Research has shown that diversity is critical in tech and related fields, not only does it help businesses create inclusive and well rounded products, but a diverse leadership team and staff help companies thrive. A recent McKinsey report found that “the most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability.”
It’s never been more important to make gender diversity a focus, so in the lead up to International Women's Day, we spoke to some of our leading industry mentors from our UX, Agile, and Digital Leadership courses about the importance of spotlighting women in tech, and what they #ChooseToChallenge this year.
Mayase Jere is the Senior Delivery lead at REA group and Human Centred Technologist, specialising in agile software delivery, agile team development/coaching and product thinking. Her passion is in making education accessible to every child and increasing the leadership of women in STEM
Julie Kerckhof is the Director of Business Strategy at Isobar, focussing on experience-led digital transformation, With a background in digital, business and CX strategy, she helps organisations gain competitive advantage by designing connected experiences, services and solutions that enable a sustainable business model.
Rosetta Mills is a Customer Experience Designer from Melbourne who’s passionate about developing design solutions that work for people, communities and the planet. She’s currently the CX Design Lead at Origin Energy and helping transform their business in collaboration with renewable energy company Octopus Energy.
Traditionally, digital fields like technology and data are often thought of as male dominated areas. How can we challenge this idea, and what do we need to do to see more women in tech roles?
Here we are in the 21st century, and we still stereotype the tech space as “dominated” by men. Heartbreaking! Not only do we need to change the reality of this (hire more women! Promote more women!) But we need to change this as a narrative. We need to embrace the rich past, present and future of women in technology – from Ada Lovelace who wrote the first ever computer algorithm to Caitlin Smallwood who helped build Netflix’s content personalisation – it’s up to all of us to tell their stories and lift up the amazing women in this industry to inspire those who are coming behind us.
Sadly, if we do not have young girls to fill future roles in tech it will continue to be a male dominated industry. We need to challenge the idea that girls are not interested in STEM subjects. Most young girls I know my nieces included are creatives who love to play around with tech.
Technology like any other fields requires you to apply yourself and also needs teachers who will bring knowledge like programming to girls early in their learning journey. We should have knowledge and support touch-points through out a young girls learning path from primary school, university to career development.
The other important pathway is leadership. Organisations needs to have clear career paths that allow women to climb the ladder and shatter the CTO glass ceiling. Engineering Manager and CTO roles are achievable with the right mentorship and allyship. Mentoring and allyship play pivotal roles in ensuring women get the support they need to understand their blindspots and build the leadership capability needed to lead tech teams.
Even though we might want to think of this as no longer true, there are professions that are assumed to be more vs less ‘women friendly’, based on how easy they are to combine with family life later down the track. Technology careers probably fall in the ‘less so’ category. I've definitely seen increased visibility on this over the last few years, but there’s no denying that there are less examples of successful senior women in the digital and technology space, than there are in some other fields. Yes, there are incredible role models, but these are often still seen as the exception, not the norm. It's a seemingly small differentiation, but an important one.
So I very much agree with Rosetta and Mayase here - girls are interested in technology (and good at it too!) It’s up to us to change the narrative and inspire graduates to take up a career in technology.
What advice do you have for professional women who are looking to move into Tech related areas and the UX/CX space?
Pull up a chair - the table has many seats, and if there are no seats, let’s make another table.
You may hear of Developers aka Software and/or Data Engineers a lot but there are many roles in Tech that women can thrive in. If you are analytical there are Business/Quality/Data Analyst roles to keep you entertained. Or you can join me in the Delivery lead/Project Management realm. There are User Experience Designers//Product Management and many more. You may not be doing programming everyday but, solving problems using tech means you play a part in shaping products and services that give value to customers. You get the opportunity to be a human centred technologist.
When looking for a role or comparing job offers, don’t just look at the actual work you will be doing. Instead, focus on the team you will be working with, and the people who will be leading you. Often, when trying to convince you to come work for them, companies will try to convince you of the amazing work you’ll be doing. Whether it is never-done-before innovation, making a positive change to the world or just working with important people. While the content and purpose of your UX/CX role is important, it’s even more important to be surrounded by people that motivate, enable and empower you. I like to explain it like this: I’d rather work with an amazing team and for an inspiring leader on a BAU project, than do so-called innovative, exciting work with a team or leader that are unkind, demotivating or inhibits personal growth.
It’s so exciting to see more and more people looking to shift their careers to focus on building better solutions for people – we have so many problems to solve in this industry we really do need all hands on deck! My first piece advice for people who are interested in exploring whether this area of design would be right for them would be to reach out to someone who already works in the area to have a chat! If you don’t have a colleague or friend to take out for a coffee you can always reach out to someone on Linked In (might seem scary but you’ll be surprised how nice people are!) or pop along to a meetup in your area. Once you’ve got a bit more of an understanding of what the life of a CX/UX designer looks like then educate yourself (buy some books, take a course), get some practice (be they real projects or made up ones) and start to build out a portfolio.
What is one thing you would like to challenge this International Women’s Day?
The perceived incompatibility of senior leadership roles with flexible working arrangements. How can we create more space for leadership roles to be filled by a more diverse set of people, whether they work in the office or at home, from 9-5 or with flexible hours, full time or in an alternative working arrangement?
From what I've seen, these type of flexible roles are often possible for junior positions, but somehow senior positions keep being reserved for those that can make the commitment to a full-time, on-site, always-on job. Having a little one myself, that's simply not something I can commit to at the moment.
Technology has made this enormous shift to flexible and remote working possible, so why not make use of it? Instead of excluding leaders, shouldn't they be leading by example? We risk losing highly educated, smart, senior women because they don't see a future that allows them to grow into senior and executive positions, while maintaining the flexibility to manage their lives outside of work. I feel very fortunate to have an employer that allows me the freedom to configure my work-life integration, and I can only hope I can continue to do so while growing my career. If we want diverse leadership teams, we need to make space for that diversity. Not just by hiring a diverse set of people, but also by creating an adaptable work environment for those people to thrive.
That the women of today shouldn’t be the leaders of tomorrow.
It is not only the job of women to change the demographics in STEM and increasing their participation in leadership roles. I challenge the notion that women must push this agenda and beg to be heard. There is a lot of research out there showing that Inclusive leadership and diverse teams are more effective in outputting customer value and bringing in more revenue. Its a no brainer to me for organisations that want to grow and impact society. We are all in this together. More women in tech benefits society. The decisions we are making for future generations need all voices included.