Closing the gap on gender inequality in tech

office tasks

In just a few short weeks, the coronavirus has derailed many business’ long-term and immediate plans.

Yet while it is difficult to look beyond the current disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are other pressing concerns in the world of tech that demand our attention – both during and after this pandemic.

By this, I am referring specifically to the gender diversity crisis; an issue that the sector has grappled with for many decades. Yet, to date, the drive to introduce true equality has felt like an uphill battle. This is not for a lack of trying; indeed, many businesses have taken measures to foster more inclusive working environments. But there is still much more work to be done.

Earlier this year, Studio Graphene conducted a nationally representative body of research to learn more about the state of (in)equality in the UK tech sector. Amongst other findings, it found that the perception of tech as something of an all-boys club still stands – almost two-thirds, or 62%, of female professionals agree that the image of the industry as being male-dominated continues to act as a deterrent for women to enter the sector.

There is no time like the present to make lasting change, and I hope that the insights from some of my female team members will help other business leaders understand how they can close the gap on gender inequality.

Are the tables turning?

To determine what is still left to be done, we must first see how far we have come. From this point of view, Akansha, our India HR Manager, believes that times have certainly changed. Having worked in the industry for many years now, she states: “it’s tough for me to comment that being a female in tech put me at a disadvantage.”

While I hope this speaks in part to the office culture we have tried to create at Studio Graphene, some of our team acknowledge that there are still many problems that businesses must work harder to address. Shipra, who is a lead engineer and part of our senior team, believes that there is still a tendency to compare women to their male peers. Because of this, “women [often] don’t even realise that they are eligible for promotions as they’re too busy proving their worth where they are.”

Meanwhile Sakshi, a mobile iOS developer based in our Delhi office, notes failings that, not for a lack of attention, have yet to be rectified. Specifically, she notes the absence of equal remuneration and an ignorance of female contributions as core obstacles in the progression of women in technical areas.

Levelling the playing field

So where does this leave us? While we cannot deny that progress has been made, we are far from achieving a level playing field.

One mistake that is commonly made is being too preoccupied with numbers. Equal pay for equal work must necessarily be the norm across all companies, however other measures like 50-50 gender splits in boardrooms risk harming, rather than inspiring, progress. While popular, such measures receive lower support than you might expect; 43% of women in tech believe that positive discrimination such as this would negatively impact on the growth of businesses.

Rather than relying on rigid gender quotas that don’t add any real value to the business, I would encourage business leaders to take a ‘proactively neutral’ approach throughout the recruitment process and an employee’s journey within the company.

To this end, being mindful of the disadvantages that women face at every stage when pursuing a career in tech will prove much more effective at addressing the problems that run deeper.

Addressing the unspoken

Naturally, there are many barriers to equality that receive far less attention than they should. The plight of working mothers is one of them.

Before the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, few businesses offered comprehensive flexible and remote working policies. This is despite the fact that a vast majority (70%) of women in tech are keen to see the introduction of workplace practices that are more supportive of those with children.

A lack of flexible working options is only part of the problem, however. Another is the extra support mothers need to be given upon their return to work after maternity leave to prevent their career progression from stalling. Shipra argues that “in fields like technology, women on a career break can lose touch with industry trends and end up lacking the required skill set to make a successful return to work”.

With large sections of the workforce now working from home, it is more important than ever for businesses to divert more attention and resources to helping working parents balance childcare and work. And it’s not just that the practicalities of the situation that must be addressed; the emotional burden, also, requires urgent attention.

Akansha notes that while many women are hesitant to speak on such issues, anxiety and depression are common experiences for those juggling these two, often competing, aspects. To deal with such challenges effectively, she suggests running dedicated programmes within organisations to offer all employees greater emotional security and support.

Looking to the future

Restoring true gender balance will by no means be an easy feat. But with the right determination, the tech sector can turn the tide and encourage more women to ply their trade in tech. My main piece of advice to business leaders is to listen to, and learn from, your own team. Seek out their feedback at every opportunity and make improvements where necessary.

The industry at large will thank the businesses who lead the way.

Written by: Ritam Gandhi, CEO and Founder, Studio Graphene
Ritam worked as a consultant for a decade for the likes of Accenture and Bank of America Merrill Lynch before, in 2014, going on to found Studio Graphene – a firm that specialises in developing amazing blank canvas tech products. Working with many startups alongside innovation teams in more established companies, the London-based agency plans, designs and builds astounding tech products for its clients. What’s more, Ritam and the team also use their experience and expertise to help leaders grow their business from ideation, to launch and beyond.