By Flora Meadmore
It is well known that the gender gap in tech is particularly embarrassing. With a depressing 4:1 ratio of men to women in tech, recorded by the National Center for Women and Information Technology, it is no surprise that positions of leadership in the industry are skewed in favour of men. In fact, women hold only 11% of senior positions in Silicon Valley’s tech companies, and the figures for BAME women are even more worrying.
Who is to blame for this imbalance?
Naturally the disparity is multifaceted – we can talk about what jobs girls are unconsciously being directed towards in schools, or we can talk about structural barriers, organizational bias and cultural expectations. But one thing remains – the women who are in tech have fewer leadership development opportunities than men.
Notably, women need to have an interest in entering the tech sector, which can only be done by changing the cultural perception that the industry is intrinsically ‘male’. Despite the progress we’ve seen for women in the 20th and 21st century, with the impact of the #MeToo movement and the rise of women in STEM jobs, we’re still very far from where we should be. Women in the field of technology still face a huge amount of gender discrimination, harassment and being labelled with stereotypes. Many female self-taught online coders still present their work and use online platforms under male pseudonyms. You can’t help but think of all the great female literary writers who published their work under male names in order to have some credibility and opportunity.
How to manage the imbalance?
The easiest way to combat this is through numbers, and that will take time. While we might not like it, we need to accept that change always take time. Most change is generated by power, and in our world power is held by the institutions. So what can institutions do to make such a change smoother?
KPMG’s IT’s Her Future project has already increased the number of female graduate employees from 34% in 2015 to 54% in 2018. The project has focused on recruiting women from a broader pool of talent, targeting women with both Stem and IT backgrounds as well as Humanities and the Arts. The result of their project revealed that performance had little to do with previous studies. Code First: Girls is a social enterprise that teaches women how to code and develops their IT skills. It also aims to change corporate recruitment policies as well as their marketing strategies.
In the meantime, while we’re waiting for our institutions and the media to catch on, women need to put themselves in positions of credibility, whether it’s through online self-teaching, tutoring or enrolling in training schemes. As we enter the next Industrial Revolution, people working in tech will need to develop even stronger analytical and programming skills and the ability to make sense of torrents and disruption. Workers who want to make managerial roles will also need strong social and collaborative skills to understand the different skill sets at play in order to optimise their use. Emotional intelligence is a central feature of leadership and is undoubtedly a difficult one to teach.
Due to the abstract nature of emotional intelligence, many people regard this as unnecessary, or discard its potential. Coaching has become a strategic approach to gaining leadership skills and internalising what leadership really means – which is how emotional intelligence is developed. Many organizations have begun to invest in team coaching or ‘high-potential’ employee coaching, which in turn has narrowed the gender division in leadership development.
Coaching is a process in which a professional trainer and expert in a given area will help an individual reach professional and/or personal goals through practising exercises and providing feedback for improvement. These goals frequently relate to character building and developing skills that enable progress for the future of their career.
Increasingly, companies are choosing to hire an external keynote speaker to deliver a speech, or coach a whole team. This process is useful for teambuilding and establishing better communication throughout an organization or department within an organization. This tends to focus on training people in management and senior positions, as well as preparing HR for cultural changes and expectations brought by the millennial generation. Bringing speakers in also enhances employee engagement and productivity. When companies coach high-potential women, it demonstrates that they’re invested in their career progression and employee support.
Benefits for the organization
Having a balanced gendered workforce will also, as crude as it may sound, give your company a better reputation. How a company is represented, marketed and perceived by the public is a key factor in its success. Increasingly year on year, we’re noticing how businesses who refuse to keep up with the changing times are left out in the cold. When a movement gets enough attention, such as the #MeToo campaign, a company has to show the public they take these voices seriously, or loyal consumers will leave them. They might be able to hide from those who have no voice yet, but it’s becoming more important for companies to show that they take these voices seriously.
If women are treated fairly and equally, they will no doubt perform better. Coaching individuals within a company tends to naturally nurture it’s dynamic. It enables people to feel that their sense of wellbeing, personal development and place in the company are valued. If coaching is done properly, it can in turn create better communication between managers and non-managerial employees. The generated sense of trust and value from the bottom creates in turn greater productivity for the top. Notably, coaching high-potential women and providing the space for them to contemplate their future within that company can increase their chances of staying and developing their position. The cost of coaching a high-potential female employee is far better than losing that potential leader.
Diversifying a board of directors will also have its benefits. The company culture will have a different shape and mould, but companies always benefit from diversifying the decision making process and being able to approach issues from a wider pool of perspectives.
Coaching both managerial and non-managerial employees helps to build resilience and greater communication across teams. In improving individual relationships amongst employees and teams, the entire organisation soaks up the flow of communication and benefits from the stronger ties within. It also supports the recruitment of new generations and diversification of the workforce as well as understanding the ever-in-demand millennials. It supports employee engagement thereby improving productivity, retention and team effectiveness.
While coaching should not be considered a replacement for mentoring and training, the results are related. Coaching can enhance self-confidence and the ability to ask for more responsibility, by developing a person’s knowledge and understanding of their value within the company. It can help women who feel crippled by the imposter syndrome embrace their position. While men are often socialised into unapologetically taking positions despite their skills, women are often socialised to feel they don’t have the skills required. Coaching can reveal to women that the imposter syndrome is a natural response to responsibility and can be ignored and embraced depending on one’s perspective – which is always adaptable with the right training.
In this way, coaching can develop women’s leadership skills, communication skills and enable them to consider popular goals that are often pushed upon men from a much earlier age.
Such goals include:
These questions enable women to consider and view themselves in leadership and management roles, and prepare them for the barriers they will inevitably face in the tech industry. The starting point is for women to feel they deserve to be where they are and are just as capable of leading a company as their male counterpart.
If an organisation is unwilling to introduce leadership coaching, it may be worth finding an external coach to build the necessary skills. There may also be senior employees within the company who have been trained in coaching skills and have the ability to coach themselves. Asking for leadership coaching from an internal employee could also prove your ambition and certainty in developing your career path. It is a sad reality that women have to do more to prove these qualities and ambitions, but the more women that enter leadership roles, the closer we are to building a more equal future in the workplace.