We’re used to the argument that women in business are on the rise and the evidence for this speaks for itself. But the opinion that technology is a man’s game is often left unchallenged especially in some parts of the world. Traditionally women have had little representation in the IT world.
This was certainly the case when I started my career almost 20 years ago. Over time, the combination of increased reliance on technology, promise of equality in westernised countries and intensified recruiting efforts of companies across several industries has transformed this trend throughout the past decade.
Being a woman in technology, I’m keen to explore how – and why – women have become an asset to the IT sector.
My first encounter with IT was in the late 1980s by hanging out with the “geeks” at the after school Computing Club. Technology quickly harnessed my interest. My first big leap into IT as a career came when I was offered a job as a Test Analyst for a market research software company. I used my experience in market research as a basis to secure this position. I was then promoted into a role of pre-sales consulting which included coding in HTML and Visual Basic. By utilising my experience and training, I broke down any notion of a glass ceiling for myself – a woman in IT.
I was then offered a great job to run an e-commerce website where I had to work with teams in Copenhagen, London and Boston. When the dot com crash occurred in the early 2000’s, I was again able to try my hand in another field of IT, this time as a Project Manager for a large agency in London. In turn, this led to the inception of ClearPeople, the technology company that I co-founded.
This quick summary of my CV is to demonstrate one main point – I did not come from a technical background. But this has not affected my progression in the technology industry. With each step my career has taken, I had to consume myself completely in new technologies. I believe it is your attitude and willingness to learn which enables success and I encourage more women to do the same.
Exposure diminishes gender barriers
More women are entering the IT sector for a number of reasons. The first is that more are exposed to IT as technologies have become pervasive tools necessary to complete social interactions and work-related tasks. Such ubiquitous exposure diminishes gender barriers, thus increasing gender neutral interest in IT.
Over several decades organisations have driven programmes designed to acquaint women to IT related fields in an effort to close the gender gap and to create equal opportunities.
For instance, organisations like The Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology, the Society of Women Engineers and even the Girl Scouts have focused on increasing exposure and experience with technology, science, maths and several other fields to pave a path for women in historically male dominated industries.
As each gender barrier is broken down, it leads way for women to conquer new heights.
Currently, women hold 29% of tech positions overall. However, after analysing industry tech reports, CNET found that although the percentage of women in tech roles is on the incline, there are “significantly fewer women in positions to influence their companies’ product development and or strategic direction”. Female representation at Board level in any industry is still nowhere near high enough but we are making progress.
Although change may not be occurring at a rapid pace, I am pleased to see women are becoming more involved in technology, seen in the numbers of women enrolling in tech-related courses at university levels for example. As each generation progresses, we will see more women rise and become more influential in business.
A perfect example of introducing stereotypical male interests to women has been illustrated in a recent campaign by EDF, the second largest energy company in the UK.
Their “Pretty Curious” campaign captivates the momentum of young females that are fascinated, curious and inspired by technology. The technology, science and engineering sectors are facing a large skills shortage already now and this will only widen in the future. Efforts in corporations that encourages young women to be uninhibited by technology and science is a giant leap towards breaking down gender barriers and establishing unified interests across all fields.
Watch the campaign video below:
Similar to EDF, many IT companies in the western world have implemented a number of programmes in order to bring and keep more women into the workplace. They are not doing this to just reach equality quotas set by some governments or to fill a skills shortage gap, but because it is proven that gender-diverse teams deliver superior productivity and financial performance compared with homogenous teams.
How? Through improved team work – a study of 272 projects in 4 companies proved that gender diversity on technical work teams was associated with superior adherence to project schedules, lower project costs and higher employee performance ratings.
Gender-balanced teams are also the most likely to experiment, be creative, share knowledge, and fulfil tasks. And most importantly, financial performance is higher than average when there is gender diversity at the top management. In particular, these companies demonstrated superior return on equity, earnings before interest and taxes, and stock price growth.
According to the Mail and Guardian, the share of women in the non-agricultural employment sector has increased from 43% in 1996 to 45% in 2012 (the latest available figure), and 77% of women earned the same amount as men, according to 2010 figures from Statistics South Africa. But there is still a way to go for full equality of women in business in South Africa who are still falling short in gender equality standards compared to other parts of the western world.
Diversity and being adventurous are two of our values that we continuously promote at ClearPeople. Being a woman in IT is empowering and fulfilling, and I encourage those who are interested in IT to follow your interest and to stay curious.