Men have long dominated the tech industry, and even though efforts are underway to improve gender diversity and representation, it is still not enough. Women represent less than a third of the world’s workforce in tech-related fields and occupy less than 15% of executive roles in the tech sector.
This is troubling for gender equality and representation since it results in being the only woman in the room, facing judgment about their expertise and capabilities, and being passed over a promotion — unlike their male counterparts.
That is why platforms like London Tech Week — where our founder Sonya Barlow was a co-presenter for the second year in a row — are essential to enable female talent to build networks, make meaningful connections, and showcase their expertise and impact on the tech industry.
The truth is that a cultural shift will happen once more women and female talent allies are in positions of power. So, how can we make this a reality?
We talked to industry experts and leaders to explore the challenges women face when entering and progressing into tech and share their insights on what companies and senior leaders can do to ensure women thrive in the industry.
Lack of representation in senior leadership and the motherhood penalty are among the barriers that women face in tech.
Unfortunately, the ‘boys club’ mentality or bro culture in tech means that women face obstacles and imbalances when entering and advancing in the industry.
Agnieszka Suchwałko, Head of Delivery and co-founder at AI/ data science company QuantUp, says that her competence in making decisions has been questioned by colleagues, team members and others in the business.
“A female manager who is a data scientist [computational statistician] has to learn very quickly, as part of her competence development, how not to worry about being devalued by those around her and how to constantly prove to them that she is the best person for the job.
A huge advantage is that the people with whom I manage to establish a relationship of mutual respect, trust and full cooperation as a team never take a step back, and this gives me the feeling that I am doing a good job and changing the world for the better for the next women.”
Michaela Jeffery-Morrison, CEO and co-founder of Ascend Global Media — the company behind Women in Tech World Series — shares that among the barriers girls and women face progressing in tech and any other field are institutional and systemic sexism, stereotyping, unconscious bias, gender pay gap, the motherhood penalty, and a lack of role models.
“Women who are interested in tech, specifically, have to deal with tired ideas about male and female brains and a dearth of women in senior tech positions who can show them that succeeding in the field is possible. One of the reasons why we run the events we do is to give a platform to the many brilliant women who have succeeded in tech and to show all of those interested in the sector that they can flourish.”
“It is challenging entering and partaking in conversations which are heavily male-dominated when often I am the only female and minority in the room. Also, it is hard to relate, especially in terms of progression, when there is a lack of representation within senior leadership. Plus, a lack of internal mentoring and support in terms of career progression meant I wasn’t encouraged to apply for internal roles, whereas my male peers were.”
On the other hand, Verity Batchelder, co-founder of Good Life Sorted, feels that some of the barriers women face are the ones in our heads. “Women who work in tech are gold; they balance the team. If you are in a minority, this is a strength, as you bring a unique insight as well as your skills. So you should be welcomed with open arms, and if you are not and are marginalised in any way, then move on; it’s their loss. To become tech leaders, we need to move to where we are valued and developed and our insights and skills are recognised and respected.”
I think when recruiting, companies should consider if that applicant has the right attitude for the role more than if the person that is applying already works for the company”, says Yamilet Gonzalez, Software Support at Forward Solutions, about the difficulty to progress within tech being linked to whether you have or haven’t done a specific role before.
Companies must take action to ensure women enter and thrive in the tech industry.
The first step to solving any issue is acknowledging that it exists. As much as we want to believe otherwise, women remain deeply underrepresented in tech, particularly at mid and senior levels. The silver lining is that organisations can take that action to improve the outcomes of female talent.
Jeffery-Morrison explains that while concrete actions depend on each organisation, she advises companies and senior leaders to invest in diversity and inclusion training. “DEI isn’t the kind of thing you should do on the side once you’re through the day’s to-do list…Scrutinise your recruitment policies, for example. Look for gendered language, consider blind C.Vs., and work with organisations with access to a diverse talent pool.”
Bennett also shares that companies must be aware of the barriers women and minorities face and actively try to put things in place to even out the playing field. “Seniors leaders should also ensure that all employees are getting the same level of actionable feedback and development plans to help employees develop and progress.”
Suchwałko says that for equal treatment to be natural and not even require thinking, it needs to be addressed from the earliest years of education.
“This is nothing new, but in my culture, girls are still expected to dress neatly and behave appropriately, while boys are encouraged to be uninhibited and only aggression and vulgar vocabulary are considered inappropriate in their case. The consequences are far-reaching.
As a result, women who have managed to resist the expectations of their environment are still few and far between. Fortunately, each one of us provides her children with favourable conditions for a development that is far removed from conventions and stereotypes, and so there are more and more of us in every field.
My daughter has an innate talent for mathematical abstractions, she loves to walk on trees, and I don’t even try to get stains out of her clothes. Today, she is happy and knows her worth, and I am convinced that she will be better than me in every way.”
According to tech leaders and experts, mentoring, flexibility, and diverse hiring practices are among the actionable steps organisations can take right now to ensure women enter and thrive in the tech industry.
Jeffery-Morrison explains that women in business and further education respond to having female mentors.
“It’s also been shown that people hire people who are like them. And though this can be a bad thing (because people in top positions are overwhelmingly white, straight and male), it can be a good thing, too. It means that by supporting and hiring a diverse range of people into senior roles, you can diversify your whole organisation.”
For Gonzalez, the key is to provide support and flexibility and mentorship programmes run by women and support women in a professional and personal setting. “Flexibility would also give single professional mothers more support, and a friendly approach would help them feel more at ease…[mentoring] would give females the ability to develop further skills, and can lead to investment opportunities for any entrepreneurial ideas.”
Bennett agrees and says that companies need to be aware that women and minorities may not have the experience or opportunities afforded to men. “For example, networking and mentoring outside a company is valuable to progressing your career, and not everyone knows that.”
Suchwałko shares that the actions she promotes at her business and that significantly impact the women she works with are diverse hiring practices, creating an inclusive work culture, flexible working policies and supporting educational programmes.
“We have introduced flexible working arrangements, such as remote working options, flexible working hours and parental leave policies, to meet the specific needs and responsibilities of women and men who want them. We also implement blind resume screenings and diverse interview panels to reduce bias during the hiring process; we try to hire any women who, after screening, turn out to be as good as men, as most women do not show all they can.”
Finally, Batchelder suggests that, while opportunities for women in tech are levelling out since young people are growing up with tech, an issue could be how ‘tech’ is perceived.
“Tech’ itself isn’t a career. The way the tech is used, and how it connects, builds and improves lives, and the industries in which that happens — that’s the interesting career bit. So we need to communicate that all the tech can be applied to different professions and target it towards individual interests. Make it relevant, move away from the tech stereotypes. Tech is the enabler, not the end goal.”
Mentoring is a powerful tool to diversify tech.
Allyship and mentoring are seen as initiatives that can help boost women’s careers in the tech industry as long as it is not forced and considers the challenges women and minorities face.
Batchelder is one of the tech leaders that believe mentoring provides practical advice and confidence. “I was assigned a terrific mentor when I worked at Pottermore. She did management training in the team but gave me good sensible advice — practical things like working out how much to speak and maximise your contribution in a senior meeting. If the meeting lasts ‘X’ time, then your proportion of contribution is ‘X’ minutes. Use that time effectively, don’t talk for the sake of it, prepare for the meeting and you’ll gain respect. It sounds obvious but too many of us don’t talk enough, or don’t say the right things at the right time.”
For Jeffery-Morrison, formal and informal mentoring is an important part of diversifying tech since it is a way of exchanging ideas, knowledge, and experiences, offering solidarity and connection, and bridging the gap between different rungs of the organisational ladder.
“My view is that having role models is also a form of mentoring, and an important piece in the puzzle. It might be one-way, but women can benefit so much from seeing other women thrive at the highest levels. They can really learn from their example, even if they can’t form an actual formal relationship with them.”
Gonzalez claims that “whether it is providing opportunities, making yourself available, listening to others and emphasising with/validating other people’s experiences — it can all contribute to a better world. Ultimately, we need to develop a habit of checking how we see the world and other people.”
On the other hand, Bennett says that advocacy can be difficult, especially if working in smaller businesses.
“Allyship is important and can work, but it needs to come from a place of understanding the context and difficulty women and minorities face.”
Similarly, Suchwałko maintains that mentoring initiatives work perfectly when they are not forced and supporting your team as a leader is one way to empower them.
“I always speak up on behalf of my team or its members when they are wrongly accused of something, but it is also me who goes to them when their behaviour is inappropriate…I think this approach should apply to everyone, no matter who they are, and not be limited to women…every member of my team will give more of themselves if they know that someone cares about them and is an important member of that team.”
Although female talent has made considerable progress in the tech industry, much more must be done to build and foster an environment where women have equal opportunities to succeed and make meaningful contributions.
Making a cultural shift requires a collective effort from companies, senior leaders, and the industry as a whole. That is why at LMF Network, we work with organisations to create more diverse and inclusive cultures and address the barriers women face through mentoring, education and meaningful networks.
At LMF Network, we are creating spaces to discuss women in tech and mentoring.
How can LMFNetwork support you in all things ED&I?
LMFNetwork is a talent network and inclusion consultancy bridging career gaps and redefining inclusive working cultures. Work with us on all things talent attraction, retention and development. Our offerings include a mentorship programme, a jobs board, a careers podcast and ED&I strategic workshops.
Written by Alejandra (Alex) Chávez Menéndez.
Alex is the Communications Manager for LMF Network.
Outside of her time with LMFnetwork, she is a Public Affairs Consultant with 8+ years of experience and the founder of Point A. Alex is passionate about helping entrepreneurs, small businesses, and changemakers tell their stories and share what they believe in. She has a master’s in Public Administration and Management from University College London (UCL).