IWD 2023: Unboxing to build diversity and close the gender gap
As the tech and data science industries continue to grow, more needs to be done to close the gender gap and promote greater diversity in every aspect. But this is a complex issue, one with no easy fix. While there's no shortage of evidence of the unconscious bias women continue to face in the recruitment process, there are other factors at play that exacerbate the problem.
One of the more difficult challenges to overcome is that women, quite simply, aren't putting themselves forward or applying for these roles. Many women – particularly working mothers, neurodiverse persons, women with English as a second language, or women with additional familial responsibilities – have a lack of confidence in their ability to meet the inflexible demands of these roles. The lack of representation of women in similar roles further reinforces the idea that success is unattainable and heightens their reluctance.
Because for so long, women have been trained to believe that work and success in business – particularly in male-dominated industries – equates to long hours, no flexibility, and a lack of support for child-caring demands and other responsibilities. This is especially pronounced in small and mid-tier businesses that are often without a policy in this domain. And this isn't conducive to many women's lives. As a result, they aren't even entering themselves into the race.
For organisations to really #EmbraceEquity in the workplace and create gender-diverse teams, there must be a shift in the ways we attract talent and a rethinking of what 'standard working' looks like. Because there isn't one size fits all – and that's ok.
The idea of four-day work weeks; flexible hours; flexible working locations; part-time options; and benefits and clauses that support the needs and success of women. These shouldn't just be 'nice to haves'; they should be the expected standard.
Furthermore, the tech and IT industry needs to also reconsider the language in job descriptions and realise how critical this is in addressing the gender imbalance. This means thinking outside the box when creating and promoting roles, considering the language we use and what we can do to make these roles more appealing to women. To help make this happen, we should be pushing for more formal guidance and processes that support this idea and make it easier for businesses to promote job descriptions that women will feel compelled to put themselves forward for.
Because the paradigm right now is this: you write a job description and, in doing so, you're putting a box around a word and instantly building barriers that prevent women from applying. One of the things I appreciate most about where I am professionally is the fact that there isn't a 'job description' in which I would tick all the boxes. I am 'unboxed', as it were. I have an extensive and diverse professional history that, on paper, may not seem to connect. However, all of it combined has helped me to become the leader I am today.
If we are to achieve genuine diversity within our industry, we must forget the idea of creating rigid boxes for people to fit in. Instead, we need to be more flexible, be more open and recognise that it's not about finding someone to fit within the box; it's about finding the right individual, identifying what they can bring, supporting their growth, and building the box around them. Ultimately, we must focus on creating work environments that allow people from all walks of life to thrive without them feeling the need to hide or sacrifice other parts of themselves.
Right now, many employers are still yet to recognise the value of the 'unboxed' person. It is up to all of us – both women and men – to turn up and be each other's biggest supporters and advocates, leveraging our network to promote the worth and value of the women we know.