Cracking the code: Innovation for a Gender Equal Future, this year’s theme for International Women’s Day – creating more opportunities for women to innovate. When I first saw this my immediate thought was, how do we encourage more children to see science, technology and maths as gender neutral and not just things that are easier for boys.
As a mum of a boy and a girl I am constantly ensuring we create gender equity for them both. We don’t define ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ colours or toys or games. We have never intentionally pushed either of them into specific activities other than when they’ve given something a go and asked to do it again. We encourage them to take each of their subjects at school with the same level of interest as those that they find easier or more interesting.
Our daughter played football and didn’t enjoy it but she does love drama, singing and dancing. Our son tried drama classes and hated them, he loves all sports and insists that he will be a football player when he is older. But we instil in them that their preferences for activities is their individual choice and nothing to do with their gender or how they look. However, our son excels in maths and computer studies and our daughter in humanities and english.
It is naïve to think that gender stereotypes don’t still exist for our children, they absolutely do. Let’s just look at school uniforms, we still insist on girls wearing dresses and skirts and boys are offered shorts and trousers. However, what is beginning to change, and what we can embrace is the opportunities and encouragement we provide for them.
In the workplace, however, there continues to be a distinct lack of women in technology departments but also on innovation in general. I have seen many businesses try to create more diversity in their technology leadership teams by promoting women in to senior roles well before they’re ready only for them to fail in their roles. I have seen some organisations set targets for women in technology roles, again, only to fail at achieving these.
So, what can organisations do?
- Create an internal training programme for existing employees – don’t just have technology training for the digital teams. Create cross-functional working and support secondments from other parts of the business into the technology teams
- Hold Innovation competitions – these don’t just sit in technology teams but innovation can take part anywhere in the business and gives people an understanding of things like automation and AI in their functional discipline.
- Ensure you have clearly defined people manager and specialist career tracks – most companies have a career track for ‘climbing the ladder’ which usually involves taking on the responsibility for the team and being promoted in this way. However, specialist career tracks are for those with in depth subject matter expertise and they don’t necessarily take on the responsibility of people management to get promoted.
- Offer internships and apprenticeships to promote technology jobs for all – having targeted recruitment campaigns to teach from the ground up within your business opens up the door for people with no experience at all to come and learn within your business. This isn’t just young people but can be open for people of all ages!
- Shout about your culture and any policies that support women in your workplace – there are certain company benefits that are very appealing to women, depending on their stage of life. Publicise what you offer to attract and retain more women into your business. (If you don’t have any female friendly policies then you might want to!)
With so much new technology and possibly new roles in the future, acting now to invest in women in technology and innovation is crucial. Side of desk training isn’t the way to do this, but truly investing in deeper knowledge of technology across your entire business will develop a greater gender equilibrium.
Of course, this doesn’t even touch the surface when it comes to the lack of opportunities female entrepreneurs have and the lack of investment in female founded businesses but that’s one for another day.