This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #BeBoldForChange and it couldn’t be more appropriate. I believe it’s incredibly important to stand up for what you believe is right – after all, that’s the only way you can bring about real change. For me, like many others in the tech industry, this often boils down to standing up for gender equality in the workplace.
According to a report from the World Economic Forum last year, the gender gap won’t disappear until 2186. That is, unless bold action is taken by all of us – men and women. There’s an especially big responsibility for those of us in the technology sector where gender equality remains a very real issue. According to Deloitte only 18 percent of tech jobs in the UK are held by women and 37 percent of women in the industry say that they have been passed over for promotion because they are female. In the year 2017, that last statistic feels particularly sad and troubling.
Why does any of this matter?
Apart from the fact that pursuing gender equality is the right thing to do, a lack of diversity poses a considerable risk to the growth and prosperity of the tech sector. By 2020 there will be 750,000 thousand new digital jobs in the UK. We need to ensure we have the skilled talent to fill these roles. This is a very high hurdle to clear if half of the population is significantly under-represented!
However, this issue is broader than the tech industry. If we fail to cultivate a robust talent pipeline, it isn’t just our sector that suffers. There will be a wider knock-on effect given the importance of technology to the broader economy – the UK has the largest digital economy as a percentage of GDP among the G20.
Job vacancies aside, there’s also a real threat to the pace of innovation and success if we don’t tackle this problem. It’s been shown that having women account for at least 30 percent of leadership positions adds 6 percent to a company’s net profit margin. There are countless other studies too, that show a more diverse workforce is a more successful one.
What can be done?
The idea of taking ‘bold’ action might seem a little a daunting. But, at an individual level, it doesn’t have to be. One simple thing every professional can do is to make a commitment to mentor female talent. I currently mentor seven women from different areas of the company and outside the company. If I’m honest, I think I get as much or more out of it as they do. Our conversations continually make me consider challenges from different perspectives and help me with ways to talk to men and women about the changes we need to make.
It’s important that senior leaders take a strong stand on gender equality. If there’s going to be real change, it has to start at the top. And it has to start with the men. Gender equality is an issue that impacts all of us. It’s my belief that both men and women have a critical part to play in helping to achieve it. When male leaders show their commitment to this issue, it can really inspire other men to raise their voices and take action too.
Each of us in the tech sector also has an opportunity to influence the young people in our lives. We still haven’t shaken off the stereotype of tech being a career for men, so it’s important we talk about our careers with young people, and really encourage the girls in our lives who have a passion for STEM subjects. Another way to help is through supporting non-profit organizations like Stemettes, which supports girl tech-preneurs.
At a company level, establishing policies and procedures to ensure equality is hugely important too. For example, since conducting our first all-company equal pay audit in 2016, Salesforce has spent nearly $3 million to eliminate statistically significant differences in pay. We continuously assess and aim for pay equity across the entire organization, and it’s become part of our corporate DNA.
Another part of this involves increasing access to advancement opportunities for all. One way we do this at Salesforce is with processes that ensure equitable representation. We work to see that women make up at least one third of all attendees at executive management meetings and one third of the speakers at customer events, reflecting the percentage of women in our overall workforce.
International Women’s Day is an inspirational way to remind everyone – men and women – that gender inequality affects us all. I hope that this year it also acts as a catalyst, spurring many in the tech industry to positive action – be that mentoring, speaking out about the importance of the issue, or helping bring about company policy changes. The more people there are drawing attention to the issue, the more rapidly we will bring about significant change.