Last week I was delighted to be invited back onto the WB-40 podcast with Matt Ballantine and Chris Weston to talk about Good Girl Deprogramming. The WB-40 podcast focuses on how technology is changing work. And as a surprise twist to the story, I’ve been invited as one of three guest hosts to the show to mix things up a little! So watch this space.
After talking about Good Girl Deprogramming on the show, I knew the question about allyship was coming. I knew that I would be asked how men can play a part in supporting women in the workplace, particularly in the tech industry. Yet I still kind of fumbled the answer.
I’ve been reflecting on my response since then, and here are my thoughts.
According to Tech UK, while women make up around 50% of the total UK workforce, they make up just 24% of the workforce in the tech sector. This number is growing. But we know that women are leaving in their droves.
According to Women in Tech, a rather concerning 56% of women leave tech roles 10-20 years into their careers, this is double the rate of men, highlighting the urgency to address this issue.
The reasons behind this exodus include:
limited career progression opportunities,
a lack of female mentors and role models
pervasive feelings of “imposter syndrome”, which is a perfectly understandable feeling when you’re the only woman (or one of a few) in a team and you’re dealing with a challenging company culture, a male bias and an underlying current of sexism and misogyny!
Also attributed to retention issues include a lack of essential employee benefits, such as flexible working and a significant gender pay gap, reaching 16% in some cases.
So, getting more women into tech is a heady mix of problems within attraction, engagement, culture, leadership, work design, reward, benefits and retention! Pretty much the whole sector needs a proper rethink, and quite frankly, that’s at least another book’s worth in there.
I always say that for an employee to thrive they need to have three things:
to feel they are protected
to feel safe and,
to feel like they belong.
But it doesn’t really feel this way in the tech industry. And I am talking from my own experience here too.
Of course, there will be massive exceptions to the rule, you can’t tarnish a whole industry on the basis of some massively shitty places. Clearly, there ARE tech companies where women are protected, safe, welcomed, nurtured and get to work on fulfilling projects. But there are way too many places where this is not the case.
According to a 2022 study, two in five (42%) women in tech said that sexual harassment had either a lot or some impact on their career.
Surprisingly, the roots of the tech industry in the UK bear a significant imprint of pioneering women, whose efforts played a crucial role in its inception.
I remember seeing Dame Stephanie Shirley speaking and subsequently read her book (highly recommended!). Dame Shirley had a team of women, often working from their kitchen tables, who were the people behind the coding for iconic advances in tech, including the development of the black box for the Concorde. These women laid the foundation for the technological landscape we navigate today.
One of my most used quotes from Alexander Den Heijer put it this way “when a flower doesn't bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”
I realise this is a VERY long answer to the question - what can men do to be allies?
It’s a systemic issue.
The system needs to change. And it’s a fact that men are more likely to be in the best, most influential positions to actually change the system.
Women need you to use your power and influence to improve the system for everyone.
Supporting and advocating for policies that promote gender equality in the workplace is essential. This includes endorsing equal pay, advocating for family-friendly policies, and actively participating in initiatives that foster a diverse and inclusive work environment. By championing these policies, male allies contribute to breaking down barriers and creating a more equitable workplace for all.
And, on a day-to-day basis, what can you do? Listen to women.
As the adage in the Stephen Covey book puts it - “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood”.
Actively listen to the experiences, perspectives, and ideas of female colleagues. Create a workplace culture where women's voices are valued equally and heard. Acknowledge and amplify their contributions during meetings by crediting them for their ideas, ensuring that their insights are not overlooked or dismissed.