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International Women’s Day 2022: Breaking the Bias

Category: testimonial, Gender Pay Gap, STEM, Digital Inclusion, women in tech, International Women’s Day, Staff Testimonial, Women In Technology, digital career, STEM Careers, software development, STEM for women, design engineer, Future women in STEM, Sopra Steria, Software developer, Gender Pay Gap Reports, Digital sector, International Women’s Day 2022, careers in STEM, Women in STEM

Gender Focus

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

I never wanted to work in IT. I was pretty confident that it wasn’t for me. I liked words, language, creativity. I’d worked as a librarian, a researcher and a writer. The world of computers, technology and the internet did not appeal. When I hunted for jobs, I happily left the ‘IT and technology’ box unticked.

But a few years ago, I worked on an inquiry into the gender pay gap. The inquiry launched on International Women’s Day 2017, and noted that at the present rate of progress it would be 140 years before the gender pay gap was eradicated. It made a series of recommendations to reduce this time period, and a number of them related to the important role the STEM sector (science, technology, engineering and maths) could play.

The inquiry found there were many barriers — perceived and real — to women’s participation in STEM. These barriers begin in early years education, where ideas of ‘girl jobs’ and ‘boy jobs’ are established. At secondary and further education, women study STEM subjects at the same rate as men. However 73% of women who graduate with STEM degrees leave the field, citing ‘casual sexism’ and a lack of role models. Those women who do stay in the sector may find:

  • a lack of promotion
  • pregnancy and maternity related discrimination
  • a lack of flexible work options made more difficult by caring responsibilities
  • a permanent 4% pay cut for each year out of work

The result is that many women shared my impressions of the sector, and a lot of work was required to make it more open. But opening STEM to women was an essential part in reducing the gender pay gap.

An image of a pipe with women dropping out of STEM at various points: early years and primary education, secondary school and university, the workforce, motherhood and returning to work.

The “leaky pipeline” of women in STEM. © The Scottish Parliament, No Small Change: the Economic Potential of Closing the Gender Pay Gap.

I read the report’s recommendations, but I still knew the sector wasn’t for me. However, with my interest in language, one recommendation stood out as a relatively simple fix. The language of job descriptions could help change impressions and attract more diverse applicants. For example, using the word ‘designer’ in a job title was more likely to appeal to women. So was language about teamwork and creativity.

Changes to job titles, like using building managers instead of housekeepers or software design instead of development could increase gender diversity of applicants…The Committee notes the impact that simple changes to language and imagery can have…[and] that changes to language and imagery can be quickly, simply, and affordably made, and challenge perceptions. No Small Change, paragraphs 108–112

Four years on from that report, I read an advert for a job at Sopra Steria. It talked about designing services, improving things for the public, and working collaboratively in a team. I decided to apply and a few months later I joined a design team in a large IT company. To say it was not what I expected would be an understatement. This team has focussed more on diversity, inclusion, and challenging biases than any other I have worked in. It’s challenged my own perceptions about the sector, for the better.

The gender pay gap is just one issue facing women around the world. Fixing it will not solve the inequalities between genders still faced around the world. However, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is breaking the bias. While challenging assumptions about the world of tech is one way to create a more diverse workforce, we have to be careful not to make new ones. It was difficult to write something for International Women’s Day without falling into stereotypes about what women want from a job, and what appeals to women. It’s also impossible to say the design team at Sopra Steria (or anywhere else) has solved the problem completely.

This International Women’s Day is my first as a woman working in STEM. That alone won’t solve the gender pay gap. But it’s been good for me to challenge my own assumptions, and to join a team that’s committed to breaking biases.

  • building a culture where people can share their experiences, not everyone has a linear route into design and we need to acknowledge it
  • recruiting based on ability, enthusiasm and passion for making a difference — instead of the traditional set number of years’ experience or degree in a design-related field
  • having the conversation at every level to promote diversity, inclusion and accessibility for everyone
  • using our positions to make sure we advocate for everyone, including those who can’t advocate for themselves
Rachel Edwards
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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email [email protected] for more information.

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