Technology plays a vital role in shaping societies because of its powerful economic impact. It offers capabilities to support businesses and expand access to information and services, which can help form equitable societies and improve people’s lives.
With the accelerating digital transformation and growing demand for tech talents, technology companies are being challenged to build a more balanced workforce and elevate more women into leadership positions.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, the average gender disparity is at 68.9% in East Asia and the Pacific region. The report also indicates that it will now take 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide. In sectors requiring specialised skills, such as the tech industry, gender imbalance is more pronounced. For instance, women make up only 14% of the workforce in cloud computing, and only 32% in data and artificial intelligence (AI) fields.
In a recent Women in Tech Roundtable: Crisis Fuels Innovation, a member of the audience expressed her frustration and noted that “this is a conversation I have been hearing over the last 10 years, and while it is great that we are progressing, we are still hearing things like ‘it is a bloke-y sector’”. The tech industry is still a man’s world and more work needs to be done to achieve true gender parity.
In times of crisis, such as Covid-19, industries can significantly benefit from the value women bring in leveraging innovations to solve our society’s most pressing problems. Here are some of the ways to encourage women to enter and thrive in tech:
Change starts with leadership
While the pandemic has accelerated automation and digitalisation, it has also significantly disrupted the labour market, which will have a scarring effect on future economic opportunities for women. Without any measures to counter these effects, management consulting firm McKinsey estimates the economy could lose as much as US$1 trillion ($1.36 trillion) of global GDP growth in 2030. Conversely, actively taking steps now to advance gender equality can add US$13 trillion to the global GDP in 2030.
Inclusive recovery policies and practices must be implemented to tackle these potential challenges. To achieve diversity, senior leadership must develop policies and processes that safeguard women’s access to employment opportunities and leadership roles. Human resource leaders need to ensure that guidelines are implemented in the hiring and re-hiring process. Processes should also regularly be reviewed to safeguard against discriminatory practices and stereotypes.
Stand up for ourselves and for others
While leadership needs to take an active role in pushing for more diversity within the tech sector, women within the workforce need to be vocal and call out discriminatory behaviours and practices.
For instance, learning and development opportunities within the company are significant factors in boosting female retention. According to a Boston Consulting Group survey of female employees from tech companies in Southeast Asia, programmes such as executive coaching, professional development, mentoring and personalised roadmaps for career advancement are highly effective measures to retain female employees.
With structures that support women’s career development, companies can develop more female leaders and enable their participation in shaping the future of the business. Seeing more women progress in their careers is vital in closing the gender gap as it inspires more women to seek leadership roles. Women should be able to access career advancement programmes, and any barriers to these initiatives should be immediately highlighted.
Develop unbiased tech systems
If not addressed, the under-representation of women in the tech sector will further drive gender disparity. No matter how advanced digital technologies — such as big data, machine learning and AI — are, they still require human input. The data sets, variables and algorithms needed to train AI is determined by AI teams developing these systems. To ensure that AI systems are free of biases and prejudices, women should take active roles in developing, training and calibrating these technologies.
AI applications are developed and designed to improve the user experience and overcome unconscious bias. In recruiting and hiring, for example, human resource teams are utilising AI in developing a diverse talent database that does not take biases such as gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation into account. Thus, with more women in the technology sector, systems and applications can be developed free of biases and offer real benefits to both men and women.
Increase the catch with a wider net
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Encouraging women to study STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects is just one way to develop a strong talent pipeline. As the technology continues to improve and IT teams undergo a massive shift, moving from being a cost centre supporting the staff to becoming a driver of business innovation, the skills required to succeed within the tech sector are changing along with it.
For women looking to start a career in the tech sector, there are often many paths to the same destination, and different studies and experiences can bring fresh perspectives that can be supplemented with training. With the rise of the citizen developer, in which departments use pre-existing platforms to build solutions, the way technology supports the business has also fundamentally changed. Businesses should now recruit for skills while creating training programmes that respond to the needs of an agile and diverse workforce.
Investing in women promotes greater teamwork, collaboration and ultimately, brings better results across the board. With enough women at the table, organisations can create inclusive and flexible policies that promote an integrated and balanced life. By giving access to opportunities and providing a space where women can thrive, the tech sector can affirm its role as a positive force for society. Thus, encouraging more women into tech is not just about the optics — it is about building the workforce of the future.
Kathleen Delaney is the chief marketing officer at Kofax