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Three Calls to Action for International Women’s Day 2023

Mar 07 2023

In my career, I have seen many International Women’s Day celebrations, and every year it gathers increasing attention in technology spheres. I’m grateful for the opportunity this attention brings to celebrate the accomplishments of women who are building representation and advocating for change in the tech industry. It’s a time for women to come together, share experiences, and support each other on their professional journeys, but it must also be a time for businesses to listen, take note, learn, and make progress.

Today, women occupy just 22% of all tech roles in Europe. This is a stark figure, and considering diverse businesses outperform their competition, addressing the issue should be a top priority. 

To bring parity to our industry, businesses must take responsibility and become drivers of change. Here are my three calls to action so we can continue to develop diverse, successful workplaces for the future.

Does it all really STEM from here?

So, why does the global tech industry struggle to acquire and retain talented women? Many people point to a root problem: a lack of women studying STEM.

If only one in three people graduating in science, technology, engineering, and maths are women, it would make sense that recruiters have a smaller pool to choose from when filling tech roles. At surface level, it’s a clear correlation, and an easy excuse for business leaders to fall back on when answering dreaded diversity questionnaires. In practice, however, the educational background of women does not, and absolutely should not, dictate their success in C-suite tech positions. Many influential tech leaders, including YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Oracle CIO Jae Sook Evans (to name just a few), do not have educational backgrounds in STEM.

In many cases, technical proficiency can be taught more quickly than the fundamental necessities of curiosity and resilience that are so important in tech leadership, and the vast majority of roles in tech do not require STEM qualifications for proficiency. UX designers, agile coaches, project managers… these are all good examples of tech roles which do not require tech backgrounds, and that’s before we get into the wider business functions around legal, HR, marketing etc. Therefore, to address the diversity gap, recruitment programmes should shift their focus away from the ever growing obsession with STEM qualifications and toward crucial, transferable leadership skills including analytics, strategy, and communication. 

Mentorships go a long way 

If businesses are serious about bringing more women into leadership positions, they need to help foster lasting and organic support structures. For women working in any male-dominated field, imposter syndrome and low confidence are common symptoms. Employers should be wary of this and take responsibility for making relationship-building easier for women across departments. This is absolutely critical, especially when transitioning from senior management to executive positions. Through mentorship, women can learn from diverse perspectives and identify growth opportunities, stirring them to advance their careers and make an impact in their field.

Even out progression pathways

To truly support women’s progression in tech is to acknowledge the additional responsibilities being placed on them and deliver sensitive support where it matters. This, of course, includes childcare, but employee-specific packages that cover often overlooked scenarios are also invaluable, such as healthcare and leave support for those dealing with menopause, bereavement through miscarriage, female-specific medical conditions, or the care of aging parents (which falls disproportionately on daughters). It’s not enough for businesses to simply acknowledge these issues exist. The companies that go the extra mile to provide this support will attract and retain top talent that will enrich their business.

Of course, when discussing progression we must address the elephant in the room. With 67% of women in tech feeling they are underpaid compared to their male counterparts, pay equity remains the biggest challenge and the best solution to improving equality in the industry. I call upon senior leaders to go beyond legal policy and to take responsibility for closing the gender pay gap themselves. This starts with a review of your direct reports’ remuneration and an assessment of pay disparity. It’s one small step that can make a huge difference for the industry.

Diversity is essential for innovation and creativity in the tech industry, so it’s vital for businesses to proactively support women’s career development, and clear the obstacles in their way. International Women’s Day should be a catalyst for change and not just a hashtag, and with the right support from the industry, we’re getting closer to our goals every year. 

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Ilona Simpson
Ilona Simpson serves as Chief Information Officer EMEA for Netskope. A seasoned CIO, she brings to the table over 20 years’ experience of initiating and leading the implementation of new business / technology strategies and operating models. During her career, she has delivered value through all phases of a business: high growth, downturns, new business integration and divestments.