#WomensEqualityDay: How to Increase Opportunities for Women in Tech

Women’s Equality Day offers an annual reminder of the discrepancies that continue to exist between men and women, even in Western nations like the US. The awareness day takes place on August 26, marking the date the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed in 1920, granting full suffrage to women. While it’s clear that women’s rights have improved considerably since that time within the legal frameworks of the US, the reality is that women continue to be significantly underrepresented in many of the top professions and positions of influence in society.

“On Women’s Equality Day, we celebrate women gaining the right to vote, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that gender inequality still exists today. Women in leadership remain underrepresented, and gender biases are prevalent across all industries,” commented Julie Giannini, chief customer officer, Egnyte.

This issue is highlighted to no small degree in the cybersecurity and broader technology sector. An ISC2 study last year found that while almost a third of the global cybersecurity workforce is now female, women receive 21% less pay than their male counterparts on average. Additionally, Eskenzi PR and Marketing research published on International Women’s Day (IWD) 2021 found that just 10% of board positions and 16% of management roles in the industry are held by women.

While various factors may help explain such figures, evidence suggests that workplace cultures and sexist attitudes are a major reason for these inequities. For example, research from the Chartered Institute of Information Security (CIISec) earlier this year revealed that 48% of women in the cyber industry had been made to feel unwelcome in a “boys only club.” In addition, 47% said they had observed or experienced sexism in the workplace.

Ensuring women have the same opportunities to develop in the sector as their male counterpoints is both morally right and crucial in closing the huge IT skills gap. It is also becoming increasingly recognized that a diverse range of perspectives is required to ensure new ideas and innovation can flourish in this sector.

So what needs to change to ensure that women can compete just as well as men in the cyber and technology industry?

Firstly, women working in the sector should not be reluctant to seek help from others to navigate their careers, according to Michelle Fitzgerald, director of demand gen and events, Plutora.

“My hope for other women in tech is to not only take an active role in your own career but also focus on connecting and building relationships with other women,” she outlined. “Building connections, seeking out a mentor or becoming a mentor yourself are all rewarding ways to continue to grow, learn and lead. We can all benefit from building relationships that challenge us and help us to thrive personally and professionally.

“Since becoming a mother in addition to a working professional, the support of family, friends and colleagues has been instrumental in my success in the workplace. In order to progress and really drive forward issues related to women’s equality, we also have to keep ourselves whole. That means different things to different people; for me, it’s maintaining a good work-life balance. With two demanding kids myself, I’ve found that setting clear boundaries between work, family and personal time have allowed me to minimize stress and maximize productivity.”

"In order to progress and really drive forward issues related to women's equality, we also have to keep ourselves whole"

It is also important for women to truly understand their value to an organization and have the confidence to communicate that to their colleagues. Layla Marshall, director of product & marketing, Ascent, commented: “If I could summarise my working experience into three words of advice, they would be these: Hold. Your. Nerve. It’s too easy to start to question your judgment and vision or feel like an imposter when your experiences — professional, cultural or gender-based — are different from the majority of people in the room. Conviction is magnetic. If your idea or plan is as good as you think it is, put it out there, defend it, build on it with contributors, don’t be swayed by disruptors. You’ll be amazed at where it gets you.”

Indeed, she believes women have the opportunity to take advantage of the current political and social environment, in which issues like equality are coming increasingly to the fore. “The future is digital. Women’s active participation in the technology industry is crucial to shaping and sustaining a fair and equitable digital economy and society,” she stated. “Anyone who identifies as a woman and is considering or already works in tech has a responsibility to step through the doors that are open — and are opening — for them. As mercenary as it sounds, gender is currency right now, and businesses that are seeking to create a more equal gender balance are offering great salaries, more flexible benefits and good opportunities to learn and develop.”

Despite the changing environment, organizations in the tech sector need to undertake a lot of work to ensure their culture is welcoming to women. Michael Queenan, co-founder and CEO of Nephos Technologies, gave insights into the data and analytics sector. “If you look broadly at data and analytics roles around the world, less than 25% of these are occupied by women,” he explained. “And when it comes to IT sales roles, the number drops dramatically. Why is this? Historically the industry has been dominated by white, young men, selling to older white men within the customer base. IT sales also has a ‘laddish’ reputation — which is unappealing to most women. This is changing — thank goodness — but that was the starting point, and once a reputation is established, it can prove hard to change.”

Perhaps the most crucial step of all is to ensure the structures are in place to draw future generations of women into the cyber and tech industry. This requires efforts at a broader societal level. Ann Lloyd, VP customer success & experience, Axway, said: “Transformation is needed not only for the women working in technology now but also for the girls hoping to make their mark on the industry in the future. Creating a more female-friendly tech industry will require fundamental changes at the level of companies and employers, but also within the education system and the underlying assumptions that are still prevalent in society today.”

This year’s Women’s Equality Day has come in a period where issues such as equality and inclusion are very much in the spotlight. These conversations must lead to action, culminating in progress and change in traditionally male-dominated industries such as cybersecurity. The benefits of such an approach for society as a whole are too good to ignore.

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