Breaking down stereotypes

Ayshea Robertson, people and culture director at Zen Internet, discusses how the Channel can identify and address gender inequality.

There have been some truly inspiring stories of successful women forging their path with the likes of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden leading the way by appointing Nanaia Mahuta as the country’s first indigenous woman foreign minister last year. And more recently the momentous occasion of Kamala Harris becoming the first female, first Black, and the first South African American Vice President of the United States.

It is important that we celebrate such achievements as we champion women’s rights and gender equality and highlight role models for future female leaders.

Of course, equality is not a women’s issue; it’s a business and societal issue. It starts in our homes and our schools, and we all have a responsibility for tackling inequality. Getting this recognised as fundamental to company success is an essential step to making positive progress.

My experience

I can honestly say that as I started out in my career, I never believed that my gender would have an impact on my ability to succeed. I have worked in a number of sectors, and a few of them have been very male dominated – such as manufacturing, construction and technology. It never stopped me with my career progression, but it was a challenge and at times tested my personal resilience.

Throughout my career I have seen, experienced and had to deal with, various forms of bias (conscious and unconscious), as well as stereotyping, and although there has been a lot of progress made in regard to gender equity over the past couple of decades, today there is still a lack of gender balance in specific roles and at the higher leadership levels, in many sectors.

Women in tech

Working in tech over the past decade I have been made aware of the challenges that women face when it comes to having a career in technology and progressing into senior management. And I am in the privileged position at Zen, where I am able to do something about this and drive positive action.

A year ago, I established our own ‘Women in Tech’ group, made up of individuals from across the business who were passionate about tackling gender balance and equity. And this group has already begun to make a huge difference in raising awareness and educating our people. We now have a number of initiatives in play and have recently launched our ‘Step into Tech’ development programme, geared at women who want to take their first step into a tech role.

Over recent years I have seen a clear change in inertia to tackle this topic, and the duty to report on gender pay gap has played a part in forcing gender issues to the forefront of company’s minds. We can definitely see female role models carving their space and holding more senior influential positions in our sector. Whilst the high-level stats required by the government on gender pay reporting don’t necessarily paint the full picture, it has created a level of focus on a topic not previously given much airtime.

Breaking down stereotypes

I urge businesses in the Channel to take this responsibility seriously and look behind the stats in your pay gap reporting to identify the real issues. The needle is moving but so much more must be done.

There are various organisations and groups already set up to specifically address gender inequality in our sector. Some of the initiatives being put in place will take many years to filter through however, before they start to have real impact, such as the work that is being done with schools and breaking down gender bias and stereotypes. All of which are critical for long-term impact.

I also believe that there is a lot more that businesses can do today, to make a difference. We know that there is huge value and benefit of having a more balanced and diverse workforce; so let’s all look at ways we can improve this within our own business and for the sector as a whole.

You don’t have to have a fancy D&I strategy or HR team to make a difference. Success in diversity will come if we all do our bit, and that means thinking differently about things. How can you attract more females into tech roles for example? One simple step that often makes a difference, is offering flexible working.

We all need to proactively take action to tackle gender balance in tech and leadership roles – being a passive supporter will not effect change.

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