You only have to look at the Meet the Team section of any tech company’s website to see that women continue to be underrepresented in the industry, especially in top leadership positions. This shortcoming threatens to shut out half the world’s population from the companies, products, and conversations that help shape our collective future. But what are the barriers for women workers and how can companies overcome the gender gap?
“I think the challenge with women and technology starts in schools,” says Louise Lahiff, Version 1’s director of strategy, planning and people. “The lack of women at my level and the levels around me is stark. It has to start in the schools. Getting girls interested in not only technology, but also science, physics and chemistry, everything. There just aren’t enough girls getting involved early on, so sometimes it feels like a losing battle,” says Lahiff, who leads growth and development for 2,500 employees at the IT services company.
“When you really cut out all the noise around women in the industry, there’s still the perception that a career in tech is a career in coding: software engineering, sitting at a computer for eight hours a day without talking to anyone. No matter how much work is done on it, there are still a lot of people who perceive it that way. So I think the more companies, including ourselves, that we can do to show that there’s a lot more to it, that’s going to help.
“Most of the time, the most successful people in technology are those with soft skills. To be able to explain what a system does or to be able to do business analysis, to understand a real business problem and then translate it into a solution. Those skills are in high demand, and women are often just as strong, if not stronger, than men.
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Leveling up in the industry is also proving to be a hurdle for many women. “Unfortunately, I think the old adage of ‘men will apply if they have eight of the 15 required skills, and women will only apply if they have all 15’ still holds true. I see it all the time. And then there’s that part about taking a chance on something you might not be fully qualified for.
“Even internally, I see a man and a woman who I know are equal in skill and knowledge, and the man just tries a little harder. And suddenly there are two levels between them and I wonder how that happened. Women need to support themselves a little more, particularly in technology. I probably go back to my earlier point of really understanding that those soft skills are probably more important than some of the technical skills, whereas I think the perception is the reverse.”
Lahiff also believes that business leaders have a responsibility to advocate for those who are not already in the room. “Over the years, I have been a mentor, coach and sponsor. We have a shadow board and I mentor a shadow board member every year, which I actually get a lot out of. It’s about getting them to think big in terms of what they can do. I’m often in the room when people are being talked about, and I’m just mindful of that, making sure there’s an unbiased discussion and that women are considered in the same way as men.”
At the current rate of progress, it will take 132 years to reach gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022. Until companies know that a lack of gender equality can seriously affect the bottom line, change will remain slow.
“I was at a dinner earlier this year with Tom O’Connor, our CEO, and 14 men. The next day, he said ‘if that was me with 14 women and I was the only man in the room, I think it would have felt weird.'” Long story short, that was a company looking to do business with us and he walked away from they because of that. He said if they weren’t aware enough to realize bringing 14 people to a dinner where they knew there was going to be a woman and they didn’t think it would be nice to bring a woman too, they’re not aware of that. that diversity, all kinds of diversity, is important to us, then they’re probably not the kind of company we want to work with.”
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