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I had the pleasure of speaking on the panel at HSBC and Computing.co.uk’s event last week, STEM at the Source – Modernising recruitment for the Digital Age. It was fantastic to meet and talk to so many advocates of women in tech and discuss how we can implement change across the industry. There were plenty of themes, issues and discussions on the current environment women find themselves working in and where the industry is falling down in understanding what women want or need to advance in our sector. I wanted to take a moment to summarise my thoughts and some of the discussion points shared during the event and welcome the community to add their comments to keep the discussion going!
Why women in tech are so important
Jen Goodison, CTO, HSBC, shared her experience working in tech and often finding herself as the only woman in the room throughout her career. She has seen first-hand that men dominate the industry but clearly demonstrated why bringing women to leadership positions will promote high-performing and successful teams in tech. Emotional Intelligence is a skill that has always been associated with women and is key to a happy team. Jen has worked hard not to let work push her teams wellbeing to the side and puts supporting her teams welfare front and centre of her priorities. HSBC has taken this a step further by implementing surveys that ask teams to share how they are feeling on a weekly basis. Although simple, Jen can see every week how her team feel without anyone feeling like they are disturbing others at work. This establishes a medium to communicate feelings and general well-being, which sees her team achieve better results together. I thought this was a fascinating process to instil at work. It not only ensures leaders can support their teams emotionally but also promotes a culture of looking out for each other and better team unity.
Comfortable or happy?
Technologika CEO, Joseph Castle, gave excellent insights into how he has adapted his company to grow a rich culture and retain staff. He said free beers and bean bags can mask a toxic culture for a while, but ultimately people need to understand the mission and vision of your company. Without retention, you cannot go on to attract diverse staff and start making a change. People want to be challenged and have a clear development pathway they can follow on the journey with you. He said this all starts with communication and ensuring your message reaches your employees, but also by changing how you communicate with prospective employees. The language you use across job adverts, who interviews the applicant and determining whether they will be a good culture fit is vital.
Joseph went one step further to say something that really resonated with me: “Make a distinction between comfortable and happy”. The two tend to get blended, but it’s important to challenge your employees whilst maintaining happiness.
How can we attract more females?
Flexibility and understanding the demands of women are key. Someone from the audience posed a question to the panel, asking if anyone has actually asked women what they want. An excellent point. Everyone’s situation is different, and if you have a defined profile of somebody you are looking for, you are narrowing down the options of an already very narrow talent pool.
Look introspectively and assess if your role could be part-time. Can the role be adapted for job sharing between two part-time staff? Do you allow your team to feel like they can leave work to pick up their children? Is flexible working hours even an option? Can your staff work 4-days a week instead of 5?
These questions may take time to answer, but it opens the doors of your business to excellent professionals who can and will help grow your business.
Take a friend to the boardroom
I shared some insights from our recent research into the industry, which tied in nicely with another point Jen had to make about professionals in leadership positions. Our study found a gender pay gap of 31% in favour of men for staff with 6-10 years of experience. Jen pointed out that making a change here will be determined by business leaders and said that those at the top need to bring a friend. This was really empowering. Tap your colleague on the shoulder when an internal position comes up, and ensure they can have the support and resources to take the step up. Prioritising internal talent first gives the opportunity to assess specialists from across your business, and offer them a fair package that doesn’t break the wage structure of the whole business. Of course, it may take time to train them, but the opportunity to show the rest of the business that you can be promoted gives hard evidence that there is a development pathway. It’s not easy, but these small steps will help in promoting diversity at the top of businesses.
Empower women, don’t make them the DE&I hire
Finally, I’ll end my ramblings on what Gemma Milne, the author of Smoke and Mirrors, shared with us. When looking for a job at the start of her career, she noticed there were internships expressly set up for women and internships at the same company that wasn’t tagged as just for women. Although the sentiment to attract more women was there, these programs can hinder women’s chances later. Women could be seen as a “DE&I hire” and not employed by the company on merit. A really interesting point where women should not have to jump through hoops to land a job at top organisations but should be considered for what they can do and the value they can add.
There’s so much more I could share from last week’s talk and I am grateful to have been able to share my thoughts. A big thanks to Computing and HSBC for organising the event and to Stuart Sumner for hosting. Please join the conversation. Change is on the way.