We need to stop trying to fix the women, and start fixing the system.
About 5 years ago I went to my first corporate-hosted IWD event. They brought in amazing role-model guest speakers, and spoke about a new commitment to improving things for those of us who feel left behind. The word quota gets thrown around, and you think “finally, people are going to have to really think about the way they do things now”.
But then it gets shot down as the dominant archetype responds defensively. Mid-march rolls around, we pop the purple balloons, and return to the status quo.
Last year the mood shifted. Women got sick of being touted out onto panels and fed cupcakes, only to have their dreams of leadership roles doused the very next day by a boss who had not at all been incentivised to change things. We made derogatory remarks about cupcakes and balloons. We called for real action that companies didn't seem to know how to give us.
When the UN announced this year's IWD theme, many women in the tech industry took a moment to celebrate. We know how tech can be used to build innovative and empathetic solutions, and how we can just as easily create toxic tech with real ethical implications. Last year we failed to #BreakTheBias as our companies were unsure how to make the systemic change needed to ensure equitable career pathways for women. It seems giving women cupcakes and mentors was simply not going to be enough.
We have perhaps finally worked out that we need to stop trying to fix the women, and start fixing the system.
Part of this year’s theme is in recognising that bringing women into tech results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet women’s needs and promote gender equality. Most of the tech industry accepts that having diverse teams is better for our people, better for our bottom line and better for our customers.
But, as an industry, we fail to make a change, year after year. Even the best-intended tech companies, who are actively removing bias from their hiring practices and creating entry pathways into tech for women are failing to make a difference to their numbers of women in tech. While most companies report they have between 17- 30% women in software engineering, those of us who are consistently the only woman in the room know that this number is highly inflated, and in my anecdotal polling of WIT communities, it's usually the wrong side of 10%.
The broken rung is still real. Women still leave at nearly double the rate of men. All our efforts to bring women in have done nothing to ensure they a) want to, and b) can stay and thrive when they do get in.
We need to put data behind promotion decisions and stop using unconscious bias. We need to hold men accountable for inclusive ways of working that allow diverse people to participate. We need our managers to stop using guess-work and pattern-matching when identifying high-performance. We need metrics that show just how slowly the women in our teams get promoted and how we are represented at each level in the hierarchy.
That's why we built Kaleida.
If you are frustrated with the lack of progress toward equality in your engineering teams and want to make systemic change, please come and find out how we do it!