Sherry Lowe, Exabeam's new Chief Marketing Officer

Delivering On Gender Diversity: Why The Technology Industry Sits At A Crossroads

Sherry Lowe, Chief Marketing Officer at Exabeam focuses on creating gender diversity and the importance of encouraging more women into tech.

Despite growing emphasis on the importance, value, and impact of gender diversity in the technology industry, there remains a huge amount of work to be done. What’s also becoming clear is that the past 18 months of remote work has the potential to finally end the industry’s ‘bro culture.’ For instance, male dominated leadership teams who decide amongst themselves in a hallway or at a pub after work who will be given the next promotion or opportunity are under pressure to evolve. The pandemic has effectively ended the opportunity to “get the guys together for a quick chat” and ultimately a decision.

So what’s changed? Without doubt, doing business remotely has leveled the playing field. Today, anyone can be seated at the virtual decision-making table, which employees are truly putting in the work is more apparent than ever, and representation can be more diverse. This has significantly increased the existing momentum behind efforts to achieve gender equality and cleared away some long-standing barriers to progress.

Converting this cultural shift into true equality sees the industry at a crossroads. The issues faced by women working in the cyber security industry, for instance, underline the wider challenges we face. Despite the fact that nearly a third of the global cyber security workforce is now female, research from (ISC2) found that discrimination and a major gender pay gap continue to have an impact on the opportunities for women. The same study found that overall, women are paid around 21 percent less than their male counterparts globally.

In addition, (ISC2) also found that over a fifth (22 percent) of women in cyber security cited discrimination as an issue they had experienced in their careers, compared to 13 percent of men. The cyber security niche is by no means alone in the challenges it faces, and there are currently some important trends at play which will determine how well the industry as a whole embraces the opportunities we now have.

Changing workplace culture
Like many sectors of the economy, the IT industry is currently experiencing a widespread and profound change in attitudes towards working culture. Traditional approaches towards remote working, for instance, have been transformed by over 18 months of unavoidable disruption. Leaders who were previously unconvinced that it offered a good alternative to shared office spaces have realised a range of benefits.

The trend is profound. Global brands from Facebook and Twitter to Fujistsu and Salesforce (among many others) have announced permanent changes to how they are allowing their teams to work. Hybrid working is fast becoming a ‘must have’ in the jobs market, with recruitment ads increasingly presenting it as an attractive part of the benefits on offer.

This is also giving employers the opportunity to modernise their approach to the opportunities they offer women. Companies are realising that finding the best talent is no longer dependent on whether people are based near to corporate HQ or a satellite office, their background, or gender. Leaders who believe that being in the office everyday is the only way to ensure individual and collective success now risk being left behind by more agile employers who now see staff location as much lower down their list of priorities.

The potential for equal opportunities is clear. Employers who fully embrace flexibility automatically broaden their available talent pool, not least because they let go of the outdated thinking, such as women can’t combine careers with childcare.

Support and mentorship
As well as equal opportunities, there’s no doubt that women in tech also need each other. Whether it’s sharing ideas, providing support or connecting with female mentors, building a strong community is key to ensuring the IT industry becomes more representative of society.

Mentors can play a huge role in helping women to fulfill their potential. While finding a female mentor in the tech industry can be challenging, looking outside your own organisation or building suitable connections through industry groups can widen the options.

In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that a good mentor can be absolutely life changing. People that have mentors at work are more likely to see career success and are less likely to suffer from loneliness and isolation.

Women at the beginning of their tech careers should also be encouraged to diversify their experiences to fully understand where their interests lie. Not only does this offer different and valuable perspectives, it also helps individuals identify what specialisms or skill sets best align with their strengths, ambitions and values.

Many women also work against a backdrop of self-doubt and imposter syndrome. With access to support at the right times, however, it’s possible to turn insecurity into a motivating factor. In particular, diverse experiences and a determination to succeed can be extremely beneficial to women working in male-dominated environments.

Having courage to speak out
In the current environment where there is growing emphasis on tackling bias and discrimination, women also need the courage and support to speak out when they experience or witness wrongdoing in the workplace.

It’s vitally important that women feel safe to come forward to highlight harmful or discriminatory behaviours – both for themselves and their colleagues. From the employer perspective, anything other than a zero tolerance approach to these issues is critical to long-term success. Businesses they want to attract and keep top talent must now demonstrate their commitment to equality and diversity.

Take the ongoing issues at leading video games publisher Activision Blizzard, for example. Having been hit with a lawsuit from California’s Department of Fair Employment over its alleged discriminatory culture, the company has seen workers walk out in protest, senior leadership figures under pressure and has faced a wave of criticism. For some commentators, the scandal has the potential to become a ‘watershed moment’ for women in the gaming industry.

This and the many other examples of workplace inequality that don’t make major headlines represent important moments in the long-term struggle to level the playing field. Ultimately, every workplace must offer a supportive environment for people to freely contribute their skills and talents. They should be safe to do so – even to take risks when they feel the need to speak out to protect themselves or their colleagues. This is key to building a wider supportive culture where women can achieve their goals with the genuine support of others – not in the face of bias and exclusion.

Ultimately, changing leadership mindset to gender equality is the route to long-term success. As more businesses understand that progress represents a win-win for every stakeholder, the IT industry has the chance to build on recent momentum to deliver on this vital objective.

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