Well, tech industry, here we are again with another International Women’s Day upon us. Last year, I wrote specifically about wanting to see people talking more about what they’ve done to help uplift their female colleagues, rather than empty “thank you” notes for the women who have helped them. The request was to shift the dynamic of thinking about women in our industry. Rather than looking at who has helped you accomplish what you have, take this day to reflect on what you’ve done to help other women in your company and your community to excel.
I am feeling more optimistic this year (despite recent polls telling us that most women are NOT feeling optimistic following the “year of the woman.”) Part of this is due to my decision earlier this year to consciously expand my network to include people who are underrepresented and people who don’t look like me. The result? I feel that we have a lot more allies in the tech industry than I thought who are willing to step up and speak out about gender inequity. The real challenge is in dismantling the system that continues to perpetuate this inequity and take the power out of the hands of those who benefit from it and actively fight against changing the status quo.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme, according to the UN, is “think equal, build smart, innovate for change.” According to the International Women’s Day campaign site, the theme for 2019 is “#balanceforbetter.” Regardless of which authority you go by, this year’s focus seems to be the same as previous years – how do we resolve the systemic imbalance and inequity in business, tech, the economy, politics, and society as a whole?
Let’s reflect for a moment on issues that women in tech still face:
- Wage inequity
- Opportunity inequity
- Sexual harassment
- Gender discrimination
- Disproportionately low investment from VCs
- And ultimately, the glass ceiling, which is still holding strong with only 19.1% of executive board seats held by white women and 5.8% held by minority women in Fortune 100 companies.
Where have we seen gains this year?
Well, for one thing, in the U.S. we are now represented by more women in Congress than ever before. This is especially important in neutralizing the global impact of our current White House situation. Even if you aren’t in the U.S., this balancing force is good news as our politics tend to influence and impact other countries and economies around the world. If that isn’t enough, here are a few more political gains women have made around the world in the past year.
Additionally, women are taking action and suing major corporations for systemic gender discrimination and pay inequity – and the courts are paying attention: Walmart, Nike, Oracle, Microsoft, Spotify, Goldman-Sachs, Uber, to name a few… This isn’t without repercussions, as many of these women have already lost or left their jobs or will likely face some sort of (illegal) retaliation. This also shows, unfortunately, how prevalent this problem is across tech industry leaders – and how impossible it is to grow a tech career and avoid these problems. And, despite growing pressure on companies to do better, progress against the gender wage gap has slowed to a crawl, making the least progress in ten years for women’s wages out of the past four decades.
Gender inequity is obviously a bigger problem than any individual can fix on their own. That doesn’t mean you’re powerless to have an impact. Here’s how you can start to help the situation:
- Review my blog post on how to be a better ally to the women in your life.
- Look around you and find someone who doesn’t look like you to mentor, or even better, to sponsor.
- If you are hiring, ensure that you have a full, diverse pool of applicants before reviewing applications. When doing interviews, be aware of your biases and work actively to overcome them.
- Speak up when you see behavior that belittles or undervalues the women in your vicinity.
- Celebrate her accomplishments publicly. The more publicly a woman’s specific contributions are shared, the less likely they are to be undervalued or appropriated.
- Publish wage information. Wage transparency is one of the most effective ways to combat the gender pay gap.
- Advocate for diversity within your own company. Ultimately, gender diversity is good for individuals and good for the business. “Gender-diverse organizations are 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than their less-diverse peers.” Need suggestions on how to get started? Here’s research from McKinsey on what companies can do at the corporate level to improve the situation.
We (women) cannot make the changes to create #balanceforbetter alone. It will require our male allies to step up, speak out, and reach down to uplift the women around them. It will require an industry-wide movement, not just from the top-down, to make progress. We cannot mandate bias away. Friends, we must all take into our hearts the knowledge that systemic and individual biases exist, and it’s on us all to do the work to overcome it and make the world a more equitable place for everyone. This International Women’s Day, consider doing something new and uncomfortable to make a real, lasting difference for women in your vicinity.