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Prioritising gender equality in tech

Image: Adobe Stock / Kitreel

Gender equality within the workplace remains a long-standing issue and the tech industry is no exception. Women in tech are largely underrepresented. As it stands, just 19% of the tech workforce is female, according to a recent report published by Tech Nation.

For many, International Women’s Day in March presents a moment to reflect and celebrate the contributions women have made in forging gender equality. It is also a time to recognise that our work is not done, and we have a commitment to further the efforts made, so we can continue to make a positive difference. 

Women in the past have been more hesitant to apply for tech roles, even when they do in fact have the transferable skills and capabilities needed for such positions. This is partially due to the lack of female role models, the portrayal of tech as a primarily male sphere, and the historically small proportion of women studying STEM subjects. 

However, there is positive change regarding education. The number of women accepted into full-time STEM undergraduate courses increased by 50.1% in the UK between 2011 and 2020, with the number of women entering full-time undergraduate STEM courses increasing from 33.6% to 41.4% in the same period. This is a big step in the right direction, but advances are from a very low and disproportionate base.

So, what’s holding them back? Word processing was once seen as women’s work in the 1970s, but over time there has been a shift, with STEM subjects and the resulting careers being perceived as masculine pursuits. What’s more, certain areas of the tech industry can demand long hours and increased commitment, which could pose more of a challenge for women, who may perform care work, such as childcare and informal adult care. In recent years, this was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The underrepresentation of women in tech is also reflected in the industry’s leadership, as 77% of tech director roles are taken up by men. And these figures have remained almost the same since 2000, despite various drives to improve gender disparity. 

Given these statistics, many companies have prioritised bringing more women to join the industry. Improving diversity and inclusion is important at Equinix. We recognise that currently just 22% of our staff are women, with this figure at 19% in operations. We want to make a real difference in changing this imbalance and support women who have the skills and capabilities to enter the tech industry, but might lack the confidence and support to do so. 

To address this issue, Equinix recently launched an initiative focused on helping women return to work after a career break. The business is especially keen to support those whose jobs have been negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The ‘I Am Remarkable’ programme targets candidates from outside the industry by encouraging them to recognise the value of transferable skills, often considered irrelevant by those entering the tech sector for the first time. Successful applicants are then hired into full-time paid roles and provided with on-the-job skills training to become data centre technicians. The aim is to open more opportunities for women to work within our own business and to join the wider sector without the need for previous technical training or a degree in a STEM subject. 

If we are to turn the tide on the lack of female representation, we must encourage more women to join the industry by removing the outdated and counterproductive stereotype that tech is a more suitable career for men. Evidence reveals that a gender-balanced organisation reaps far greater rewards, financially and productively. There is far lower turnover of employees, a greater pool of talent to choose from, and a more diverse set of skills within a thriving organisation. We know from our own experience that women often offer a different emotional perspective than men. Because of this, they can be very effective and empathetic communicators, which makes them excellent candidates for managing teams and customer relationships. 

Over the past decade, the Equinix Women Leaders Network (EWLN) has grown globally to support women through gender equity and multiple education initiatives. EWLN has been promoting, connecting and empowering female leaders through ongoing programmes for professional growth, visibility and cross-functional networking.

Whilst the tech industry is attempting to make strides towards improving the gender disparity, progress is disappointingly slow. Companies must develop new and creative approaches to hiring more women to expedite gender parity and ensure that more females, despite their backgrounds, are encouraged to join the tech industry. We all need to commit to a more diverse employee profile that will better reflect today’s society. This approach will ultimately deliver far greater benefits to individual businesses and to the continuing growth of the sector.    

Picture of Lorraine Wilkinson
Lorraine Wilkinson
Regional Vice President of Sales UK at Equinix

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