International Women’s Day: From Challenge comes Change, so let’s Choose to Change

|By Eva Kleingeld, Benelux Marketing Lead|

8 March 2020: Today is International Women’s day. This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge. As individuals, we can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. As I am personally very concerned with gender equality, I decided to write this article to draw attention to gender equality and to celebrate women’s achievements. I call out all leaders in tech organisations to collectively help create an inclusive world. 

The good news

Let’s start with some good news. In recent years, women have been making waves in the technology business. Examples of such wave maker are: 

Sheryl Sandberg became COO of Facebook in 2008 and the first female member of the board. 

Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s first appointed female CEO in 2012

Sophie Proust became the Chief Technology Officer of Atos in 2019. 

Nazzic Keene was appointed Chief Executive Officer of SAIC in 2019. 

Lately, more women have been appointed leaders of large tech organisations. Is that really good news, though? Should it not be considered normal in 2021 to have female leaders in the largest tech companies?

We are not there yet

We still have a long way to if we look at the numbers. Women earn approximately half of the science and engineering degrees, but according to research of McKinsey, they make up less than 20 per cent of people employed in those fields. According to research of PwC, only 3 per cent of female students say a career in technology is their first choice. Reasons? The technology sector is still notoriously male-dominated. It seems a vicious cycle: there are less women in tech and therefore, less women are also inclined to pursue a career in tech. 

In addition to this, women face discrimination in the tech sector. Approximately 48% of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) jobs report discrimination in the recruitment and hiring process. Black and Hispanic women, who majored in computer science or engineering, are less likely to be hired into a tech role than their white counterparts. So, what can we do to break that cycle? I asked my colleague and tech leader Detelina Vassileva about her IT journey and what she advises to organisations and women out there.

Detelina’s IT Journey

Detelina is one of the tech leaders in HeleCloud and Head of Managed Services. She studied Psychology and was looking for a job with flexible working hours. She started working in a web hosting company with 50 other people and just one other female colleague. Detelina was lucky enough to rarely feel gender bias or treated differently to her male counterparts.

“I have had a number of technical interviews where the candidate knew I was the hiring manager and despite that, they decided to turn to my male colleagues before answering the technical question I asked. I did not see it for what it was the first few times. I thought it were my male colleague’s blue eyes stealing them away.” 

Detelina has felt immensely appreciated in many of her roles and sometimes especially so for being female. She mentions that living in Bulgaria, where women in IT are not considered extraordinary as more women tend to work, or have worked in IT. Women in leadership positions is a different story in Bulgaria, though.

“Just today on the radio I heard a question being asked to the listeners: “how would you react to a woman in a management position?” It’s embarrassing to hear a question like that posed over national radio in 2021 and for the occasion of International Women’s Day! I have led technical teams alongside male leaders and people seemed to take it for granted that as a female, I must be the one dealing with Excel reports and vacation approvals. Ironically, it was typically the male team leaders who had given up on their technical focus and decided to do only management.” said Detelina. 

Why you need a diverse team

Gender diversity in your organisation is of great importance. Ensuring equal representation has positive effects across the entire organisation.

  1. Different perspectives

Having a diverse team means that you will benefit from having different perspectives from both the men and women in your team. This leads to better results.

  1. Enhanced collaboration and improved process

Research strongly suggests that team collaboration and process is improved by the presence of women in a team. This effect is primarily explained by benefits to team process.

  1. More sales!

According to research of Harvard, teams with lower percentages of women have lower sales and lower profits than teams with a balanced gender mix. Profits increase as the share of women increases up to 50 per cent.

  1. Improved recruitment and reputation

According to research of PwC, 85 per cent of female millennials value employers with a strong record on diversity greatly and they also look for such employers. Having a reputation of an inclusive employer enhances your reputation in the recruitment marketplace.

I think the conclusion is obvious: organisations thrive when women are making out half of the organisation’s work force. Time to diversify your teams!

What can organisations do to diversify the team?

  1. Change must start at the top

It is of great importance that leaders – both men and women – maintain a clear stand on gender equality and gender disparity and to help creating an inclusive world.

  1. Acknowledge the problem

An important step towards gender equality, is acknowledging the problem. Only by acknowledging a problem, you can start creating a support base and start acting on it. Only then you can choose to challenge.

  1. Make gender diversity core to hiring

Till the moment of writing, as we have seen, the tech world is male dominated. Devote extra time and resources to hiring women. Don’t just say “we need to hire more women”, and leave it there, but truly act on it. When you are hiring, use language that is not gendered. By doing this, you already ‘sort’ applicants before they even applied. Be ready to hire for potential, especially in the DevOps space. Join organisations such as Women Who Code, speak on their events and talk to their members. Brag about every female team member you have and celebrate increasing diversity.

  1. Create inclusive policies & retain women

Improving the hiring process is one step towards more women in tech. However, research shows that retaining women in the tech industry is also a challenge. Women tend to leave the tech industry significantly earlier and more often than male colleagues. Value your female team members genuinely. Women are often underestimated in their roles and tend to underestimate themselves in the tech industry, so it is important to explicitly show that you value your female colleagues. Make sure you create a sense of belonging where everyone feels they have a support structure within the organisation. 

And last, but not least, invite female team members to speak up. 

What can you do as a woman in tech?

I asked my colleague Detelina for her top tips to other women out there working in tech or aiming for a career in tech.

“Be brave. My greatest disappointment is how many female friends in IT feel that if they participate in public speaking events, they will seem hungry for attention and lacking in knowledge, when they are actually very experienced and smart. Take the time to prepare and build confidence and then rock on. You have probably worked extra hard for everything in your career and owe it to the other women trying to make it to show what you have achieved and inspire them”, said Detelina. 

Do you want to learn more about #IWD2021? Check out this website: