Invest in Women: Let’s Accelerate the Progress

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Closing the Gender Gap in Tech Together

As we celebrate Women’s Month 2024 under the banner of #InspireInclusion, let’s seize this opportunity to address a critical issue that resonates deeply with us: closing the gender gap in tech. This topic is vital because every discussion we initiate and every step we take propels us closer to realizing a tech industry that is truly inclusive and equitable. Despite the tech sector’s remarkable achievements and innovations, it continues to grapple with achieving gender parity. However, with collective effort, we can hasten our stride towards diminishing this gap, making our journey towards equality both shorter and significantly more effective.

The numbers don’t lie. Women in tech are like rare gems – precious but, sadly, scarce. We’re talking about glaring disparities in tech roles, leadership positions, and the chilly climate in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). But it’s not just a numbers game; it’s about the incredible value and perspectives that women bring to the table.

Gender pay gap

Digging Deeper: What's Behind the Curtain?

The gender pay gap is not confined to the tech industry but unfortunately persists across various sectors and life stages. Despite women being as educated as, or even more educated than ever, as recent trends confirm , the question arises: where does it go wrong?

The gender pay gap permeates deep into society, impacting cultural, political, socio-economic, and corporate dimensions that collectively influence this outcome. Despite women surpassing men in education in certain fields since 1979, we continue to witness the concerning and persistent trend of women losing ground along the way. This disparity often becomes pronounced during periods when women bear the burden of caregiving responsibilities.

Exploring the Reasons Behind the Gender Gap

Biological factors

Our bodies vary, and unlike seahorses, women bear the responsibility of childbirth and feeding during the initial months. Even if the decision is made not to breastfeed and to share this responsibility with a partner, there are aspects such as conception (which involves mental stress, time, and costs that should not be underestimated, particularly for same-sex couples), pregnancy, and childbirth all of which necessitate a woman taking the time for complete recovery.

Political and socio-economic reasons

Ensuring the continuity of our existence relies on the next generation, and many governments, particularly in Western countries, acknowledge this by incentivizing childbirth through legislative measures such as parental leave and child benefits. Despite these efforts, we continue to witness inequality with women often assuming the predominant role in caregiving.

Take Germany, for instance, where the concept of parental leave has been introduced. To qualify for payments over 14 months, the other caregiver must also take a minimum of 2 months. However, a prevailing trend reveals that the majority of this time is still taken by the mother of the child. 

Cultural reasons

“You need to work like you don't have kids and mother like you don't have a job”

Navigating as a woman, it often feels like a no-win situation. Drawing from personal experience, I joined a mothers’ group where many women choose to take at least a year off to care for their children—an admirable choice with nothing wrong about it. However, when I returned to work after just four months, I faced judgment. Comments like “They are only small once” or “Don’t you know how important it is to build a relationship with your baby” surfaced. While I recognize there’s usually no ill intent behind these remarks, they create pressure, forcing me to defend my choices. Consequently, I’m hesitant to fully engage in these support groups, even though I genuinely need assistance on my motherhood journey. Such comments impose significant peer pressure and prove discouraging.

Company

In the tech sector, particularly in startups and scale-ups, a gender pay gap persists. Salaries often lack structured frameworks, relying more on current affordability and negotiation skills. While women negotiate more than ever, biases hinder fair decision-making.

How can we progress?

Despite ongoing advancements, change is gradual. Creating awareness is crucial. International Women’s Day serves as an excellent platform, but daily efforts are essential for a lasting impact.

Biology is challenging to alter, and political and socio-economic factors evolve slowly. Cultural change is difficult yet powerful, starting with individuals. Companies can drive change by taking control of their policies.

How can we contribute to closing the Gender Gap?

Be supportive of women around you, no matter their choice 

Women have diverse preferences post-maternity—some opt for full-time work, some part-time, and others choose not to return to work. Each of these choices are valid, and it’s crucial for women to be respected in their decisions. For partners, especially men, supporting your significant other’s choice is vital. The responsibility shouldn’t solely rest on the woman. While biological factors may be beyond influence, tasks like diaper changes, night wakings, cooking, cleaning, childcare, and hobbies can be shared. If unsure about responsibilities, asking is key. Your role is to listen, comprehend your partner’s desires and needs, and contribute wherever possible.

Companies, please structure your compensation as quickly as possible

Train your managers to be self-aware of their biases and shortcomings. Implement salary structures early on, utilizing job leveling (keeping it simple) and ensure access to benchmark data for effective growth planning. While lowballing may provide short-term cash flow, especially with women, it will result in substantial long-term costs. Prioritize fair and transparent compensation practices for sustainable success.

Performance management & career development

Establish fair performance management practices based on objective criteria rather than gut feelings. Invest in programs for your female talent, particularly when shortages are identified. Cultivating talent from within the organization is a significant investment that benefits employees, recruitment/ onboarding costs, successful succession planning and enhances your employer brand.

Review your working model & practices

While many companies pride themselves on offering part-time work options, it’s essential to reassess ways of working to ensure everyone has the opportunity to work full-time. Particularly after childbirth, women often return to part-time roles, exacerbating the existing gender pay gap, widening the pension gap, and limiting promotion opportunities. Reevaluate practices and working models to enable women with caregiving responsibilities to return to full-time roles. Flexible working hours and locations can be beneficial. Additionally, consider the timing of social activities; exclusive events after 6 PM may inadvertently exclude certain groups within the organization.

Hold yourself accountable

Establish routine assessments of your initiatives and document the current situation. Encourage transparency and accountability by disseminating the results among the leadership, with each senior leader bearing responsibility for addressing disparities in gender pay and the advancement of women and other marginalized groups within their domains. As a CEO or founder, you bear the crucial duty of maintaining equitable practices and swiftly rectifying any discrepancies that arise.

Towards Organizational Best Practices

This article is full of passion; however, it’s not an exhaustive action list. Feel free to connect with me for further discussion or to share best practices that have proven effective in your organization. I’m also open to delving into this topic in greater detail if needed.

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