Spelling “Equality” With IT: Addressing the Gender Gap in the Tech Industry
According to Cheryl Miller-Van Dyck, the gender gap resonates deep into the IT space and reflects in an organization's digital transformation efforts.
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Without a doubt, women are the minority in a lot of industries. From the general workforce up to the management levels, McKinsey’s “Women in the Workplace 2021” report tells us that women are still very much underrepresented in corporate America.
From their findings, white women make up 30% of the entry-level workforce while white men make up 35%. In more stark comparison, white men make up 62% of the C-Suite population while white women only make up 20%. An even wider gap was seen for women of color, making up only 17% of the entry-level workforce and a measly 4% for the C-Suite levels.
According to Cheryl Miller-Van Dyck, Director of the Digital Leadership Institute, this gender gap resonates deep into the IT space and reflects in an organization's digital transformation efforts.
“No matter where you are in the world, women are at a disadvantage as far as being included in the digital transformation,” she says during her interview for Coding Over Cocktails.
Taking a deeper dive into equality, how does the existing gender gap permeate into the tech industry?
Mind Your Language
One thing Van Dyck has observed was how saying a woman working on a “passion project” tends to belittle their efforts in driving change into the tech industry and reduces the bigger challenges that need to be addressed.
“When you say it's a 'passion project,' especially as a woman, then that's like, ‘Oh, that's cute.’ And then it's relegated to the sidelines,” she explains.
In her interview below, Van Dyck tells us that being careful with the use of language makes a difference in how women will be viewed in the workforce. She finds that there are words that are often used to exclusively describe women.
“When you look at, for example, 360-degree evaluations in companies, there are certain terminologies that are exclusively reserved for women in organizations that are definitely pejorative. There's one in particular in the UK that surfaced as being only used for women. The word was ‘abrasive,’” she says.
Language is an important part of inclusivity, especially in tech, says Van Dyck, and could spell the difference between a woman calling it a day in the industry and a woman taking bigger steps in the workforce.
Inclusivity in Digital Transformation
Van Dyck explains that women tend to be left out in digital transformation initiatives. This, she says, would also mean defeating the purpose of making the transformation holistic.
To ensure a more holistic approach to digital transformation, Van Dyck formulated what she calls an “inclusion maturity model,” where they look at digital transformation at the micro-levels.
“We look at things like access and skill sets and leadership. And so this is really not what's happening on the individual organizational level, which is a lot of where technical solutions come into play,” she explains.
While it may sound daunting, Van Dyck simplifies it to this: start with women.
“It's surprising how hard it is to deliver that message. The symptom is actually perpetuating the problem because we don't have women in leadership who are the determining priorities for resources, for investment in digital skills and access and these kinds of things.”
One of the ways this can be addressed is by educating women and running programs that could equip them with skills. Take note: the skills do not necessarily have to be digital.
“This could actually just be skilling, period. Not digital skilling because there may be no real basis for this, or maybe digital literacy as a minimum. This is not necessarily about changing or developing a skill set unless you're really looking at executive faculties, right? Good decision-making, good project management, these kinds of transversal skills where you can say, ‘Damn, I can count on her,’” she adds.
Van Dyck explains that this shouldn’t be a one-off thing either, and that upskilling women is a continuous process, along with giving them roles and responsibilities inside an organization and paying them well.
In addition, having more women in the workforce could set apart a startup when it comes to being forward and innovative.
“If you want to be a really class startup competitor, you need to go outside the box. And ‘outside the box’ is not the echo chamber of highly-educated, white, young males. Nothing personal, but this is kind of what the startup environment looks and smells like. And that's clearly not innovative regardless of how innovative that individual might seem. Truly innovative is ‘Wow. Someone who has absolutely no idea about what we're doing here and can bring a perspective that's completely different and maybe, you know, really ratchet things up a bit.’”
Learn more about the gender gap in the IT workforce and how it’s being addressed in this episode of Coding Over Cocktails – where we talk to the world’s leading experts on architecture, design, and the technologies that facilitate digital transformation, available on Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Soundcloud, and Stitcher.
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