Women in Tech: What should companies be doing instead of paying lip-service to International Women’s day?
Young women in tech might initially have a rosy outlook on the world they have entered, but this can change quickly. Here are some of the questions I was asked by my employer when I applied to reduce my hours after the birth of my first child:
- What childcare will you have?
- Do you have back-up childcare ?
- How often will your mother be able to cover for you in a childcare emergency?
- What measures will you have in place to make sure you can respond to problems instantly on the day that you are not working (and not being paid)?
It is almost unthinkable that a man would be asked these questions. My husband wasn’t when he successfully applied for part time work. At the time he was working in covert law enforcement, undertaking safety critical work in high threat situations. Whether you accept these questions as legitimate or not (they are not) you can arrive at your own conclusions about the attitude of a company that would ask them towards women.
I was recently reminded of this when I saw the perfunctory LinkedIn posts on ‘International Women’s Day’. There aren’t enough people in tech, let alone women in tech in the UK. But does a post about support for women in tech or hosting a forum on women in tech/STEM really give you an idea of the company’s culture and attitude to women in the workplace?
Women in Tech: questions to ask your employer
If you are considering a future in a technical consultancy, it might be more interesting to know that company is doing internally. It’s easy to be seduced by PR statements made on social media by companies. It’s harder to know what they are actually doing about the gender pay gap, or the retention of female talent. Here are the questions I would have liked to know:
- What are they doing to address the fact that the STEM pay gap begins from entrance into the job market?
- How many women come back to work after their first child?
- What do they do to encourage female growth in the company?
- Do they monitor their employee metrics to foster a gender inclusive culture?
- What proportion of senior managers are women?
Women in Tech: The start of a life in technology
I’m one of many women in the technology sector. I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. It’s why I work with social enterprises such as Solutions for the Planet to encourage children, especially girls into STEM. From a young age, my natural interest in how things work was encouraged and nurtured at home and school. On entering a mixed 6th form class I was truly surprised to find that there was only one other girl in my physics A-level class.
By the time I went to University to study engineering I was less surprised to be in the minority group (a strong intake comprising of 20% women). This was not discouraging to me. I enjoy the company of men and also found sisterly solidarity with my minority peers. Unconsciously I had made a, decision at 16 that I wanted to join the technology sector. That’s why we need to start encouraging all children at young age to consider their options carefully: we need more people and more women in tech
I didn’t see any barriers to joining this male world. What would stop me as a bright young person? But I’m white and middle class. My mother is a feminist author and both my parents are academics. There was never a question for me whether or not I could achieve in any workplace. And as young engineer, then industrial designer and now human factors consultant I was keen to just get started. I didn’t want to really think about what it meant to be a woman working in the technology sector.
Women in Tech need flexibility after childcare
As with many women, it wasn’t until I became a mother that I began to notice and feel the effects of how an industry designed for men did not necessarily work with modern family life, particularly for women. After the birth of my first child I was determined to go back to work. I loved my job and wanted to demonstrate that to my children. I wanted, as many parents do, to break the Monday to Friday 9-6 mentality and reduce my hours to 4 days.
Working in consultancy I split my time between various projects, clients and business development activities. I presented a case to my employer, promising them continuing flexibility, and to checking my emails on non-working days and how I could flex if the specific day needed to change. I argued that I could still remain a useful (and rare) resource to the company, and in the long term they would benefit.
The answer was a resounding “no”.
I was offered the opportunity to stay in what amounted to an administrative role with no client contact. The company in question then lost another five women in the following year. I don’t know the details of all but I’m sure Lady Bracknell would have something to say about carelessness.
Women in Tech: Male bias and discouragement of female staff
A more enlightened company recognised the skills I could bring them and offered me a role for 4-days a week. Even there I noticed how the odds were against people (not just women) who wanted to work flexibly.
On entry, I felt I had no room to negotiate on a salary or rank. How could I? My salary had been fixed for 2 years due to maternity leave. Working reduced hours often affected my utilisation and hence bonus pay.
The behaviours required to succeed were geared toward predominately male attributes. I worked happily there until setting-up my own company. Always working steadily to meet all work and client expectations. Through my flexibility (and probably unnecessary free working) very few people knew I worked less than full time.
I now run a successful Human Factors Consultancy specialising in medical device development and as the master of my own universe work to a different schedule. I get the client’s work done but I also make sure that I see my family during the day. Getting the work done to a deadline is far more important than long hours culture. Being in the office is not evidence of work.
If you want to see a good article on how to to convey authenticity in your online video content see this post from Radar Film.
An important post. I am often struck by the optimism of 20 year old women in regard to equality in tech, which contrasts so sharply with the views of thirtysomethibng women.
Yes. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!
Sharing real experiences like this is a very important reminder that valuable skills can so easily be lost. I took time out of work (from a reasonably senior role in a tech company) to look after my children when they were small, with the result that I had to start on the bottom rung again to rebuild my credibility in the work space. Increasingly workplaces will need to find creative flexibility to hang on to staff and to become more aware of their value. The workplace is losing people now, not just to care for small children, but to care for elderly relatives in a world where dementia and an aging population are increasing statistics.
Thanks for your comments Pauline and also you sharing. I totally agree and it isn’t just women who this affects