Report by Breaking The Code author Danielle Dobson
It’s International Women’s Day, and we’re being encouraged to Break the Bias. If you’re a woman working in tech, well done! You’ve already overcome many biases to get here. But as a society, we’ve got a long way to go.
When I was working on my book Breaking the Gender Code, it was my son who helped me to see that the biases around gender are a type of coding, inspired by his own computer coding lessons at school. We’re coded by the Gender Code to see men and women as intrinsically different. And to lean into stereotypes around men being better at STEM and women being better at creative and caring roles.
So in honour of IWD 2022, here’s five ways we need to break the bias and ditch the out of date Gender Code:
For parents, carers and role models who want to help break the bias from the start:
1. Early intervention matters
Gender stereotyping starts from birth, with studies revealing toddlers are spoken to differently, based on their gender. Boys are typically spoken to about counting and numbers as much as three times more than girls, and another study found that in museums, boys are engaged with 2-3 times more than girls.
By setting these biases and limiting beliefs early, we’re clipping the wings of young girls who might actually love a future working in technology and STEM.
Break the Bias: Babies and children are naturally curious, so encourage their natural curiosity and nurture their unique interests, rather than looking at them through a gender lens. Encourage girls in primary and high school to see tech and science as exciting prospects for jobs and careers, while at the same time encouraging boys to consider more ‘caring’ careers rather than being pigeon-holed into traditionally male roles.
For leaders, decision makers and people who have the power to effect change in tech businesses:
2. Hiring more women
While we’re seeing more women in tech roles and interviewing for tech roles, there’s still a huge barrier for women in terms of unconscious and conscious bias in the hiring process.
Diversity and gender targets can help with this, but we need to break the biases and remove any barriers to women entering the sector.
Break the Bias: Putting forward anonymous applications for jobs that don’t mention name/gender can help, and so can looking at female-only recruitment for roles, in order to level out the playing field.
3. Retaining women and developing pathways
Once women get into tech and STEM roles, retention is another big issue, and there are a number of reasons why – imposter syndrome, perceptions, definitions of expertise and how rewards are measured are all factors. Given women are still outnumbered by men in most tech spaces, it’s no wonder they can feel intimidated. One SEO director told me she was recently the only woman in the room at an event, with 23 of her male counterparts!
Unpaid professional labor can also be a barrier to career development – when women are asked and expected to volunteer their time for events, panels, and women’s networking groups, but not rewarded for this overtime.
Break the Bias: For leaders, it’s important to ask questions rather than assume you know what the women on your teams actually want – design and implement policies, practices and programs based on what women need. Build person by person, team by team to create an inclusive culture where people want to be engaged, loyal and productive.
4. An undeniable business case
Having more women in tech is often seen just as a ‘nice to have’ or a ‘women’s issue’ that becomes a tick box exercise, but the research shows that increasing gender diversity and inclusion is linked to better business outcomes.
Diversity in tech leads to better results in creativity, innovation, new ideas, productivity, performance and profitability. It’s an essential, rather than a luxury item.
Break the Bias: Engage women (and men) in your organisation to join in with productive and robust conversations around diversity, create a strategy and take ACTION. Create measurable targets and tasks, and also take the pulse of what people’s perception is around inclusivity in your workplace. Open conversations can be really eye-opening and inspire positive change.
For women in tech who want to tackle the challenges:
5. Build the village at work
We often hear how it takes a village to raise a child, well it also takes a village to build a career. Being a woman in tech can be lonely and isolating and self-doubt can play a big part in creating barriers to performing at your best.
Break the Bias: Actively seek the support of other women at your work and more broadly across the tech industry – either one-to-one or in groups – and build a solid network of people who have your back. Help your fellow females to look for evidence of their own success and to celebrate wins to build confidence.
Danielle Dobson is the founder of Code Conversations, and the author of Breaking the Gender Code. She works with senior leaders in business, HR and DE&I, as a Gender Code Ally and Advisor to help them attract, retain, engage and develop their talented women. As a speaker, Danielle shines a light on the Gender Code and how we can break out of date gender stereotypes. Her Gender Ally program supports leaders in business and HR to be more effective in implementing diversity and inclusion practices in the workplace.
Find out more at: www.codeconversations.com.au