Why we need more women in technology

The tech industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, with a plethora of opportunities for people skilled in coding, programming, and other technical fields. These people tend to be men though.

The tech industry is historically a male-dominated environment and women face significant challenges that men don’t have to. These include a lack of female role models and mentors, wage inequality, workplace gender bias, and the struggle to be listened to and taken seriously. Women often have to work twice as hard as men and overcome many obstacles to achieve the career they want and are more than capable of doing.

We spoke to our own female staff at Cognition24 to find out what their experiences have been and if they feel the industry is changing.

Lack of role models

The lack of availability, and therefore visibility, of role models, in technology can discourage women from considering a career in the tech industry. Women are often underrepresented in leadership positions in tech companies, making it difficult for them to advance their careers and achieve their goals. It’s hard to imagine being something that you can’t see.

Vicky Bradford, head of marketing at Cognition, recalls that early on in her career, it was very rare for women to have senior technology roles. ‘I was definitely in the minority,’ she says. ‘At exhibitions and conferences, it was very noticeable how few women there were.’

This lack of role models can lead to a feeling of isolation. Without fellow women in a position of power, it’s only too easy to feel as though you don’t belong or that it’s impossible for you to progress within the company. This is something that Cognition’s digital marketing executive, Holly Dear, feels strongly about. ‘Women are frequently underrepresented in positions of leadership,’ she says. ‘The huge lack of role models makes it challenging for women to grow in their careers and accomplish their goals.’

Gender bias

Gender bias is another barrier that women have faced for decades. Studies have shown that men are more likely to be promoted than women – even when they have comparable qualifications – and women’s work performance is often judged more harshly than men’s. This bias can make it difficult for women to be taken seriously and to advance their careers.

‘I was treated very differently to my male colleagues,’ Vicky says. ‘I wasn’t even expected to achieve what they did. Management clearly didn’t believe women were as capable as men. In meetings, when I was trying to get my point across, I don’t feel I was listened to and taken seriously in the same way the men were, purely because I’m a woman. I guess this is why they felt justified in paying women so much less than men.’

Sexual harassment

Unfortunately, sexual harassment has been common place in the tech industry, making it difficult for women to feel safe and comfortable in their work environment. Tammy King, Cognition’s head of recruitment and resourcing, experienced misogyny and sexism in her early career. ‘There weren’t checks and balances in place,’ she says.As a young woman, I just accepted it. There was no point going to HR. With the advent of the #metoo movement, hopefully women won’t come across the sorts of behaviours that I had to deal with or comments about how I looked, and my ability, as a woman, to do the job. Thankfully there’s a whole raft of human resources, laws and legislation in place now, which stop these kinds of issues arising.’

Vicky had similar experiences. ‘Now that I’m older and wiser, I look back and think that I should have done something about it, but it wasn’t the done thing at that time,’ she says. ‘That derogatory and undermining behaviour was both expected and accepted. Thank God it’s changing.’

Change is afoot

Change, thankfully, does indeed seem to be happening. STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects were traditionally seen as male subjects. An associate of Tammy’s, who used to be the chief executive for UCAS, reported that girls are now outperforming boys at school and STEM subjects are on the rise. So, over the next 10 years, we should see a much greater level of women going into STEM careers. If this is coupled with boys being educated that women are equals, misogyny shouldn’t be an issue in the future and technological careers for women will no longer be in the minority.

Balancing act

It’s important to have women in the industry, not just because of gender equality but because their input is needed. ‘Women can provide a more balanced view to female gender and technology sector issues,’ explains Holly. ‘Considering a women’s viewpoint can lead to innovative changes in the industries, ultimately making the user experience better for all consumers. Diversity and innovation within the tech industry results in profit and company growth.’

Tammy agrees. ‘Tech affects men and women equally in terms of how we live our lives. To make sure we don’t have gender bias in our technological developments, we need both genders to be equally represented. We need all cultures to be represented,’ she continues, ‘to ensure that gender, race, sexuality, ability and religion bias doesn’t continue, particularly as our cultures and our societies are being more driven by technology. By having more women involved in developing this technology, it hopefully creates a more equal development.’

From one woman to another

As a recent graduate, I ask Holly what advice she has for women looking to get into the tech industry. ‘One common misconception is that you must have had formal training, such as a computer science degree,’ she says. ‘However, there are many roles in tech that don’t require technical knowledge. I studied fashion marketing and communications at university and now look at me! Just be confident,’ she adds. ‘It’s very important to show you’re passionate about the industry. Take courses, look on social media, connect with those already in the industry to gather advice and expertise, and research the different job opportunities within the tech industry. You’ll surprise yourself at what’s out there.’

‘Don’t be scared of it, just go for it,’ echoes Tammy. ‘There are loads of women in technology now. Some technological careers are still more male dominated, but that’s changing, so if there’s a career that a woman wants to go for, don’t be put off if it’s seen as traditionally male. Society is changing. Women are welcome and able to work in whatever field they want in terms of technology. There’s nothing to stop them.’

Something for everyone

A key advantage of working in the tech industry is that there’s a role for everyone. Good communicators would make excellent support technicians. Those who love travelling could consider a mobile engineer role. And for those who prefer to work from home, there are many tech jobs that can be carried out remotely.

‘Technology offers the power to share knowledge, solve problems and connect people,’ says Holly. ‘Working within the industry, you get to play a direct part in creating digital experiences that are useful, meaningful, and enjoyable. The creativity and freedom you get with the work is just the best. It’s allowed me to develop high-demand skills, such as relationship building, problem solving, leadership and communication skills, which are extremely transferable within your work and personal life.

‘Technology is one of the fastest evolving industries, offering me countless opportunities to learn and grow,’ she continues. ‘No day is ever the same and you will never get bored. That’s what I love most.’

‘Technology is changing so rapidly,’ Vicky agrees. ‘It’s affecting and changing how we live. It’s such an exciting time to be working within a technological scientific arena. For excitement and dynamism alone, it’s somewhere people should be encouraged to work. It’s an excellent opportunity to make a mark on our society and on how future generations live.’

Generations that will be made up of a diverse group of individuals, including women.

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