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Bridging the gender gap in the technology industry

Bridging the gender gap in the technology industry

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International Women’s Day is today (March 8) to celebrate women’s achievement and to push for a gender equal world. And it follows hot on the heels of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which was celebrated last month. Despite a shortage of skills in most of the technological fields driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution, women still account for only 28% of engineering graduates and 40% of graduates in computer science and informatics. Are companies doing enough to close the gender gap in tech and unlock equal opportunities for women to succeed in the industry? Intelligent CXO spoke to four female leaders about their experience in the tech industry.

Rupal Hollenbeck, Chief Commercial Officer at Check Point Software Technologies:

What is your experience like as a female tech leader?

I have been fortunate to have spent the last 28 years in the technology industry. During this time, I’ve seen the industry begin to open up for women and underrepresented groups. It has taken a hands-on effort over the years – and I’ve helped by starting women’s Employee Resource Groups in Asia and chairing an executive women’s network in China. I’m heartened by the progress we’ve made, but there is more work to be done.

When I first started working in tech, I had male and female managers who expressed their confidence, and this inspired me. They showed me – through their example – what was possible. I was able to work for a senior woman in a leadership role, and she was instrumental in me seeing myself in a senior role as well. I truly believe that it’s very hard to be what you cannot see.

Along the way, both mentorship and sponsorship by great men and women have been instrumental. Now, as a leader at Check Point Software, a leader in global cybersecurity, I actively work on paying it forward every chance I get. I enjoy leading my team in ways that can help them achieve what they didn’t think was possible.

Do women in the tech industry need to work harder for success than their male counterparts?

The bar is always going up and we are looking for ways to work smarter – all of us. We each also have to find the method that works for us as individuals. I encourage women to 1) Bring your full self to their work. By being transparent and sharing our full selves with our team, we can become more resilient and adaptable. 2) While I don’t recommend doing things that make you uncomfortable, the butterflies that you get when pushing out of your comfort zone are a wonderful way to see what you’re capable of and to grow. 3) Find or develop a support network both inside and outside of the organisation, including mentors and sponsors. 4) Consider an unconventional career path. For many young girls in school today, their future career role may not even exist yet. Technology is moving so quickly that careers are evolving before our eyes.

Why do you think there is underrepresentation of females in the tech industry?

There are many reasons for this, including opportunities available to girls from a very early age and societal norms around caregiving for children and elders. There is work to be done to demystify STEM careers and educate students about the many ways in which even non-engineers can work in technology – from finance to marketing to sales. I’m an example of that as a Finance major with an MBA – but an obsession with technology.

At Check Point, three out of our seven company leaders are women, and between us, we lead over 80% of our organisation. This is not the norm in the global cybersecurity industry – or in tech for that matter – where only 25% of employees are women. While I’m quite proud of that, we are passionate about bringing more women and underrepresented groups into cybersecurity.

How do you think the tech industry can become more gender equal?

Education is critically important. From a young age, we must encourage girls to follow their interests and to ask questions and persevere even when facing seemingly insurmountable challenges. It is also vital for young people to recognise how pervasive technology is in our daily lives. By nurturing the curiosity of young girls about how the world around them works, we can encourage them to be the future engineers, UX designers, cybersecurity architects, sales professionals, among many other roles that help create our future.

Kratika Sangal, Director of Marketing Communications and Channel Marketing, Secure Issuance:

What is your experience like as a female tech leader?

My experience has been enriched by working with some of the best and brightest talent in tech across the MENA region and worldwide. The tech industry has rapidly evolved to become more inclusive and non-hierarchical. I have learned from many women in leadership roles who have kindly served as mentors and role models and have helped me feel included.
My own journey has shown me that women in leadership roles face both similar and different challenges. There are always sacrifices along the way to a rewarding career. It is critical to constantly learn from those lessons along the way and continue to advocate for change.

Do women in the tech industry need to work harder for success than their male counterparts?

Compared to previous generations, a lot of strides have been made around workplace equity. Significant improvements and continued efforts are being placed to bridge the gender gap. All of this is possible via collective effort and the right leadership, regardless of gender. As the statistics continue to trend upwards, it remains essential that a robust infrastructure of sponsors and mentors provide the support, enhance the female self-confidence and set up the right set of initiatives to keep up this momentum.

How do you think the tech industry can become more gender equal?

At HID, we have women in various leadership and strategic positions, who are recognised for their great work and achievements, and not just for being female leaders. Women might have the relevant education and skillsets, but it is the perception of gender that has to shift. One must remain authentic, be true to their ideologies, continue to pave the way and pay it forward. It will take all of us in the different roles we play to come together to support, encourage, guide, mentor, coach and assert ourselves as a voice to close the gap, regardless of gender.

Fatma Al Lawati, IT Examiner at the Central Bank of Oman:

What is your experience like as a female tech leader?

When I first started my career, I worked as a technical specialist and progressed through different stages until I became a tech leader. One of the challenges that women often face is being the only female in the room. I still remember my first meeting, in which my manager reassured me that I earned my place among my colleagues, and I should keep up my hard work.

Do women in the tech industry need to work harder for success than their male counterparts?

In my opinion, women don’t necessarily have to work harder than men, but they do need to work smarter to distinguish themselves among their colleagues. Management is always looking for unique ideas that can increase business productivity with fewer resources. When women work smarter, they can earn their place at the table with their male and female colleagues.

Why do you think there is underrepresentation of females in the tech industry?

I believe there are two main factors contributing to the underrepresentation of women in the tech industry. Firstly, women who work in the tech industry don’t always promote the industry properly. When they attend gatherings, they often talk about the negative aspects and challenges of the industry, but fail to celebrate their achievements, big or small. This can discourage the next generation from pursuing a career in tech. Secondly, many women who enter the tech industry do not have the right leader or mentor to guide them, which often leads them to leave the industry after three to five years.

How do you think the tech industry can become more gender equal?

In the region where I live, in Oman, there are more women studying STEM or tech majors than men. However, the number of women shrinks as they progress in their careers. To address this issue, I believe creating a proper community where women can support each other, seek guidance and mentoring without judgement can help more females continue their careers in the tech industry.

I recently had an experience that added tremendous value to my career as a woman in tech. I was able to join the ‘UK-Gulf Women in Cybersecurity’ fellowship, organised by the innovation company, Plexal, in partnership with the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and digital risk management consultancy, Protection Group International (PGI). It’s a unique initiative that is helping to address the issue of underrepresentation of women in the field of cybersecurity, and I was able to learn best practices across government, industry and academia. It’s programmes like that which are undoubtedly an important step forward in the effort to promote gender diversity in the tech industry.

Lorraine Wilkinson, Vice President, Sales UK:, Equinix;

What is your experience as a female tech leader?

I’ve worked in tech for 30 years, and I have absolutely loved it because my roles have very much played to my strengths of communication, relationship building and collaboration. At Equinix, I am responsible for implementing and progressing the sales strategy in the UK, developing existing customer relationships and supporting the long-term business growth of the company. I was in a highly successful sales role when I made a tough choice to put my career on hold while I raised my children, so for 15 years my career did not progress. It’s important we achieve a workplace balance that allows women not to put their careers on hold, but to achieve a work/life balance while accelerating into leadership positions.

Do you feel that women in the tech industry need to work harder for success than their male counterparts?

A 2022 survey revealed that 70% of women in tech feel like they need to work harder and prove themselves because of their gender. There are several reasons for this, including the portrayal of tech as a primarily male sphere, stemming back to a bias where girls tend to be pushed away from STEM subjects. In addition, there is a lack of female role models in tech, with fewer women reaching leadership positions as over half of the women in tech leave the industry by the midpoint of their careers.

Why do you think there is underrepresentation of females in the tech industry?

For similar reasons to the above, historically women have been more hesitant to apply for tech roles. What’s more, certain areas of the tech industry can demand long hours and increased commitment, which could pose more of a challenge for women, who may perform care work, such as childcare and informal adult care, which was exacerbated in recent years by the pandemic.

How do you think the tech industry can become more gender equal?

Many companies are working hard to encourage more women to join the industry. At Equinix, we want to make a real difference in changing this imbalance and support women who have the skills to enter the tech industry but might lack the confidence and support to do so.

We must take action and look for innovative ways to make a difference for women and create a more inclusive workplace. Progress in this area has been too slow, but with an increased collective effort we can work together to ensure the tech industry becomes more gender equal.

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