Women are woefully under-represented in technology industries; here's some vital advice how you can push back.
Share this article
How does one hold it down in a dynamic, competitive sector, characterised by rapid innovation and yet male-dominated where women remain underrepresented. For the women who work in tech, working in a predominately male-dominated sector comes with its challenges.
Recent stats by BCS show that only 17% of employees in the UK technology sector are women and that they are paid 15% less than men, with around 10% of women holding director roles. With such numbers, it could be argued that gender stereotyping remains an issue.
The idea that a male is better suited for certain types of projects or contracts is a highly biased one. In addition, the disparage within the numbers between the female and male ratio means that women must, on occasion, do more to prove themselves than their male counterparts and deal with issues their workplace environment is not empathetic towards.
From my conversation with fellow women in tech, holding it down as a woman in tech is no mean feat for some, but there is a consensus around certain key elements.
Be Mindful of Your Mental State & Speak Up
Speaking to a software engineer who was currently off work with stress, she advised of the importance of learning about the symptoms of stress/anxiety and how to look after your mental health.
“I didn't realize my daily dizziness was because of the stress...Every day I was dizzy to the point of nearly passing out and I didn't have a clue, I thought I was sick.
I didn't realize my dizziness was caused by stress, so I was stressing that something worse was wrong. It could have saved me a lot of time knowing that. Also, discovering many, many of my friends had been through something similar but had never spoken about it until I brought it up - I imagine this will be true for a lot of people. It’s important that you understand what stress is and how it affects you.”
Communication is key. Do you feel comfortable enough to speak up and do you have an ally to speak to?
Save for Emergencies
The tech sector is a fast-paced environment where information and product development changes rapidly. It is a sector that keeps skillsets up to date and this may at times mean moving to other opportunities or being let go due to changes in requirements. To feel grounded, you need to save for emergencies.
A lady told me, “Ultimately, I also have always kept a "f**k off fund. Six months wages ring-fenced so I can leave if I have to. I am a great engineer with a good CV, I will always be able to find something else, especially in London.
I have actually used this before to walk out of a job that wasn't great (the manager wrote code the night before and told me where to copy and paste it - I lasted half an hour with that before walking away). This helps a lot… knowing you have a safety net and can afford to care for your mental health if needed.”
What do you have saved for an emergency fund? Start today.
A savings buffer puts you in control of your career path
Have a Support Group and Resources
Meeta Luthra, Managing Director at MLSAI Consulting stated the importance of surrounding yourself with other inspirational women and having honest conversations to learn from and share with each other.
“I have surrounded myself with strong, savvy and inspirational women, both leaders and peers, who I can turn to for advice when I am in a tough situation or if I need to bounce ideas around without judgement.
They act as my safety net and my role models, and I try to do the same for them. These conversations take place using WhatsApp groups, in person or over the phone, but for me, the key to 'holding it down in tech' has been to nurture my relationships with these awesome women who can find a little time to support others.”
Resources wise, Meeta mentioned joining the McKinsey Global Institute women's leadership group.
In addition, there are some resources for women that I personally like such as Ada’s List (an online community of women in tech supporting each other), The Allbright Members Club (a newly opened members club in London that looks at supporting the network of women).
Who are your allies? Start developing your relationships.
Have a Mentor and Be a Mentor
The importance of having a mentor is so understated. We see a lot of successful people crediting their success to having mentors - yet a few of us are yet to work with a mentor.
When I started working back in tech/digital after a long break, my first approach was to ask a CTO to be my mentor. This was a crucial element in navigating my way through the system, giving me the confidence to forward plan a progression route. I personally attribute my accomplishment to my mentors and those allies I had available.
Just as it is important to have a mentor, so it is to be a mentor for others. As women in tech, we need to be advocates for others following in our path and pave the way for more women to enter the industry, otherwise, nothing changes. Being a mentor gives you the confidence and grounding to stand up and be taken seriously - because you now have to lead by example.
Do you have a mentor? Who could you ask to be a mentor and who could you mentor? It doesn’t have to be an official agreement.
Build a Team That Nurtures Engagement
The tech sector is notorious for clunky emotionless communication. There are underlying issues with staff de-motivation, stress at work, and lack of visibility (either as a business or an expert).
You only have to sit within a typical sprint meeting or vendor engagement workshop to see what I mean regarding communication. It can be colourless - devoid of emotion and we take this approach into our marketing, business operations and talent attraction.
As women in tech, we should lead the way for emotional connection in our engagement. There are various tools to do this - personalise your messages, let your team be your advocates, use more images, especially moving images, and promote storytelling.
Creativity, emotion and storytelling should come as standard
Running Beeline Films, we have recently seen more tech companies coming to us to create videos for things like social media, internal comms and crowdfunding - because it gets engagement and emotionally connects (not forgetting winning funds and clients).
So, I guess, to hold it down as women in tech, we start by standing up, working together and leading by example… wouldn’t you agree?
Learn to Network and Negotiate
Holding it down and making it as a woman in tech requires the ability to create opportunities. To do this, you need to leverage your existing network by actively being visible and engaging in meaningful conversations.
Those contracting in this sector would already know how crucial networking is for clinching that next contract. Although not in every case, but most of the time, filling technical roles can prove difficult, so therefore a recruiting manager would easily take the option of filling a role with a recommended talent.
Just as networking is important, so is your ability to effectively negotiate your working terms. I have known women who have been offered less than half of what their male predecessor was paid due to gender bias.
Updating your skillset and knowing your value would help your mindset, knowing that negotiating terms is indeed a strong, positive attribute that is usually expected by employers.
Folake Bee is a video specialist, a social media expert and the founder of Beeline Films.