IWD: The tech sector needs equity, not just equality

Written by Nimmi Patel on 8 March 2022 in Opinion
Opinion

The industry needs to focus on building equitable products and workplaces rooted in inclusivity and belonging this International Women’s Day, according to Nimmi Patel from techUK

Credit: PxHere

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2022, techUK is looking at how we can break the bias surrounding women working in the tech industry. 

This year we are not just talking about equality anymore. We are talking about building an equitable tech sector. In particular, building this in a world where the pandemic has disproportionately affected different groups of society.

For tech to work for everyone, those creating it must reflect the society it seeks to serve. Currently, it does not. This means we are building products that aren’t for everyone – products that may reinforce privilege and biases. 

Caroline Criado Perez’s book Invisible Women is all about data bias and a world designed for men. In the book, Caroline spotlights the many ways in which a lack of diverse teams has led to bad products being designed – sometimes with fatal consequences. 

Take the seatbelt. 

When regulation was first introduced requiring seatbelts, the crash dummies that were used to test the efficacy of the seatbelts being designed were based on the average man. The most commonly used dummy is 1.8m tall and weighs 76kg – significantly taller and heavier than an average woman. 

As a result, women got seriously hurt. It took until 2011 – almost 60 years later – before female crash dummies started to be used. I cannot help but think that if there were women around the table at the start of that conversation, then we would never have ended up in that situation. 

For tech to work for everyone, those creating it must reflect the society it seeks to serve. Currently, it does not. This means we are building products that aren’t for everyone – products that may reinforce privilege and biases. 

And then there is the fact that if you do not have diverse perspectives round the table at every stage – from conception to design to creation – you will end up with, at best, a sub-optimal product. 

It is no surprise that the first smartwatches didn’t have female health tracking features – an all-male design team just did not think about how useful such a function would be to approximately half of the population.  

We must break the cycle to break the bias. 

Although women represent 47% of the UK workforce, they comprise only 19% of the UK’s tech workforce. Entrenched biases and gender stereotypes can drive women away from pursuing a fulfilling career across sectors. 

'Role models matter'
Wide industry action is required to bring this issue to light, and techUK is proud to continue our focus on elevating the voices of those around us. 

Role models matter when it comes to providing mentorship and discussing shared experiences to promote STEM to underrepresented groups. Diverse role models create a dialogue allowing other colleagues to understand others experiences in the workplace and the challenges they face. This is why techUK has committed to abolishing all-male panels. It is important to ensure diversity among speakers at events as we want to hear from a variety of perspectives and do not want to compound unconscious gender bias that exists within the industry. By elevating the voices of women, we can show girls and other women that people like them are choosing our sector.

A stark sign of the lack of gender diversity in the cybersecurity industry is shown at technology conferences where women are in such a minority that they rarely have to queue for the loo. 

In 2018, techUK helped launch the Queue for the Loo initiative; a series of events and online resources aimed at women in the cybersecurity sector. The initiative, spearheaded by Sian John of Microsoft, includes quarterly networking events for female cyber professionals to network, exchange ideas and find mentors. 

It looks to not only create a stronger network between women in cyber, but also to encourage them to do more to get others to consider their options in this space. The aim is to increase the breadth of talent in our industry by encouraging more women to join it so that we are more included, and a sign of success will be when women have to start queueing to use the facilities at cybersecurity conferences.

We also need to support our male allies, who are shifting the dial on unconscious bias and gendered stereotypes. We in the workplace are collectively responsible for our office culture. It is about making colleagues aware when they are talking over people in meetings and highlighting areas where unconscious bias may have had an impact on promotions and staff hires. Simple actions can truly enable a better working environment for women. 

As we continue to discuss the issues that affect women, every day will remain International Women’s Day. 

 

You can read more about techUK's ongoing commitment to improving diversity, and listen to the organisation’s podcast with the heads of policy from big tech companies.

 

About the author

Nimmi Patel is policy manager for skills, talent and diversity at techUK

 

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