IWD 2022: Snowflake on breaking the bias on women in tech (Opinion)

Written by Snowflake A/NZ manager of sales development, Ailie Patten.

I am surprised to find myself in the IT industry…considering my early aspirations were to become an actress. My father has been in IT for his entire career, and I had always told him how unlikely it would be to follow in his footsteps.

When I told people what my next venture would be, I was often met with the response – “you’ll be successful because you’re a woman in technology”. So from day one in the role, it’s been my mission to prove that I will be successful because I’m good at the job, irrespective of my gender.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias. We are asked to imagine a world free from gender bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A community that celebrates and values all equally. You’ll find many women in the tech industry breaking that bias every day.

If we consider that the number of such women in technology is most certainly not a proportional representation of the demographics (according to The National Data Report on Girls and Women In STEM, the proportion of women working across all STEM-qualified industries is around 28% as of 2020), then logic might suggest we have an untapped pool of capability. So how might we explore ways to redress this and reposition mindsets?

My personal reason for choosing the technology industry could be distilled to a few reasons – I get to work with smart, agile and innovative people around the globe every day. Secondly, my work impacts lives across companies and organisations of all sizes and industries to help them understand (through data) themselves, their customers, the world and the ecosystem they operate in.

What also pushed me into this space was the ubiquitous nature of technology. There is rarely a business decision that does not have a consequential technology impact today. In fact, it should be clear by now that our future will be shaped and driven by technology. So, the entire workforce, all genders and generations, must be engaged with technology futures.

If women are all already equal users of technology, why would we not be equal innovators, shapers, influencers and stewards?

So how can we drive change and break the bias?

In my opinion, it rests on many pillars in society – our education system, families, workplaces, the Government and our own personal responsibility. Breaking institutional norms surrounding this imbalance will not be a seismic event, but rather it must be a long steady burn.

Here are a few simple places and ways that we can start:

  • We need to enhance the constructs in our educational norms. The stigma, bias, and perspective are often shaped early in our education. It will take a shift in our school’s approach to develop our skills in STEM for all genders and then change that bias. We are already seeing this in flight with many ‘Girls in Tech’ initiatives driven in schools… let’s keep going.
     
  • Social frameworks, including families, can play a role in stimulating the opportunities that technology offers society. We are transitioning through an era of connected and advanced possibilities, and the generational shift has never been wider. Bridging it, developing a new norm and shaking off the stereotypes surrounding technologists will require considerable effort from within the family.
     
  • The workplace must transform from within. Careers must be relatable to women – it’s not a ‘career in tech’; it’s a chance to shape the way of the future.
     
  • Leaders also have an integral role in supporting and developing rising women. Reward, recognition and opportunities must be equally applied. We must continue to champion different perspectives and build a culture based on diversity and inclusion.
     
  • Governments have the legislative power to remedy gender discrimination, which we see worldwide, but it stretches beyond the law. They must continue to level the playing field, breaking down social barriers and pouring investment in schools’ STEM-based qualifications, and ensuring campaigns and advocates for these qualifications continue to represent all genders.
     
  • And lastly, our personal responsibility! Tell women’s stories, shake off that “black swan” label of successful women in technology. Success has never been based on gender; it will continue to be based on merit. 

This is our bias, and it will be held for as long as we refuse to let go of it. Shaping the technology future can’t be reserved for one gender.

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