Today marks International Women’s Day and the campaign theme for this year is Balance for Better, a call-to-action for all of us to build a gender-balanced world. This could not be more relevant than within the male-dominated tech industry. With that in mind, a variety of female technology and cybersecurity professionals have come together to share advice on how women can get into technology, how they can thrive in the industry, and the importance of inclusivity and diversity.
Before looking to the future, it is always good to acknowledge the past and the progress that has already been made, as Eulalia Flo, Country Manager at Commvault reflects: “At the beginning, I used to count how many women were attending any meeting or event – there were so few that if we reached 20% it would look ‘balanced’ to me. This has now changed. Even if women are in a minority in leadership and technical positions, we are no longer considered to be ‘rare birds’.”
Imbalance in technology has been prevalent since the beginning, but the part women have played in its advancement has been decisive. Bethany Allee, Vice President of Marketing at Cybera, reminds us: “Women have been in technology from day one! The world’s first programmer was a woman, so it’s only fitting that technology provides a platform for equality when it comes to recognising and anyone – regardless of gender identity.”
AI and the machine learning effect
Much of the discourse around automation has focused on the impact that it will have on job security, but, inevitably, the burden of these changes will be felt unequally and affect some sectors more than others. As Tara O’Sullivan, CMO at Skillsoft suggests, the threat is more prevalent for women. “Automation through AI and Machine Learning will impact millions of jobs across the globe, but not everyone is equally at risk,” she explains. “Twice as many women than men are likely to lose their jobs as automation replaces human labour, according to a recent report by the Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis (ISEA). This is because women are more likely to be employed in jobs that are most likely to be displaced by automation – roles like cashiers or receptionists.
“Organisations need to address this now. Many employ a lot of women with little or no education, women that will need to be retrained to re-enter the workforce in a new capacity once these roles become automated. Employers need to lead the charge, retraining and proactively finding new opportunities for these employees.”
Tech for women, women for tech
There could not be a better time to work within technology, the field is witnessing unprecedented levels of growth and it is becoming ever more ingrained in everyday life. Liz Matthews, Head of Community and Education at Mango Solutions, reflects on this, stating: “Across the data profession, women make up only 26% of the workforce. But, considering that just 12.8% of the overall STEM workforce are women, the data and analytics sector is doing better than others, and we believe that there has never been a more exciting time to build a career in data science and analytics. Companies are investing in data-driven digital transformation more than ever before and the diversity of roles available in advanced analytics and data science is certainly increasing.”
Svenja de Vos, Chief Technology Officer at Leaseweb Global B.V, adds: “I believe that if more women are to enter the tech sector, we need to start young, showing girls that tech can be fun. I started coding when I was about eight years old. My parents bought a computer and I was hooked. It was fun learning how it worked, creating something on a computer. There is so much scope for creativity in tech – more than people think.”
It is not only a great time for women to work within technology, but it is imperative that gender balance is achieved for the betterment of the field. Women are an inevitable asset to the future of technology as Yumi Nishiyama, Director of Global Services at Exabeam, discusses: “My biggest piece of advice for women of all ages would be: ‘do not be afraid to use your voice.’ As women, we bring different ideas and strengths. Be confident in what you’re good at, pursue what you’re passionate about, and let that be the focal point, not the stereotypes.”
Jeannie Barry, Director of Technology Enablement at ConnectWise, agrees that young girls today need people surrounding them who can help to boost their confidence and inspire them to dream big and follow through on those dreams. She continues: “With social media all around us, girls are comparing themselves to other girls, causing a lot of self-doubt and lowering self-worth. We need to make sure we’re constantly providing opportunities to grow their confidence and ensure they are focused on their own journey and not trying to be like someone else.
“Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, and Karlie Kloss, model and entrepreneur who started Kode with Klossy, are inspiring women to have an interest in technology. They understand how important it is to get girls interested at a young age and help them build confidence in coding and engineering. It’s awesome that they are inspiring women to have an interest in technology and to be proud of how smart they really are – I wish I had something like this when I was growing up.”
Balance for better
Gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive. International Women’s Day encourages action, and action incites change. Sophia Zheng, Product Manager at Bitglass considers that sometimes feeling the disparity mainly comes down to those around you. She continues: “In school, kids are immature and they don’t know what lasting impact words like, “she can’t because she is a girl”, might have. I have been lucky that in the workplace, it doesn’t feel like it is that imbalanced. There is still an imbalance, but the way people treat you can have a big impact and make all the difference.”
Now more than ever we need to continue to encourage young women to pursue STEM subjects and enter the technology industry. Diversity in teams is crucial, and days like today truly shine a light on the strong female role models for the next generation to follow.