Women in tech: practical changes for an equal future
In Part 1 of this article, we spoke to Amanda Elam, CMO at Bloomreach, about things that could help improve the pipeline of women in tech and help sustain them in their careers. In Part 2, we heard of some specific policies at Bloomreach which are being deployed to equalize the workplace for women in tech.
And in Part 3, we discussed the additional complications that come with equalizing the workplace – covering issues of work-life balance, the need to integrate caregiving into both parts of the equation, almost but not entirely irrespective of sex and gender.
Women in tech: inequality dissected
How do we create a workplace that doesn’t overstress the importance of productivity and working excessive hours, and undervalue caregiving, parenting and other more family-oriented pursuits? How do we do that particularly in a capitalist patriarchy, where arguably the essential tenet of the American Dream is that if you work hard, you earn rewards – with its corollary that the more and the harder you work within the traditional system, the more and better rewards you both deserve and earn?
Work till you drop, win all the shiny medals?
That seemed like a crucial question to achieving equality, so we asked Amanda about the difficulties of rebalancing the reward system within a capitalistic, driven culture.
There’s an unhealthy expectation that’s driven by somebody who works all of the time and sets that standard for the rest of the team. My team particularly has had to call me on that a few times. They say “Amanda, when you go on vacation, you don’t want to vacation, you’re still on Slack, you’re still responding to things, you still jump on calls. That makes us feel like we have to do it when we go on vacation. And that’s not fair.”
That was a revelation to me, but I said “You know what, you’re right. You’re absolutely right.” We’ve had this system in place for such a long time that rewards an unhealthy amount of commitment to work, and that needs to be adjusted as well.
It’s that fundamental equation, isn’t it? Hard work equals success, harder, longer work equals more success. And at some point, we’re going to have to come to a realization point that there’s only so much you can do before you burn out. So there needs to be a balance. But it’s a very complex equation that it doesn’t feel like anybody’s worked out yet, because nobody’s thinking about it that hard.
I’m hoping the next generation, the incoming generation will say that and act on it. I definitely see this with the younger members of my team. They’re like “I’ve put in a lot of work, and I need some time,” or “I need a mental health vacation,” or “I’ve got hobbies, and a friend group and a network. And I’m not sacrificing that for a late call.” So I hope that the incoming generations really start challenging the status quo there.
Initiatives of balance.
Here’s hoping. And also, some of the relatively new technological solutions might help too? As you mentioned in Part 3, remote working might make it easier to shut off, shut down and readjust that work-life balance equation.
You also mentioned some of the ways that Bloomreach is developing initiatives to make the situation of working in tech fairer and more equitable for women. Take us through some of those.
Yeah, we talked about the option, when a mom or dad comes back from maternity or paternity leave to come back part-time to start with, and find the mix that’s right for them. Than there’s the option where if you have to travel for work, we fund not just your travel, but we fund it so your baby and a caregiver can come with you, so it helps with that work-life balance equation and helps acknowledge the reality beyond the workday.
We also signed up to the MACH manifesto for gender equality, which commits the business to a set of principles that help drive equality, which can only be helpful for women in tech. It’s a commitment at the leadership level to have equality in hiring, equality in pay and visualization of pay, a commitment to using benchmarks and not any other metric to determine that, and a commitment for instance, to having a place for people to submit harassment claims so that we have a culture that promotes equality and fairness across the board.
There are some great commitments in the manifesto on the pipeline, on fair pay and treatment, and we applaud all that. Does it say enough about retention?
I don’t know that it even necessarily tackles retention. As you say, it has some really, really good things in there, though, like commitments from male CEOs to not speak on a panel that doesn’t have at least 40% representation of women, and commitments for organizations to consistently orient their hiring practices towards looking for a larger pool of candidates than has been the case in the past.
Diversity includes equality.
That’s one thing – the wording of the section on hiring focuses on women, and while that’s important, I think it should say a diverse hiring pool. So I think that there’s some room for us to talk about diversity outside of male and female, for sure, but I think it’s definitely steps in the right direction. And a lot of the companies that have signed it, have done nothing historically to publicly talk about their commitment to this.
By signing the MACH manifesto and joining this movement, I think it helps put the expectation to do better on a lot of other tech companies.
Publicly saying your business can be held accountable for its performance against all those benchmarks of equality progress?
Exactly, yes. It comes back to that statement of intent. Companies acknowledging there are issues to tackle, and determining to change them.
The importance of allies.
MACH also talks about the importance of allies. I’ve always had mentors in my career – and they’ve all been men. So I feel like I’ve always had allies in my career. But I’d say we need to push that further. Make it more comfortable for people to talk about things that maybe you don’t understand and build up empathy in areas and topics that you aren’t necessarily well versed in. Ask questions, be intentional about starting conversations, commit to living this way at home as well and hold your male colleagues accountable.
It’s really difficult a lot of times for women to call out a guy for inappropriate behaviour, so a lot of times we question our instincts, like “Am I misreading this?” Or “Am I maybe being too sensitive?” Or “Am I misinterpreting this?” – and you don’t always have a female in a leadership position to back you up.
So when you see things happening, pull the guy aside, call people out, be really, really intentional about helping change this culture.
Here’s to a changed, inclusive, equal future for the tech industry. And here’s to more women in tech.
26 February 2024
22 February 2024