When my mother was born 80 years ago, the role models for working women were few and far between. From childhood, women’s expectations of how they could fulfill their potential and make their mark in the world were typically channeled into a handful of options. By contrast, in my career, I have been fortunate enough to work alongside and “for” a rich cadre of talented and inspiring women leaders in journalism, PR and marketing. I had not one or two but many women to learn from, allowing me to identify with different aspects of their working style. Most importantly, I was given more than one template for achievement and success.
When I look around me at industry gatherings for the technology industry, however, I see the role models are too few for young women embarking on their careers. Among a sea of engineers, developers, program managers, business analysts and service delivery heads, I spot too few female faces. Our industry is the beacon of progress and yet in this regard serves as a poor example to the next generation. The “techy” jobs at the heart of the largest tech firms such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft are still male dominated, with just under 20% of these roles held by women. I suspect that within the largest IT service provider firms this percentage might even be lower.
So how does the tech industry compare to others? Members of the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT) posted a status on the percentage of women they employ in leadership positions. These are amongst the largest employers in the region including Deutsche Telekom, Maersk, Kone and Eon and have all set explicit targets for increasing the proportion of female leaders. The current status ranges from around 11% to as high as 30%, but the commitment to continuing fostering development and opportunity for women is heartening.
Fresh challenges are coming up on the horizon: the lack of women in tech will not remain a technology industry only issue for long. As the world moves toward an AI enabled future in which command and mastery of technology drives an ever greater influence on strategy and operations, we will see traditionally non-IT jobs require an increasingly technical, data-driven mind-set. Everyone’s relationship with technology is going to change. It is hard to see how any executive will be able to compete without embracing an understanding of the technology at their disposal.
Within some industries, the lines have blurred already. Is a “FinTech” company a tech company or a financial services company? With more global advertising spend now flowing through digital platforms than traditional media such as TV, can a marketing campaign be successful without a full appreciation for how algorithms will help you reach your audience? How quickly will AI permeate the strategies of the ERT members noted above and impact the skills they require to drive future growth?
It’s more important than ever that women identify strongly with technology and have many role models across all functions not just in pockets. From early education to the first steps on the career ladder, we need to encourage women to picture themselves as tech leaders as much as they do lawyers or doctors or many other professions. They need to meet more role models in those fields, like some of my colleagues here at IPsoft. Let’s see this industry step up its efforts to be at the forefront of ensuring that women are mobilizing themselves to have a strong role in the age of AI.