This is what women in C-suite positions in tech have to say about equality on International Women’s Day

By March 8, 2024Other

International Women’s Day takes place today, 8th March, just like it does every year. And while it may have received increasing awareness and promotion in recent years, it has been an official holiday since 1917. From the late 1970s, it has gained global recognition thanks to the United Nations.

Often derided by those who perceive it as a day co-opted, and therefore diluted, by brands and big business as a way to perform lip service to their employees via pink Prosecco and cupcakes, others wonder why there isn’t a matching day for men. FYI: International Men’s Day takes place on 19th November annually.

There are a number of very valid reasons as to why IWD is important. The organisation itself says that while it is “a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, “the day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”

The pay gap exists

This includes advocating for areas such as the gender pay gap, maternity leave rights and childcare, gender-based violence, healthcare and much more.

women at work

Detractors often cite the pay gap, for example, as a fiction, arguing that women only seem to be paid less than men because they do different types of jobs. Women are over-represented in education and caring professions for example, whereas more men work in STEM jobs. Additionally, some insist that women’s roles are often part-time, or require less experience.

The evidence and effects of the pay gap are very real, however. In the US, according to Pew Research Center, the gap in pay has remained static for 20 years, and apart from economic disadvantage, the bigger problem is that mothers, women of colour and those with disabilities are penalised the most.

Misogyny is on the rise

Right now, the world is experiencing a shift in perception around gender equality, and a study from the University of Gothenburg on gender equality and sexism in Europe has made some unsettling findings. 

Thanks to years of advances, older men are far less likely to feel threatened by women’s improving equality. But the tide is turning. Now, young men aged 18 to 29 most often agree with the statement that “promoting women’s and girls’ rights has gone too far because it threatens men’s and boys’”. 

The rise of so-called misogyny influencers, such as Andrew Tate, goes hand-in-hand with this. Talking directly to their audiences of teenage boys and young men, they share sexist ideologies about women and their roles, but also damaging rhetoric about how they believe men “should” behave.

As a result, IWD and everything it stands for, has never mattered more. 

Addressing systemic barriers

For women in C-suite and senior leadership positions who are working in often male-dominated industries such as the tech sector, the messages are clear. Women are entitled to be at these tables, they are capable and competent, and that their specific requirements, such as caring for children, should be accommodated––and celebrated.

Here, four senior women in leadership positions within the tech industry have their say.

“Despite generally doing better in education, women are less likely to progress in the workplace,” confirms Violeta Martin, VP commercial sales EMEA at DocuSign

“This shows that despite being qualified for roles, systemic barriers still exist that prevent many women from progressing in their chosen fields. As a woman working in the tech industry, I know first-hand the unique challenges that we face feeling included at work. 

“These range from finding opportunities and guidance in STEM careers to subtle biases that often sideline women in key decision-making processes. Additionally, navigating household responsibilities and family planning amidst professional commitments presents another layer of challenge. With tailored support from businesses, women can overcome these barriers without compromising career advancement. 

“I urge leaders to make the industry more inclusive for women – whether that is by offering flexible working or educational pathways for young women wanting to try their hand at a career in STEM. Small actions compound and create workplaces where every employee is valued, respected, and empowered to thrive. Studies show that this increases productivity and supports talent retention.”

Challenging the status quo

For Deann Evans, who is the managing director EMEA at Shopify, challenging those elements of work which may be seen as the “status quo” is important. 

“We must recognise the unfair barriers that place individuals at different starting lines, and take action to dismantle them. Choosing to work for and lead organizations that prioritize equitable opportunities is more than just a professional decision. 

“Through championing inclusive practices, we at Shopify are actively trying to set new standards and demonstrate our commitment to creating a truly inclusive workplace.

Evans and her team have done this in several ways. “For instance, we have adopted a digital-first approach towards work to help drive inclusion. This approach, called ‘Digital by Design’, gives employees the flexibility to work almost anywhere in order to create a safe space for people to work around their needs outside of work and to level the playing field. 

“Thanks to embracing digital solutions, barriers to inclusion––from geographical constraints to caregiving responsibilities––are broken down.” 

Watch new technologies carefully

Jadee Hanson, CISO at Vanta, warns that we need to be vigilant when it comes to specific sectors. For example, AI-related job losses are expected to disproportionately affect women, and “deep fakes”, created by AI tools, predominantly affect women too.

“The technology sector is represented by only 25% women, and the cybersecurity sector is represented by only 20% women,” she notes.

“In fact, data from Fawcett Society‘s Paths to Parenthood: Uplifting new mothers at work report found that 250,000 women left their jobs because of difficulties with balancing work and childcare demonstrating the inequality still impacting women’s careers.”

Hanson thinks that while IWD is a celebration, it is equally a learning tool. “It is also an opportunity to set an example for younger generations, by showing them the importance of equality, respect, and fairness. As leaders, we’re responsible for laying the foundation that challenges ingrained stereotypes to ensure a more equitable future in technology.”

Slack’s Deirdre Byrne, who is the company’s head of UK & Ireland, says that “Having entered the industry around two decades ago when there were very few women leaders in tech, I’m a huge advocate for inclusion.”

Byrne adds, “I urge young women entering the sector to believe in their capabilities and to see no limits on what they can achieve in their careers.” 

Now, that’s a message we can all support.

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Author Kirstie McDermott

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