International Women’s Day: Women in Technology
In honor of International Women’s Day (IWD) 2019, we talked to Sitel Group women who work in technology to understand what’s holding women back from entering these society defining fields - and what companies should do to attract more female talent.
In honor of International Women’s Day (IWD) 2019, we talked to Sitel Group women who work in technology to understand what’s holding women back from entering these society defining fields – and what companies should do to attract more female talent.
One of the questions posed by this year’s International Women’s Day is how can innovation remove barriers and accelerate progress for gender equality?
The technological advances driving the fourth industrial revolution provide potentially the best opportunity in recent history for people to move forward and to achieve based on their abilities and their ideas, rather than their gender.
In fast growth areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), data analysis and statistical mathematics, more often than not, qualifications are dictating whether or not a role is filled. And considering that more U.S. women than men complete a college degree each year – in 2018, 57 percent of undergraduate degrees and 59 percent of all master’s degrees were awarded to women – women, theoretically, are the best placed to benefit.
A lack of female voices
However, even as new roles are created that could help address the status quo, according to UN data, women are still massively unrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and design – the disciplines set to shape our lives in the coming years.
Without female voices and female experiences helping to steer these innovations and their application, there’s a very real danger these technologies and advances that promise so much may fail to live up to that promise, in terms of inclusiveness and access.
How can companies change?
So, what steps can institutions and organizations take to try and prevent this future from unfolding? “Better communication,” says Sitel Group IT Director Teresa Ryan. “I think many times there is a misconception that an IT role equals programmer. Representation of all the various IT fields in schools at a young age would garner more interest in the field for both men and women.”
Software engineer Sylvie Nay agrees. “I think that things must be done further upstream, for example, when we choose the training we want to follow, the school we want to integrate, because these are the things that determine our professional careers,” she explains. “For my part, when I was in high school, I never imagined I would embark on a career in computer development, mainly because of the prejudices I had. I thought it was indeed a profession that was more for men who already have this geeky side.”
Ryan chose a career in IT because she was inspired by her father’s analytical mind. If Nay hadn’t attended an engineering school that offered a software engineering course and had a professor that made her feel confident in her career choice, she would have graduated in finance instead.
Both concede that as women, they are a minority in their field, for the moment, at least. “I do see a higher percentage of men than women in the various IT roles,” says Ryan. “I’m sure there are many reasons behind this, but out of those, I have to believe that one is that women tend to be the primary caregivers in their homes.”
Organizations adopting flexible and home working practices would help to address this issue and is one of the reasons why Sitel Senior Project Manager IT Jessica Atkinson has been able to continue building her career in the U.S. while residing in Panama.
However, flexibility is just one element. Atkinson believes we need people to engage with potential and existing employees and promote ideas for career advancement. “I wanted to participate in a month to highlight woman and to encourage anyone looking for a way to accelerate their career to consider working towards a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification,” says Atkinson. “The only requirement is investing in yourself.”
Nay feels that the prejudice that held her back persists today. “Even if I think it’s less the case now, I still hear young girls – like my cousins who are currently teenagers – who have these same prejudices,” she says. “I think we need to break down these prejudices so more girls move into these areas.”
But even with prejudices removed and with access to more qualifications and training, companies also have a responsibility to create the right environment that helps and encourages people to progress. “Support from your peers is crucial, especially when first entering the field,” says Ryan. “I highly recommend fostering an open team environment with subject matter experts available for guidance.”
And of course, organizations also need to demonstrate that they hire, support and promote based on a person’s ability to do a job. “We need to continue to promote IT leadership roles for both men and women,” says Sitel VP IT Customer Success, Debra Renken. “Sitel’s current leadership is open to hire whomever has the right talent for the position, whether that be male or female.”
“Companies must be able to give responsibilities to women, if they have the skills, in order to show a potential new recruit that they too can have responsibilities and career development,” says Nay.