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International Women's Day: How female leaders are #ChoosingToChallenge gender disparity in the workplace

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge—holding huge relevance now more than ever owing to the pandemic. As businesses navigate the many disruptions caused by Covid-19, this must not hinder progress towards gender equality in the workplace. While Catalyst reports that there are more women in senior management roles globally than ever before, we still have a long way to go to stamp out biases and overcome stereotypes.

Below are some insights and advice from female leaders across the technology, finance, and IT sectors, on how businesses can be doing more today to prioritise building the inclusive workplace of the future, where everyone feels empowered to do more, speak out against injustices and have the opportunity to thrive.

Lena Reinhard, VP, Product Engineering at CircleCI “I would really like for our industry to become a place with diverse backgrounds and life experiences across all levels. Lifting each other up is a really important part of that, as well as organisations building structures for diverse groups of people to thrive.

As many have said before me, I believe in order to make progress from here on, our approach to diversity and inclusion needs to be really intersectional. It needs to include Black women and other women of colour, as well as disabled women, and women who are facing discrimination in more than one aspect of their lives. It needs to include non-binary folks, as well as gender non-conforming folks, who often experience similar gender-based discrimination.

The more we make our communities inclusive places to people who have been historically excluded, the more we’ll be able to join forces in making our industry a better place.“

Emma Davies, Principal Scientist at Healx “Eradicating gender bias in STEM isn’t something that can be achieved in just one day. But this International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to shine a light on why women should feel empowered to challenge gender stereotypes by pursuing a career in science.

“One of the main reasons I love being a scientist is the opportunity to problem solve. I have always been interested in the natural world, and was lucky enough to be supported by my educators in nourishing this curiosity for science throughout my school life. Due to this nourishment, I never saw gender when looking up at my role models, even though they were predominantly male—I just saw an opportunity to make a difference .

“However, I know that there are women and girls who don’t feel like this; we can see this in the various gender imbalances at all stages of the scientific pipeline. That’s why it is crucial that we raise awareness about the disparities that still exist in STEM, and work together to break down unnecessary gender barriers. We all know that teams are better at solving problems if they come from diverse walks of life. Therefore, leaders in STEM workplaces must ensure that they are creating an inclusive and representative environment where everyone can thrive.

“A career in STEM offers women a golden opportunity to succeed—it is now up to us to encourage them to seize it.”

Kristel Leisalu, Head of Engineering at Pipedrive “This year’s campaign theme for International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge - to recognise the unconscious bias we assume every day and take the necessary steps to desist from making these judgements.

Demand for technology skills continues to increase; however, women remain underrepresented - making up a mere 24 percent of STEM roles in the UK. By actively challenging gender stereotypes and thought in the STEM sector we can pave the way to an inclusive workforce. As Head of Engineering at Pipedrive, I’m a woman working in a typically male-dominated sector. Fortunately, I haven’t experienced gender inequality in my career, but I think it is important to have a strong mindset of being equal to one another, being true to yourself, and not contributing to gender bias within the workplace. The future of work will be defined by the organisations that attract and foster an inclusive and diverse workforce, so be sure to find a company that addresses equity on a daily basis and supports your growth.“

V Brennan, Regional Lead, Engineering EMEA at Slack “Never has there been a more fitting theme for International Women’s Day than this year’s notion of #ChooseToChallenge. 2020 stretched us all in ways that were previously unimaginable—it pushed me to adapt quickly and rely on my own abilities. As a woman who has pursued a career in what is traditionally seen to be a male-orientated industry, something I learned early on was the importance of openness and vulnerability: I no longer apologise for being female or play to stereotypes.

“For most women, growing in confidence won’t happen overnight. That’s why I want to highlight the importance of encouraging allyship and creating a supportive culture in the workplace—whether virtually or in-person. Leaders can instill a sense of allyship by promoting mentorship. Seeking a senior male figure as a mentor can help women to navigate the workplace landscape and unlock their potential. In return, women can open their mentor’s eyes to the struggles they face, highlighting areas where gender equality needs to be more prevalent. Without educating everyone on the importance of being an ally, we cannot experience the benefits diversity provides: getting everybody in the building is not enough if they do not have a voice.

“An open culture is key for transparent conversations as we continue to work remotely. This is where channel-based messaging tools can step in. Through channels, everyone has the ability to share thoughts and find updates. Setting up dedicated spaces for leaders to communicate around changes to policy or new initiatives demonstrates how diversity and inclusion is always top of mind for the business.

“The pandemic has transformed all aspects of our lives, and challenged our perceptions of normality. This International Women’s Day, we must all work to create an inclusive environment built for the new hybrid world.”

Michele Romanow, Co-founder and President at Clearbanc “Disrupting the status quo and questioning convention is at the heart of #ChoosetoChallenge. But change is hard. You have to be prepared to hear no a lot. Most people won’t believe in you or your vision, which is exhausting. These little “elastic stings’’ used to affect me a lot early in my career. Over the years I shifted my mindset to say, “I was expecting that. This is the motivation I need to prove them wrong.” In some ways, I almost crave being underestimated.

“When looking back to my grandparents’ generation, my career choices would’ve been limited to teacher, nurse or secretary — all great careers but jobs I would be terrible at! We’ve come a long way, but there is still more to be done. That’s why I’m so motivated by what we’re doing at Clearbanc. We’ve helped 8x more female founders get funding compared to the VC industry average. Every day, we help more founders build their dream no matter who they are or where they’re from.”

Lucy Liu, Co-founder & President at Airwallex “Businesses can’t continue to ask women to raise their hands higher, to be seen and heard. Gender parity, and true change, can only be achieved if an organisation puts diversity at the core of its culture and opens up new opportunities for all employees. But all business leaders must ‘Choose to Challenge’. Passive organisations and leaders will not solve this by chance. Stereotypes need to be broken down and team empowerment needs to be prioritised to rebuild a culture that’s fit for today’s workplace.

Having the right talent mix is essential. And then empowering those people to carry out the vision is critical to success.

Organisations that focus on culture and believe in equal opportunities shouldn’t be viewed as progressive but the norm. If teams want to create a truly inclusive environment, they must be transparent, open and agile and challenge themselves to see how they could be doing more. To move forward, female founders, and industry leaders, need to share experiences and learn from the obstacles they’ve faced, so that other women do not have to experience the same biases.“

Gali Arnon, Chief Marketing Officer at Fiverr “Research has shown that Covid-19 has exacerbated gender disparity in the workplace, with women being more likely than men to lose work and have greater responsibilities with childcare during the crisis. However, at Fiverr this is not the case, with female freelancers actually earning 9% more than male freelancers. So how has Fiverr bucked the trend and reversed what’s happening in the corporate world?

In the global freelance industry, quality work takes precedence so factors such as gender bias are diminished. Fiverr customer reviews are a major deciding factor when selecting a freelancer, so, unlike the traditional labour marketplaces, gender, sexual orientation, race or religion do not come into play on our platform.

It is essential that we choose to challenge the gender inequalities that have been heightened by the pandemic. Recent research by The Female Lead reveals that Covid has aggravated the ‘unentitled mindset’ (the theory that women have been socially conditioned to feel less entitled than men) and has resulted in the burden of domestic chores falling disproportionately to women. It’s crucial to provide an environment where we can counter these trends and ensure that we succeed offline in the way Fiverr has online. We have created a level playing field where individuals are judged by their credentials on their profile, a visual portfolio, and reviews from past clients; eliminating the issue of wrongly ingrained prejudices. Technology has the potential to continually help remove the stigma but we must translate this to every corner of our society.“ Bijal Hayes-Thakore, Senior Director of Marketing and Partnerships at Kigen “Building a better working world starts with each of us. I’m proud to work for a business that enables employees and managers to support life-work balance (yes, life first!). I encourage all to #choosetochallenge against gender biases and to be an advocate for a greater focus on mental support in the workplace. Join me: ask “Are you being supported through this time?”, listen and be an active voice. Allyship is a start, I say be an accomplice. Each and every one of us can make a positive difference and contribute to a more equal and inclusive world.”

Kate Reading, Platform Area Engineering Lead at Asana “With the rapid shift to remote work, employees’ feelings of self-doubt have risen and connecting with peers is harder than ever before. And it shows: in the past year alone, 69% of UK workers experienced imposter syndrome and 25% of women voiced that due to a lack of confidence they would not choose to study a STEM subject. To overcome feelings of self-doubt, businesses must establish an inclusive work environment where individuals are able to seek out support and mentorship, no matter where they’re located.

“As the one year anniversary of the UK’s first national lockdown fast approaches, we should take a moment to consider how remote work has impacted women in STEM. As we continue to work from home, working women are disproportionately affected, more likely to lose a job and more likely to carry the load of childcare. To tackle this, at Asana, we established a six-month virtual mentorship pairing program for gender minorities in technical roles. This programme matches mentors to mentees with similar goals and interests - to help foster belonging and increase representation across the organisation. While there may not be a speedy solution to achieving gender equality in STEM, acknowledging the heavier domestic burden on parents and caregivers and enabling employee connection on a daily basis will help promote gender parity in the workplace.”

Lauren Tiley, Senior Director, Strategic Client Partnerships at DoubleVerify “I believe in creating space to challenge conventions that don’t support diversity and inclusivity. As an industry we need to do more to abolish industry stereotypes, particularly in evolving sectors, such as ad tech. We’ve seen momentous shifts in the space which require new skills, ideas and talent. To keep up with and thrive through these changes, it’s important to enable creativity and collaboration and that means making more voices heard. “Authenticity has been a powerful theme throughout my career. It’s helped me establish my leadership style and help create an innovative team that is representative of what a diverse industry could look like and achieve. Authenticity is crucial when we talk to our customers, industry partners, and to each other. We must remember that we don’t have to fit into the mould of previous or existing leaders, but rather empower ourselves and others to charter our own paths towards leadership.”

Anna Brailsford, CEO at Code First Girls “Even in 2021, the gender gap remains a global issue in the workplace—especially in technology-related fields. With this year’s International Women’s Day theme as #ChooseToChallenge, we have an opportunity to voice the gender and diversity challenges within tech and explore how individuals and organisations can enact change.

“To achieve gender parity in the tech industry, organisations must establish a company culture that empowers collaboration and communication between women in the workplace. Key to its success is ensuring that this initiative is not just driven by the leadership team but supported by the entire team. This will allow for an open and inclusive culture to be created, that empowers female voices within the business and facilitates the discussion and learning of their shared experiences.

“No matter where you are in your career—whether you are looking to make a fresh start in tech or are already established within the field—integrating yourself in a community will be an invaluable way to access support and guidance from other females within the same sector. Not only will a community help you to expand your network of personal and professional contacts, but it can also help with support and advice. At Code First Girls, we have built a community of over 25,000 women who actively help each other to break into and excel in the tech industry. We are always looking to grow our community, and offer support no matter whether remote or in-person!”

Laura Zamboni, Climate Scientist and Data Engineer, Cervest “If we are to progress in creating a more equal society, we must both challenge the stigma that comes with having a career break and accept that sometimes the best solutions involve either undergoing drastic change or incorporating ideas that already exist. “After over ten years in academia, which included designing and generating climate simulations on a world’s fastest supercomputer, I was out of employment, prior to joining Cervest. Despite having a Ph.D. in Environmental Fluid Mechanics and holding a MS in Physics, merely being out of work led to less interest in my profile. More needs to be done to create conditions that do not side-line anyone. This is a universal issue but for women is all too common. My persistence paid off—I am now designing and carrying out climate analysis, as well as guiding organisations on the need and value of Climate Intelligence, ultimately fulfilling my purpose of creating a sustainable, just world. Equally, to truly challenge working culture, look around the planet at the diversity of ideas that have been implemented and take learnings from forward thinkers. By being curious about what others are doing and open to being agile, businesses have the opportunity to create environments that are truly diverse.”

Eradicating gender inequality is not something that can be achieved overnight. If businesses want to build a better future, they must take on the learnings shared above and use them to revive their own policies, in order to create a diverse and inclusive workplace.“

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Technology experts .

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