While digital technology is an industry that is growing fast, the space that women inhabit within the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) field is not. Over the past decade, the representation of women in technology has hovered around a meagre 17%-19%. That’s less than one-fifth. It’s taken us decades to get to the point where for every five men, there’s (almost) one woman in the digital workspace. Not to negate the effort that it has taken to get here and the spectacular movement that it has been, but this is a worrying statistic.
Why are there not more women in digital technology?
When Whitney Wolfe, the founder and CEO of social and dating app Bumble, made it to the Times 100 list or the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for 2018, it was news. It was news also when, in 2019, Daphne Koller bagged a funding round of $100 million for Insitro, her interdisciplinary company that works on drug discovery. They have also recently raised $400 million in Series C financing and that is big news indeed.
While these achievements call for celebration, what cannot be denied is the slight hint of an anomaly that always accompanies these news pieces - it’s something separate from the norm. When a tech-based company founded and run by a woman achieves these milestones, even as they set the bar higher for other companies, even as they build industry giants and forces to be reckoned with - all that screams out from the headline is “by a woman”. But why is it still so anomalous for women to be in tech, to build and run and grow their own digital brands?
It boils down to our history of social, economic and organizational omission. It is simply a much tougher struggle for women on average to get access to relevant education, to continue higher studies, to develop digital skills for the future, to fight for her place in the STEM fields, to secure a job or funding for her own tech-start-up. There isn’t just one hurdle to overcome to get more women at the technology table - there are multiple and layered hurdles every step of the way.
How can the representation of women in technology be increased?
Since our obstacles are layered and multi-faceted, our solutions to get higher representation for women in tech need to be multi-dimensional as well. There is still a big shift needed from acceptance to awareness to action in the conversation around gender diversity and equal opportunity at work. There has to be a three-faceted change - in education, at the workplace, and within society at large - for women to actualize their potential in the digital ecosystem. While educational boards and institutions need to enable courses that teach digital skills for the future of work, organizations need to explore making flexible work and work from home options much more normalised.
These changes, as tectonic as they are, cannot happen in a vacuum and that is where the social mandate needs to be carried out - an inclusive and enabling work ecosystem can only thrive within a societal macrocosm that upholds the values of inclusion and enabling empowerment as well. The role women play in the growth of the digital sector can widen only when society at large realizes the value that women bring to the table and the dearth of idea and perspective that threatens our digital evolution, should women be barred from contributing to it organically.
Benefits of a Digital Ecosystem Of, By and For Women
While it is obvious and intuitive that having every member of society contribute to the best of their potential is the only way towards collective growth on our shared path forward, the value of women seems to have been lost in translation somewhere over the years and requires reiteration frequently and undeniably.
Diversity is an investment. A workforce that is diverse is more productive and provides a better return on investment (ROI). Fortune 500 companies that had at least three women in top leadership positions reported an ROI boost by about 66%. This is possibly also because diverse teams can tap into a wider spectrum of perspectives, are generally more open to innovative ideation and uphold a culture of respect and camaraderie. Women have vastly different experiences than men through most aspects of their lives and can therefore provide not just a different POV but also a different vision in terms of products and services for the future. Shutting out women from the digital workforce would lead to the loss of voice for an integral section of society. While this is true globally, it rigs truer for Asian countries that women make the majority of shopping decisions. Tapping into what leads to these decisions could provide valuable insight into product design for the years to come.
With more women taking their place in the machinery driving our digital growth, there are also more role models for future leaders to look up to. That is what the future of work needs to be - driven by vision and sustainable passion for generations to come.
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