Along with gender biases, the challenges associated with boosting the number of women in tech are in many ways similar to the challenges that hinder women’s economic participation rates in general. By Asma Khan, Country Head, Infobip
As it stands, women today only hold a quarter of all tech jobs, and what’s more worrying is that this statistic is even lower than it was three decades ago. Lagging numbers could be attributed to several factors that extend as far back as biases in education systems. As many as 74% of girls express an interest in STEM, however come university time, males tend to enroll in engineering programs seven times more than females.
Although more and more women are keen on embarking on a career in tech, it is reported that they are often discouraged by hiring processes and corporate culture. For instance, women tend to only apply to jobs where they feel they meet 100% of the qualifications (compared to 60% for men). Being aware of this is the first step towards addressing an issue that can easily be rectified by simply separating the “required” skills from “desired” skills in order to make the process more inviting to women.
Along with gender biases, the challenges associated with boosting the number of women in tech are in many ways similar to the challenges that hinder women’s economic participation rates in general with lack of sufficient, adequate mentors and pay inequity reported as main obstacles. However, a closer look also reveals challenges on a personal level for women, such as lack of confidence and a fear of not fitting in and/or not doing a good job.
One solution to helping women feel less intimidated in these areas is to include women in the recruitment and interview process, the former ensures fairness, while the latter makes the interview more comfortable for the female applicant. Companies also need to do more to proactively highlight what policies they have for promoting a family friendly work environment such as having a clear family planning and maternity/paternity leave policy in place. Shifting questions that sound like “are you going to have a child anytime soon?” to asking potential candidates, both female and male, about their life at home is a step in the right direction.
Removing barriers will provide a pull factor to help get more women into tech but we also need to be aware of the push factors making them leave. Let’s begin with acknowledging that employees in tech companies walk away more than in any other industry in MENA and regional churn rates are on the rise. However, for women one of the less known reasons for these rates is a lack of long term, growth opportunities. It is reported that one fifth of women in the tech industry remain in junior positions over the age of 35 and are more likely to hold junior positions than men, regardless of their age. I personally have been fortunate enough to work as a country head for Infobip for years as part of a team with almost 39% female staff base, comprising 100% occupancy rates in strategy and planning and marketing, but we need more companies to follow suit.
Indeed, with tech comes promise and transformation, an opportunity to create impact and change across the board. But how much more transformative would tech be if it extended that power towards creating societal changes through better diversity in its workforce? Ultimately, companies who want to be more inclusive of women need to create equitable opportunities for women, while the tech sector makes adequate space for them.