How employers can close the gap on gender inequality

In the current climate, overcoming the fallout from the coronavirus crisis will be a top priority for most, if not all, businesses worldwide. However, this does not mean we can ignore the underlying challenges that continue to impede global progress towards goals like ending the gender diversity crisis.

Even today you’d be forgiven for still thinking that the tech industry remains something of a boys’ club. Indeed, research by Studio Graphene revealed that two-thirds of women in tech still believe that there is a lack of diversity within the UK technology sector.

Certainly, efforts are consistently being made towards gender equality. Still, one glaring truth endures: attaining a high-level role in the industry is simply more challenging for women.

Here at Studio Graphene, equality of opportunity is one of our core values. I hope that the insights from our female team members will demonstrate the obstacles that continue to stifle women’s progress within the tech sector, and what business leaders can do to inspire and support women in tech.

Is progress being made?

Let’s start on a positive note: Akansha, our India HR Manager, believes that progress is slowly being made. In her experience, “women have a significant role to play in all areas [of tech], and with the rise of female candidates, it is evident that they are making themselves heard”.

While encouraging to hear, we must be wary of becoming complacent – there is still much to be done to achieve true gender parity. Indeed, Akansha urges businesses to focus on making women leaders and maintaining a good gender ratio.

Shipra, one of our lead engineers, believes that some people still have the mindset that a woman’s primary role is that of a caregiver, to support the family, while men are the main breadwinners; “because of this, appraisals are taken casually”, with little support being offered to those who are keen to progress into more senior positions.

What can business leaders do?

When it comes to achieving gender equality, the same concerns are flagged up time and time again. In fact, 59% of women believe that there are too many reports highlighting a lack of diversity in the tech industry, without employers actually taking strong action to tackle the issues at hand.

The key takeaway from this research is clear: business leaders must listen to their employees, and act on the concerns that they raise.

Shipra, for one, belies that industry leaders should focus on outcomes when it comes to rewarding staff for their contributions. At the same time, she stresses the importance of maintaining a good office culture – after all, “culture is what motivates people to perform, contribute and stay”.

This raises another important point: the retention rate for women in tech is woefully low, with a report by Indeed highlighting that once women enter the field, they leave at a 45% higher rate than men.

This could be explained by challenges women face when they step away from work to have and raise children. Shipra notes that women are often “interrogated about their career break at job interviews”, resulting in them “losing their confidence in their ability to pick up where they left off. On the other hand, mothers returning to work refuse challenging assignments for fear of not being able to balance work and home successfully”.

Why 50-50 gender quotas are counterproductive

Business leaders’ efforts to improve diversity standards often rest on implementing measures like mandatory 50-50 gender splits. While such actions are often taken with good intentions, they fall short of achieving the intended results. That is to say, by promoting women into leadership positions simply on the basis of such requirements risks overlooking the valuable contributions of those who may be more suited to the role.

Such measures also receive lower support than might be expected; the aforementioned Studio Graphene survey revealed that almost half (43%) of women in tech think that positive discrimination in the sector would have a negative impact.

Instead, business leaders should be looking beyond such stringent measures. At Studio Graphene, we believe that tackling the gender diversity crisis begins at recruitment. As a result, our stance is built around this belief, where a ‘proactively neutral’ approach is taken throughout the recruitment process in order to secure the best talent for the role, rather than encouraging positive discrimination, which could do more harm than good.

Flexible working

At the same time, some of the most effective solutions might be the most obvious. Getting into the tech industry isn’t the only issue; as touched upon, for some women with families, it is staying put that is the biggest problem. Where retaining female employees in the tech industry is concerned, offering flexible working policies might just be the solution – an overwhelming 70% of women in tech are in favour of the introduction of new flexible working practices in the workplace.

In the age of coronavirus, where many businesses have been forced to shift their operations, this is now more important than ever. Working mothers are now tasked with looking after their children at home while balancing their workplace responsibilities, and business leaders must make it a priority to offer the emotional and professional support they require.

After all, a key barrier that remains largely unspoken about is the emotional burden of managing this balance. Yet despite commonly suffering from anxiety and depression, Akansha notes that women are “hesitant to speak on such issues” for fear of being perceived as weaker than their male counterparts.

In these difficult times, business leaders should take it upon themselves to check in with their staff, address their concerns, and offer support. More generally, it is vital that tech leaders are aware of the barriers that women face entering the industry, and challenge themselves to close the gender gap once and for all.