I wish we could all be Californian girls...
Or, to put it another way, why we can no longer avoid that difficult conversation about gender.
(You can listen to an audio version of this blog right here..)
I admit I’m no tech-expert or geek and maybe you feel the same way, but even the most IT averse person checking out social media feeds and news reports over the past few weeks couldn’t have failed to notice the blizzard of revelations about sexism emanating from (happy) Silicon Valley. Each day, more hair raising tales of ordinary sexism emerge and there’s either a collective shrug or a grimace. Do we get angry or let it pass? Perhaps we’ve reached a tipping point and things might be about to change? The latest revelations from California are gaining traction, with high profile industry women raising their heads above the parapet. Looks like the time has come for the Bay Area VC boys’ club to take a long hard look at itself.
So far, so depressing but wait…. out of the gloom there’s a glimmer of hope. While no one can minimise the damage done to the reputation of some of Silicon Valley’s biggest tech firms, we have to recognise that at least the IT crowd are finally admitting there is a humungous problem with how women are treated at work. Whether it be overt,predatory sexual behaviour or the less obvious but no less serious stuff i.e. belittling or plain ignoring women, some very powerful men seem to be abusing their positions with impunity and have been allowed to do so for years. And hey, before we get too complacent in Scotland/ UK or in the NON Tech sectors, this stuff is clearly not confined to one country or to one industry. Sexism in the workplace is alive and thriving, both on these shores and almost everywhere.
Sure, the Tech industry is still taking the hits - it’s certainly been unedifying to hear first hand accounts of jaw dropping abuse meted out on competent women - but now the charge is on. So many women are putting themselves out there and owning the problem that it’s clear that this genie is unlikely to pop compliantly back in the bottle. Workplace diversity is one of the biggest social issues of our times and we all ( that means the boys too….) need to be talking about how to sort it out.
This is the 21st century we’re in- more than a century has passed since the suffragettes began the political and very public fight against gender inequality in Britain. Why are we still having to talk about these inequities? Many women have tried or wanted to voice their frustration and horror but it’s only now that they’ve been given a lift by the American women who have had the bottle to call out the big names. Resignations and apologies have followed but this is a long haul battle. A few reforms and moves towards gender parity won’t cut it anymore; cultural and systemic change is needed. Outwith the Tech industry, firms across the board continue to treat women differently from men- this might mean less pay, fewer promotion prospects, less support and encouragement.Yes, there’s been some incremental progress made, like placing more women on boards and operating better retention strategies so why not be more daring now? The hot breath of reform is blowing in from California and we can already feel it on our necks.
Looks like we urgently require a change of both mindset and strategy and the foundations have to be laid in early years. Little girls ( and boys) should be told to expect and demand that there be no gender barriers when choosing a career. Maths and the sciences are not the exclusive persevere of the boys- they’re terrific subjects for any enquiring mind to take on. We know the stats (borne out by @mycodeangel recently - young girls start out keen on STEM subjects (66%), but go further into their school careers and by aged 13-17, the figure drops to 32%. The figures at University level show just how far this enthusiasm has been curbed, with a mere 4% of female undergraduates taking STEM subjects at this level.
Bravo - what an own goal! We’ve effectively eliminated half the population from the science/ maths/ tech equation and from pursuing a career path that could potentially contribute millions to the economy. So, obviously there’s a “pipeline” issue that needs looking at. In addition, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to show young girls/ women how downright attractive working in male dominated industries such as TECH can be. Wow them with the prospect of utilising a vast range of skills, unleashing outrageous creativity and providing opportunities to climb the ladder and make their presence known.
Now the hard bit. Who’s going to start to do at least some of this? Well, funny you should ask ( not that you did… ). It’s time for that debate to really take off on these shores and to that end, we at WES along with our friends at Edinburgh University Informatics, are doing something about it.
Come along to an important and timely inaugural event in Edinburgh this October…http://www.informatics-ventures.com/making-it-work-for-women/
Keep that conversation flowing, listen to some inspirational speakers and hear what the latest thinking is in Tech circles. Use the opportunity to vent,inform, learn and network. It’ll give you a good idea of how things really stand at the moment in the dynamic world of IT.
By the way, if you check out our WES website, we will do our bit too. Some of our amazing WES ambassadors want to share personal stories about their career hurdles and how they dealt with and encountered prejudice in the work place. And in-case this sounds like a “ carp- fest”, there will be plenty of positivity too - great speakers, great insight and great fun! We can all take up the baton from the Californian Tech world women who’ve stepped up so far. We want the same things- to move forward and make the workplace a good environment for us ALL, irrespective of gender, creed, race. Wouldn’t it be great to be judged at work on just that - the work we do?
Can I leave you with one thought? It might seem odd but why not say thanks to Silicon Valley, especially the courageous women who are being buffered about on the tectonic plates of gender politics every day? It’s not a pretty picture but at least and at last the conversation has begun in earnest. Do we let things stand? Of course not. Do we get angry? Perhaps, but if we’re serious, we won’t get mad - we’ll get EQUAL.