What companies are actually doing to empower Women in Tech : The theory vs the reality

by Lynette Hundermark, June 6, 2018

So much awareness these days, (to my delight), is about rectifying the gender imbalance in the work place across pretty much all industry sectors and tech is no exception to jump onto this band wagon. Yay (so I thought).

What companies are claiming they will do:

  • Accommodate the needs of all women, especially mothers as research has shown that after kids, women tend to stop working because of family responsibilities, let’s be truthful, childcare is expensive, irrespective of the country you live in. I lived in the UK and every time my kids were ill or I had to take a sudden days’ leave for family responsibilities, I still had to pay the 40 pounds per child per day whether they attended or not.
  • Working parents’ lives are also by and large, governed by school times. This is not something we have a choice about, so companies are trying to allow flexi time to cater for this
  • Help keep women in senior or executive positions because again research as shown that the higher up the corporate ladder you climb, the fewer women there are, so access to mentorship and career development is taking a focus to keep women in these positions and also help them progress.
  • Equal pay. To be honest, this should never have been an issue but thanks to our patriarchal society this gender bias in pay exists for men and women doing exactly the same job.

So these are the claims corporate voices are making, but on the ground, in the trenches where it counts, what are companies actually doing?

As an advocate for promoting women in tech and young girls pursuing STEM careers, and having been a female active in tech for over 22 years (yes I’m one of the original geek girls who was in tech long before it became cool), this is what I’ve experienced:

  • Corporate companies , the most recent have been SA telcos, hold annual developer or tech events that start at 7.30am usually in quite a busy part of town. For anyone to attend, you would need to allow at least an hour to get to the venue as this peak time, but then once you factor in being a working parent, this adds in the extra stress of making special arrangements to get your kids to school, not forgetting the project management to get things sorted earlier, so in most cases its actually more practical to not attend such events (and people wonder where the women are?)
  • I attended a “women only” recruiting event a few weeks ago run by “WomenHack” which is an international event that claims to empower women in tech companies. While I was not looking for work myself as I run my own business, I thought it would be a good opportunity to network with other female developers as I am always on the lookout for good talent and also to see what companies are doing to empower females. I was actually happy that South African companies are taking such a forward-thinking (all be it too late) leap. To my disappointment the event was quite the opposite of what I expected. Firstly, again given the time, this was run at 7-10pm and again I had to make special arrangements for my kids to be cared for (which was slightly easier to do than during the school morning run). When I arrived the vibe and atmosphere was quite cold (hardly inviting) and the audience comprised mainly of females between the ages of 19-25 (at a guess). I certainly only noticed one other woman over the age of 40 and that was because we were former colleagues. There were only 6 companies that pitched (as opposed to the usual 20-30 pitches in overseas events as claimed by the organisers) and they did not present anything inspiring on what they are doing for women. What some companies did have on their flyer though, which mortified me, was the following:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So 3 out of 6 companies (50%) that were recruiting females highlight “Equal Pay” as a benefit? Could this be any more patronizing?

Let me be clear: I embrace both my role as career woman and mother with equal vigour and take them equally seriously. Why then in the workplace should I be placed at a distinct disadvantage simply because I am a mother? Is the message of our day to women that “we can have it all” and are expected to actually; when in fact the truth is we experience discrimination when we embrace both career ambition and motherhood?

South African companies (and global ones too), if you are trying hard to empower women in the workspace, may I as a working mom, recommend the following approach:

  • Schedule events during school hours. We would love to attend and want to be given the opportunity to attend. We also want to network with  women of all ages and from across all industry and experience
  • Pay people according to their skill level and competency to do a job, and not based on gender. This should be your company standard policy, not a damn perk!
  • Have women (if you have any in senior positions) talk about why it is a good career move to join your company. Don’t send men with limited people and communication skills to regurgitate tech terms in your company pitch. We are women in tech with experience attending these events, we don’t need to be mansplained to.
  • If you need to schedule women only events, make the atmosphere inviting, don’t run it like a men’s event. Organisations like Silicon cape and Lionesses of Africa do a pretty good job of creating a warm community so perhaps take some tips from organisations like these.

Lastly, as mentioned I am very pleased to see an increase in initiatives that empower women and that there is now an awareness drive to promote women in male dominated fields, but if you are going to do this, make an effort to do it properly. These are the current stats from Statistica.com on the average hours done per day (paid and unpaid), by gender and region. I am optimistic and hopeful that these numbers will change for the better especially for the next generation of women (as a mom of a strong willed 10yo daughter who believes she can be anything , I have to be optimistic) , however based on what I’ve seen, following the current script is a sure fire way NOT have any impact on the gender imbalance.