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IWD 2021: Talend CISO on empowering women in the workplace

08 Mar 2021

Comment from Talend chief information security officer Anne Hardy.
 

What does the IT industry need to do to attract more women in the years ahead? 

The lack of workforce diversity must be acknowledged as an ongoing problem and faced head-on. Gender diversity should be a part of your organisation’s core culture without remaining in a silo. Innovation and problem-solving only work through the combined collaboration of different genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, and races. Each one offers a unique experience and perspective.  

In my experience, the technology industry is male-dominated. It is not rare that teams with hundreds of technologists have no women. In a recent tech industry job, I had peers who had no women on their teams, and they were not sure about what they had to do to attract women to join their teams and fit in. 

Corporate culture influences women in ways that make them feel they don’t fit in or support their co-workers. Therefore, the technical female profile must be understood, attracted, and fully integrated into a team dynamic, not classified as indigenous among a group of men. 

This education empowers women to feel comfortable in the workplace. A first step forward is including women in your interview panels to maintain gender equality in the tech sector, even if the female profile isn’t part of the specific team. 

What do IT companies need to do to ensure that more women have the opportunity to achieve senior leadership roles within their organisations? 

When attending past meetings, I heard this all too often, “Anne, you’re probably not technical enough to understand this.” The reality is that I’m an engineer with the same background as the person sitting next to me! However, the fact that others witness the interaction, they think the statement is true. 

It isn’t because the host was trying to be mean or didn’t like me. We are all biased, including women who often believe that they are not good enough. Blame it on a lack of proper education and recognition for women’s role in shaping the tech industry. There are natural and unintentional prejudices in the workplace that lead people to think a woman is less technical and intelligent than a man. Recognising that these prejudices exist is already a good start. 

I’m a strong proponent of providing internal sponsors who vouch for women’s skills and represent them as high-performing assets to a technology organisation, particularly annual performance reviews or promotion discussions. 

Women might need additional assistance to educate and remind executives that they’re just as deserving of a promotion as men based on their experience and skills. Ideally, the sponsor should be a man, as he can be the best advocate for a woman trying to grow. Otherwise, we’ll just see women fighting for women’s rights. We need to bridge the gender gap and ensure men fight for gender diversity. 

What is the government’s role in attracting more women into STEM-based qualifications? 

Education is key. Young girls should be exposed to computers from an early age, understanding that they’re essential to daily life and can open many professional doors for them later in life. 

Furthermore, the academic system must take an active position in educating this demographic, inspiring young girls to pursue careers in computer science and programming. Young women shouldn’t believe computers are just for geeks or people performing tedious jobs in a lab or office. 

When I studied software engineering, most of my teachers were men, geeks, and not the type of people you’d necessarily aspire to be as a young girl. Yet, these persistent and subconscious images of male mathematicians and scientists could explain why girls enter STEM fields at drastically lower rates. 

This thinking needs to change if we’re to empower women in tech. While there are plenty of legitimate reasons for a balanced and diverse team, we shouldn’t force diversity; otherwise, it looks like companies are doing it to check a box, so regulations to make this happen are fair. 

What can women do to support themselves and their peers to drive a more diverse and inclusive global IT industry? 

Promoting a sense of community to discuss industry and workplace challenges is integral for maintaining a tech industry voice. Many associations, groups, and events for women are accessible, not least of which is The Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. GHC was one of my favourite pre-COVID conferences to attend. The skills I learned and the relationships I made there helped get me to where I am today. 

How do we get more women interested in tech? 

The social status quo in the IT workplace should no longer apply. It’s time to break down barriers to equality. We need to feature technical women in a way that resonates with young female audiences.

A women’s general societal perception needs to change because we can do anything. The only real barrier is the one we build in our minds.