What the industry is doing to support women in tech

Laura Barnes speaks to some of the leading voices in tech distribution, manufacturing and PR to find out what they are doing to support women in tech.
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As you will have no doubt figured out at this point, this month we’ve dedicated the print pages of PCR (and the digital pages of PCR Online) to women working in the tech channel.

Along with highlighting some of the top female talent in the industry, we wanted to make our readers aware of what the channel is actively doing to not only encourage more women to get into the industry, but to make sure those that are working in tech understand the various initiatives out there to help them achieve their goals.

We spoke to some of the leading voices in tech distribution, manufacturing and PR to find out what they are doing to support women in the channel and why we must continue to shed light on the subject.

Why is this important?

Speaking to the likes of distributor Westcoast, PR agency Zaboura, and vendors Intel, Symantec and TP-Link, the first thing we asked was why it was still so important to support women in the tech industry.

“When you’re selling a solution, you have to be an excellent storyteller. You have to be unique and do things differently. And for that you need diversity. Recognising talent, of any gender, and finding opportunities for individuals to thrive is key to success. For me, it’s irrelevant of gender – it’s having diversity that really matters,” says Georgie Ellis. head of cloud sales at Westcoast Cloud.

“That said, there aren’t enough women in tech. We need to engage earlier and make sure that a career in technology is advertised as an opportunity at a school level. Women have another outlook to bring to the table – and true success is taking lead from a range of people and leveraging talent. When you’re selling a solution, you need to build excellent, on-going relationships with your customers. Due to the natural emotive qualities of women, we have advance skills in nurturing relationships and an unequal passion for our customers.”

On the security side of things, Symantec’s director of security response Orla Cox, reveals that while women represent half of our global population, studies show that only 10% of the global cyber security workforce are female, while projections estimate there will be an excess of 1.5 million cyber security jobs in 2020.

“A rich balance and inclusive culture which embraces diverse points of view, backgrounds and perspectives allow the industry to make decisions that serve the needs of a broad spectrum of customers and tech users,” says Cox.

“By including a diverse range of perspectives, it allows the industry to respond to new trends more rapidly, stimulate innovation and perform better. At Symantec, gender equality and the advancement of women in technology is an issue we care deeply about. With the current shortage of skilled professionals in cyber security notably, there is a unique opportunity to attract more women to STEM fields and bridge the diversity and gender equality gap.”

TP-Link country manager Will Liu touches on the benefits of a more diverse workforce. “A recent report about the UK market by PwC shows that only 15% of people working in STEM are female and only 5% of tech leadership rolls are held by women. Yet, according to Tech City UK and the innovation charity Nesta, this sector grew 32% faster than the rest of the UK economy and offers higher than average salaries,” says Liu.

“In terms of benefit to the business, a diverse employment strategy has been shown to improve decision making and problem solving as well as providing valuable insights into your target demographics.”

Maggie Zaboura, MD of PR agency Zaboura, adds: “We’re seeing more female leaders in classic boys clubs such as finance and politics, but we still can’t say the same for tech.

“Women make up only 19% of the UK tech workforce, and are still heavily underrepresented. There are just 24 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies now, down 25% from last year.

I’m seeing more women in their 50s being asked onto boards but it’s not just about the board – it’s about fair representation and diversity throughout an organisation. And it’s not just about improving opportunities for women, but for business, too. Gender equality in any environment broadens ideas and problem-solving, better reflects the consumer market and deepens the well of resources.”

According to Intel’s UK sales director Jennifer Shileika, having a team that reflects the world around you is important.

“Our commitment to diversity comes from our conviction that reaching a critical mass of women and underrepresented minorities in our industry brings significant benefits. Research shows that people in diverse, inclusive teams are more open to new ideas, more creative in their problem solving, more engaged and higher performing. You can’t innovate and have an impact on the world’s population if your organisation isn’t reflective of the world’s population,” she states.

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What initiatives are out there?

While it seems the industry is in agreement that companies should be as diverse as possible, we’re not going to see real change unless tech firms are actively working towards this goal. So, we asked the contributors to this piece what their company is doing to actively support women and what projects they’re personally involved in.

“Symantec is highly involved in wide variety of groups and partnerships to attract young women to STEM fields like technology and cyber security, including the Symantec Women’s Action Network (SWAN), in which I participate actively,” says Symantec’s Cox.

“SWAN is a global group for women in Symantec; we play an integral role by building cultural awareness and providing opportunities to serve as cultural community ambassadors, mentor women in cyber security, volunteer and advocate on issues, including advocacy for female employees to help them grow in their careers.

“Symantec also partners with the Anita Borg Institute for “Women in Technology” to advance women in computing. Through the TechWomen program, Symantec mentors are paired with emerging leaders to expose them to female role models. We also work in partnership with PowerToFly and recently hosted a “Meet Women Leaders of Symantec” event aimed at engaging and recruiting women in technology.”

Intel’s Shileika says the global company takes a holistic approach to this challenge, targeting efforts across hiring, retaining and progression which have been successful in the UK. “In the last three years we have achieved a 40% female hiring rate and women in middle or senior grades now account for more than 50% of our UK workforce.

“We also know that it’s not enough to focus solely on driving diversity. Ensuring we have an inclusive workforce is the key to lasting impact. Every day we continue to create an Intel where all of our employees are able to bring their full experiences to work.”

TP-Link’s Liu comments: “TP-Link is an equal opportunities employer that takes diversity seriously, from the recruitment process through to employee retention, the business has developed a robust series of policies and procedures that encourages the best quality candidates to apply for jobs and then ensure they grow and remain within the business.”

Westcoast Cloud’s Ellis reveals the company’s plans for a new programme: “The Westcoast Cloud team is really diverse and we’re lucky to have a lot of talented women. As we move forward, we’re committed to support diversity and are looking to start a ‘Women in Business’ apprenticeship programme to encourage young women to join our industry.”

Meanwhile, Zaboura outlines the work she has been doing with organisations that help young women get into STEM.

“There are a lot of amazing things happening right now that are encouraging more young women into the IT sector. And it’s not just IT – there are now all sorts of roles, in all sorts of industries, that are related to technology, and it’s easier than ever before to get a start,” she says.

“I’ve worked with some fantastic organisations that encourage and teach young people – girls, especially – of all nationalities and from all different backgrounds how to code, such as Girls Who Code, that are so accessible.

“There are so many meet ups and events that cover myriad of topics for everyone to get involved with. It’s about sparking interest and lighting passions in younger generations, showing them how incredible and wide-ranging their input can be, and giving them the confidence and drive to get involved.”

Zaboura adds: “Everything is accessible if there is the appetite and the will to do it.”

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What more can the industry do?

It’s great to see that the focus on encouraging young women to get into the industry is growing, and clearly there are many companies in the channel that are driving diversity within their workforces. But as we move into 2019, what more could the industry as a whole be doing to ensure we continue on the right path?

“The industry needs to ensure diverse voices, backgrounds and perspectives are included,” says Cox. “We need to ensure young women can recognise themselves and feel confident aspiring to a career in technology by promoting role models they can relate to. This is particularly the case in technology, and notably in cyber security, wherein often experts quoted in the media or speaking at conferences are predominantly male.”

Cox also suggests that the industry should partner with nonprofits to “channel the passion of young women” and close the STEM gender gap from a young age.

“We should look at how we can attract and retain a diverse talent pool to create a culture wherein females can thrive. The industry should offer opportunities to develop and accelerate female talent. At Symantec, we provide leading female employees the opportunity to attend the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, joining 18,000 primarily female attendees for the largest gathering of women in computing today.

“Collaborating with key research, nongovernmental organisations, public policy and education partners, we support conversations and creating a voice internally and externally for women in tech.”

While many commercial organisations and charities are promoting STEM within schools and giving children the opportunity to explore a profitable future in tech, Liu says that to get the most out of this ever expanding pool of talent, employers need to take a step back and think about their recruitment process, before they even review the interview process.

“Are they attracting a representative sample of applicants, and once recruited, do the company policies and procedures support employee growth and development to improve retention?” asks Liu. “Like all industries, employers should be adopting HR best practices.”

Zaboura agrees that employees need to think outside of the box when it comes to hiring. “I strongly believe that this doesn’t just apply to women, but the industry still hires by templates and quotas. They need to go beyond the CV and biases and hire and develop from varying backgrounds and education.”

Shileika offers up a recent quote from Intel’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, Barbara Whye: “Industry-wide problems require industry-wide solutions. Encouraging more women and particularly women of colour to pursue careers in STEM fields requires coordinated collaboration and a shared strategy with our peers.”

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” notes Shileika. “It’s important that people, whether men or women, recognise their own role and contribution to the wider goal of achieving representation in the sector and each do what they can to improve our business practices and culture in a way that drives overall progress.”

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