Imagine you’re at a meeting where the CEO is discussing plans to find a successor, following his resignation. “Will you be mentoring him in the transition period?” someone asks. Him. It’s been assumed the successor will be male.
Would you challenge this? Point out their assumption?
It may seem like a minor thing, and some may even worry it’s petty to draw attention to it. But it’s small actions from individuals that challenge the current uneven landscape, that collectively makes a massive difference.
No matter who you are, we all have a role to play. And International Women’s Day is an opportune time to reflect upon the incremental actions we can take to shirk the discriminatory reputation of tech for a more progressive future.
Acknowledge unconscious bias
The first way everyone can contribute to improving equality within the industry is to look at our own bias. This can be uncomfortable. Not many set out to prefer certain demographical groups over others, and it’s upsetting to think that we have been.
But this is why it’s unconscious bias. It’s been engrained in our thinking since childhood. For example, you may have watched a hospital drama on TV growing up. If all the men are doctors, and all the women nurses, this cements the association of men with senior roles.
Having unconscious bias is not necessarily a reflection of your commitment to diversity and inclusion either. Vernā Myers, diversity consultant admitted her own bias during a TED Talk. She was on a flight and the pilot was a woman. When they hit heavy turbulence, she instinctively worried about the pilot’s skills, something she’d never done in the same situation with a male pilot.
It was because she’d never had or seen a female pilot before. It was an uncommon situation for her. But once she’d recognised this, she was able to dissect it from her thinking.
Find role models in multiple places
Seeking out female role models is one way to counteract unconscious bias. By surrounding yourself with examples of women in senior technologist roles, it makes the association between the role and the gender feel more attainable.
There’re multiple approaches to doing this.
Female empowerment groups are an easy way to access a pool of female talent within the industry. Your company may have internal female networking groups, if not there may be an opportunity to set one up. Failing that, there’re plenty of external networking groups to join. Attending these can be very rewarding to your expertise and confidence.
When seeking out role models, remember there are two types of role models, and you may have more than one for different areas of your job.
Dormant role models could simply be people you admire such as LinkedIn influencers or people in the public eye. For example, you may admire New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her divisive approach to dealing with crises.
You could also enlist a more active role model which takes the form of a mentor. This may be a senior female technologist who can share advice and tips on how to advance your career. A role model could be internal or external to your company. It may even be someone you’ve met at a female networking group.
Some organisations will have an official mentoring programme. But if not, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask someone you admire – most will feel extremely flattered to have been asked.
Welcome male support
The plight for gender diversity and inclusion is not just exclusive to women. Men are part of the solution too. While it’s important that women have female networking spaces to grow and advise one another, male colleagues can play a supporting role that runs alongside these groups.
For Centrica, this role has taken the form of a sub-group of male allies called All In. Currently we have 200 members who share information about diverse workplaces and female experiences, as well as participate in the conversation.
Men are a huge demographic in technology and can be a huge force in the battle for change. By inviting them into the conversation, they can better relate to the experiences of women and more intuitively act when small changes, such as calling someone out on gender assumptions, are needed.
Three types of male allies can be found within the workplace: those who are actively involved in diversity and inclusion, those who believe in diversity but are dormant, and those who know it’s important and want to know more.
No matter their level of understanding, all male allies should be welcomed. Diversity and inclusion is a long-term education piece, and supporting the mission for a more equal playing field in tech should be commended no matter who you are. If we all work as a collective, we’ll truly be able to develop a more diverse future for the tech industry.
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