Why gender equity must be core to company DNA
International Women’s Day is designed to pay homage to the progress that has been made in the battle for gender equality. While much has been done to address this, there are many challenges that women still face in their roles, and the technology industry is no different.
“Every year, International Women’s Day casts a head-turning and deserved spotlight on the achievements, landmarks and progressive strides made by females in the workforce.” says Bev Markland, Chief People Officer at Agilitas. “However, it also serves a bigger purpose. For the technology industry, IWD23 arrives at a crucial time.”
While the sector known for its notorious reputation as a ‘boys’ club’, there are ongoing improvements in gender diversity, for example 25 percent of tech company board seats are held by women now compared to 17.4% in 2018. However, there is still a considerable amount of work to do to balance the scales.
Equality and also equity within organisations is key, as well as the role that women play in eliminating stereotypes at a young age and influencing a company’s culture.
Gender Equity vs Gender Equality: What’s the Distinction?
“It is essential to understand the difference between equity and equality,” comments Weronika Babrecka, Team Leader at Future Processing. “Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings and implications.
“Equality means treating everyone the same way, without taking into account their individual differences or needs. On the other hand, equity means providing each person with the resources and opportunities they need to succeed, regardless of their starting point. It means that not only income equality, but internal company equality policies or fair promotion rules are also essential.”
Suzanne Pierce, Support Director at fu3e. agrees. “From what I have seen in my career to date, there’s equity issues, especially once women are at a senior level. We are in the minority yet it’s the legacy of an equality issue that creates the equity issue.
“Thankfully, there are some great leaders today, both male and female, who have broken the mould and who strive to bring balance to their organisations and create diverse teams to deliver their results.”
The need for equity in eliminating gender stereotypes
By shaping gender representations, attitudes and behaviours, education plays an essential part in combating stereotypes and enforcing both social and cultural changes.
“Over the last 20 years, schools, technology centres and universities in the UK have been encouraging women to broaden their horizons and choose careers that traditionally were off-limits to all but the brave few,” continues Pierce. “Parents have also played their part in creating this next generation of strong people who have self-belief and a can-do attitude.”
However, in order to pave the way for the next generation of women taking their place within the industry, there needs to be role models within the businesses they see as job prospects, something that isn’t always visible in technology-focused organisations.
“Careers in the STEM field have historically been male-dominated, and this wrongly perpetuated the stereotype that women were unable to achieve careers in this area,” says Chloe Cameron, Chief People Officer at Pax8. “These gender stereotypes are incredibly powerful and create self-limiting beliefs for women which are reinforced over time.”
In recent years it has made headlines that women remain underrepresented in STEM roles. Just under a quarter of the people working in STEM in the UK are female, and while the tech industry is becoming more diverse, the gender gap is still a pressing issue. Increasing the presence of women in STEM roles has many benefits, one of them being that it will increase the UK’s labour value by at least £2bn.
“There is still work to be done and it is important that when girls develop an initial interest in STEM, not only are they given the same opportunities as boys, but the interest is actively encouraged and nurtured by those around them,” continues Cameron.
“If they can sustain that interest throughout their education, not only will their options be broader, but they have the choice to enter into a career that they genuinely care about, and they have the opportunity to improve representation in STEM, which works to the benefit of wider society. Women can reach these goals that were previously labelled unachievable.”
Culture is the key to success
Every business needs to take responsibility to instil a sense of belonging and well-being from the moment a new member of staff walks through the doors. Regardless of the industry, it is an employer’s duty to make sure a good company culture is at the forefront of what it does.
“At Agilitas, we have spent years embedding a culture that ensures gender equity is part of our company’s DNA – creating an inclusive environment that puts everyone within the business on equal footing,” says Markland. “We have created a ‘Menopause pledge’ and handbook for all employees regardless of gender to learn more about the menopause. We also hold quarterly Menopause Cafes which are accessible to all – as well as hosting employee wellbeing workshops that support diversity and inclusion.”
Diversity is not just the key to the success of one business but also to the wider sector. To address this, tech employers must continue to invigorate and invest in gender and equity missions. When done right, it means that women won’t just feel comfortable in their positions but can flourish and prosper in rewarding careers. Beyond the can-have initiatives is the must-haves, which include going the extra mile to meet the needs of employees.
“It means that not only income equality, but internal company equality policies or fair promotion rules are essential,” concludes Babrecka. “Other practices such as flexible working time, remote work or a set of benefits (e.g. co-funding for kindergarten) can help to increase the feeling of equity. Companies that prioritise equity and inclusivity in their hiring and retention practices tend to have better financial performance, with research indicating that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers.”