Getting more women into business and tech

A major expo on women in business and tech this week saw a host of different sessions, ranging from one on equity vs equality to another on encourage more women into tech.

Data illustration shaped into a human face


How do we get greater gender diversity across all levels of business, particularly in technology? A two-day event in London this week, Karren Brady’s Women in Business and Tech Expo, looked at the issue from all sides.

Brady, a business expert on The Apprentice and vice-chairman of West Ham football club, kicked it off the event and spoke about her own career and the individual traits that have enabled it. She left school at 18 with a strong sense of ambition, her main driving force being an urge to be financially independent. She said she realised early that only she needed to stand up for herself. She added that she had a belief that she could succeed and that that increased her confidence and her the courage to step out of her comfort zone.

On the employer side, Brady also spoke about the need for flexible working and benefits such as a good maternity policy as well as a culture that makes women feel included.

Brady’s personal tips included:

  • Listening to your gut instinct. You may not have encountered a particular situation before, but you may have encountered something similar
  • Find what you are good at as that builds a passion
  • Know your core values and stick to them
  • Ensure your commitment to family, career and yourself are roughly balanced. You cannot take care of family and career if you forget to look after yourself
  • Keep learning.

Equity before equality

The sessions at the expo were very varied. They included many sessions aimed at employers looking to attract and retain more women. Busi Sezani, Head of Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Deliveroo spoke about what equity is and why we need that in order to reach equality.

She said equity and inclusion benefits everyone. She spoke about the campaign to make sidewalks in the US wheelchair friendly. People who didn’t use wheelchairs said this was expensive and only affected a minority of people, but when the curbs were lowered they found that all sorts of people – parents with pushchairs, rollerskaters, people with weak knees and others – benefited. Sezani said inclusive design favours everyone.

As a South African, she spoke of how the signs privileging white people in certain spaces had been taken down, but that did not mean everyone was equal. Black people were still excluded on many different levels due to systemic bias, she said. She added that the same thing happens when it comes to diversity and inclusion in companies. Employers may have DEI officers, but there are many other different ways diverse talent is excluded. The important thing, she said, was to look at outcomes. “If you keep producing homogenous outcomes it is because the system is not equitable. You need to radically change the design,” she said.

Sezani spoke about resistance to change and said it could be justified on some levels – it may be faster and more efficient, for instance, to post jobs in a certain way and the results may be more predictable, but it may not be equitable. Women, for instance, may face many barriers that may be hidden to others which prevent them from feeling fully valued and able to contribute. These may include limiting self-beliefs. “Things may not look problematic to those who cannot see the barriers,” she said. That is why it is important to ask particular groups whether they feel they belong.

Sezani said that an equality approach works in some areas, such as pay, but that sometimes an equal policy is not the fair thing to do. “Equity recognises that each person has different circumstances and allocates resources to help them reach equal outcomes,” she said, adding that solutions need to be varied and respond to changing circumstances. She ended by saying: “If we are aware and care and design for specific needs in partnership with those affected we will reach equality which only comes through equity.”

Sezani answered questions from the audience about addressing resistance. One woman asked about the practice of making women responsible for gender equity initiatives. Sezani said women asked to lead initiatives should be clear where the true responsibility for change lies and should ask for the resources they need. She added that employers often go for the easy route when it comes to talent attraction.. “They don’t want to do the hard thing. They tend not to have a go strategy, only a come to us strategy. They optimise efficiency and ease,” she said, but that means they often fail to truly realise the advantages of a more diverse workforce.

Women in tech

Another session led by Claudia Pellegrino, Women in Tech Lead at PA Consulting, presented research on how tech employers in particular can reach out to more women.  She said flexible working is crucial, but it is important for employers to look beyond it as it becomes more the norm. That means providing women-centric benefits such as menopause policies as well as maternity leave and training for managers in women’s health issues, which employers should talk about openly and make more accessible. She said employers should also be more open about pay levels in tech rather than just post pay ranges.

Other recommendations included:

  • Avoid gamification in the recruitment process as this tends to be biased towards men
  • Have diverse interview panels 
  • Ensure the office is a welcoming environment to women coming in for interviews 
  • Have inclusion networks, but ensure these are about driving change not just organising events, for instance, for International Women’s Day
  • Ensure leaders are supportive and that work life balance is prioritised. That means people should feel ok about asking for time off to rest if they need a break
  • Celebrate the achievements of flexible workers
  • Ensure there is time in employees’ schedule for on-the-job learning
  • Invest in career change initiatives such as returner schemes and get them sponsored by senior executives
  • Ensure retraining schemes are not just for entry level positions and are not for roles that are likely to be eliminated in the next five years
  • Integrate DEI in the overall business strategy
  • Understand the importance of intersectionality.

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