HR 14 October 2016

Why it pays to invest in gender diversity

It is predicted that by the end of 2016, fewer than 25 per cent of IT jobs in developed countries will be held by women

Here, Claire Hopkins, managing director of IT services provider Ideal, looks at the value of creating gender diversity in the workplace, and why the tech industry has reached a point where it must invest in more women.

Despite research showing companies with strong gender diversity to be more successful, women remain under-represented in all major industries.

I have worked in the tech industry for the last six years. It was obvious within weeks of starting my role that this sector would be different to any other I had worked in, because I would consistently be in the minority.

The world is divided into half men, half women, yet Deloitte Global predicts that by the end of 2016, fewer than 25 per cent of information technology (IT) jobs in developed countries will be held by women.

So what challenges does this bring to women in tech and why does gender diversity matter?

It is hard to challenge dominant opinion in any situation where one gender is over-represented. Even as a business leader, I have felt under implicit pressure to conform to be accepted into my group of predominately male peers. Only in the tech industry have I routinely walked into meetings occupied solely by men. Only in this sector has it been assumed by my peers that I must work in marketing because I am a woman.

There are implicit biases and microaggressions in this male-dominated tech sector. Microagressions are “social exchanges in which a member of a dominant culture says or does something, often accidentally, and without intended malice, that belittles and alienates a member of a marginalised group.”

If men in the tech sector are inadvertently alienating women, only proactive interruption of bias and a challenge to microaggressions will improve the situation.

I was impressed by the late Professor Lisa Jardine’s practical advice to women on Desert Island Discs last year. She urged women to make sure their voice is heard first if they find themselves the only woman in the room.

So, it is clear that to succeed in this sector, it is critical for women in tech to find their voice, express themselves and be visible.

But, surely the onus shouldn’t only be on women to change? It is incumbent on all of us in this sector – men and women – to force change, by looking within ourselves and our organisations for gender bias.

Gender diversity breeds business success

The tech sector is not unique – women are woefully underrepresented in senior roles in most industries. Yet the business research is overwhelming: there is a strong link between diversity in decision making and business growth prospects.

Gender diversity delivers better profitability and return on investment for a business, while diverse teams perform better, and show better judgement than homogeneous teams. Difference and diversity breed meritocracy.

The underrepresentation of women in the workplace is a major problem not just for women, but for businesses, which could be losing out to the tune of billions of pounds.

Emma Walmsley’s appointment last month as CEO of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is perhaps a sign of a greater, wider awareness of women’s ability. It’s surely no coincidence that in February this year the government appointed GSK chairman Sir Philip Hampton to chair an independent review on increasing the number of female executives in Britain’s FTSE 350 companies.

Hampton said at the time that his focus would be to “look at the talent pipeline for female executives to ensure we create opportunities and the right conditions for women to succeed.” Seven months later, Emma Walmsley has joined the other women who lead FTSE 350 companies including EasyJet, Imperial Brands, Whitbread, Royal Mail and Kingfisher.

This focus on women and their strengths is driving change outside of IT. If everyone in our sector understands and communicates openly about how organisations will benefit from gender diversity, we too can make progress.

Claire Hopkins is managing director at IDEAL, a Brighton based IT services provider that find creative solutions enabling businesses to reach their full potential. Next month she will be speaking to the Women of Meraki network in London.

Read on to find out the best 13 cities for women launching successful startups.

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