underrepresented groups embarking on careers in areas such as development or data science to help representation.

“Breaking these cycles requires a more proactive approach from businesses. Businesses simply can’t wait for the skills gap to close by itself nor can they assume that hiring and promotion practices will change without intervention. So how can organisations take a big step forward and help to close any gender gap? One answer can be found in developing an upskilling program. Businesses cultivate the talent they already have and hire more diverse team members with a view to developing their skill sets in a way that is relevant to both your business and their aspirations and abilities.”

Grete Ling, Head of Growth at marketing and analytics platform App Radar, on what tech companies can do to support the careers of women:

“Having a diverse team is really important – that includes different genders, nationalities, skill-sets and personality traits. It drives innovation by providing a huge range of views and experiences. People tackle problems from different angles and that ultimately helps a company perform.

“Tech companies need to be aware of how their unconscious biases can hold back women or other underrepresented groups. It may be that their recruitment practices make hiring people from different backgrounds much harder or their company culture prevents underrepresented groups from progressing in their careers. The key is to treat everyone equally. To not assume things based on someone’s background and to create a company culture that is open and inclusive. To that end, I think all companies should focus on investing in developing their people, professionally and emotionally. Self-analysis and mental health are more important than ever. This applies to everybody, not just women.”

Maria A Pereda, strategic partnerships lead at alternative funding provider, Capchase on attracting women later in life: 

“Companies need to be mindful of unconscious biases and create a working culture where this is in check. Create a culture where opportunities are given based on true impact on the business and not based on who has the loudest voice.

“We also need to see more opportunities for women later in their careers, such as returning mothers, to retrain and reskill themselves into tech. It’s important that people realize it’s never too late. Just like myself, entering tech slightly later in my career, there’s always an opportunity to diversify, upskill or even reskill.”

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024