On Wednesday 8 March, many communities, organisations and businesses around the globe celebrate International Women’s Day 2023 (IWD). In 2023, the theme is DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality, and focuses on (statement taken from the IWD website):
Today, a persistent gender gap in digital access keeps women from unlocking technology’s full potential. Their underrepresentation in STEM education and careers remains a major barrier to their participation in tech design and governance. And the pervasive threat of online gender-based violence—coupled with a lack of legal recourse—too often forces them out of the digital spaces they do occupy.
This 8 March, we are calling on governments, activists and the private sector alike to power on in their efforts to make the digital world safer, more inclusive and more equitable. Facing a multiplicity of global crises, we have a chance to create a better future—not just for women and girls, but for all humanity and all life on Earth. Join us.
Here at Open Systems Support, we see the importance of this focus, as our IT and technology sector is an area where we do need to embrace more equity and support more women to enter the industry.
The global tech sector statistics currently speak for itself:
- In 2022, women held only 26.7% of tech related jobs – which has seen a decline over the last two previous years.
- Notably, compared to entry-level roles, roles higher up in the org chart (like CTOs or heads of engineering) have even lower representation of women.
Our IT Service Desk Representative – Jerrica Shields – believes that in order to change some of these statistics for the better, we need to focus on embracing IT from an earlier age for young women, challenging the status quo in the workplace and having courage to seek equity opportunities.
Be DigiTALL from a young age
“I went to a private all-girls school and although it was not explicitly said or done, I felt most of us were broadly encouraged to go into more typical feminine roles, like teaching, nursing or childcare,” said Jerrica.
“The lack of computer labs and subjects such as woodwork or metalwork added to this push for more traditional roles of work.”
“But I was very lucky that as a little girl, I could spend a lot of time with my dad – a radio engineer – to put computers together, understand how a soldering iron works and go into his workplace to be surrounded by computers and AV tech.”
“That, I think, sparked the interest in ‘what makes computers go’ and at 18 I was putting together my own computer for university! Oh and also, I wanted to play Fallout 4 and my current computer doesn’t have the specs for it. The rest is history really.”
Jerrica indicated that it’s great to see schools incorporating more STEM into their classes to provide this exposure to the sector that has always been predominantly male dominated from a young age! It is something to celebrate this International Women’s Day 2023.
“Exposing children to women working in IT is the best way to show it can happen. Not posed images of women holding a mouse or standing beside a keyboard, but actually seeing it happen. Hiring women in IT to work in schools or having women in IT talk for careers days are some examples.”
“In addition, I also think it is important that we should be teaching kids for the future and not just the present, as our world becomes even more digital.”
More women in IT role model
Jerrica added that in addition to embracing technology from a young age for all women, it is also important to embrace more women in IT as role models.
Many studies and research has shown that having female role models in tech will greatly help increase the designer for other women to get into the industry. Seeing female tech role models such as Melanie Perkins (Canva), Sheryl Sandberg (Meta), Dianne Green (VMWare) and Whitney Wolfe Herd (Bumble) has been an encouraging sign for the sector.
On a day to day basis, Jerrica mentioned it is equally important to connect young women with anyone who works in tech so that they can see there is a career in it that you can enjoy and progress in.
“My nieces for example were excited to take coding and computing because Aunty does it as a job,” explained Jerrica.
“I can tell you, it will never not be awesome to hear a young girl say she wants to get into computers because she saw you doing it.”
“Having a day to day role model helps to provide a touch point for anyone to ask what IT work entails and finding out that it is not always about sitting behind a desk but also getting messy when you’re elbow deep in a computer filled with red dirt and spiders, can paint a better, more realistic picture.”
Indeed, a study by Gonzalez-Pereze et al on the impact of female role-models for STEM jobs has found that on average role-model intervention has a positive impact on expectations of success in STEM choices.
A great opportunity awaits for more women in IT role models this International Women’s Day 2023 and beyond.
Challenge the status quo in the workplace
The global statistics indicate that more than 50% of women in tech report gender inequality, discrimination, or sexual harassment in male-dominated environments. Jerrica herself has experienced this multiple times – subtly and in an obvious manner.
“I’ve definitely faced a lot of walls as a woman working in IT. I’ve had work colleagues tell me to get ‘real help’ when there is an IT issue that needs to be solved for clients or from the client side, asking to talk to someone who ‘really works in IT,” shared Jerrica.
“Then there’s the subtle ‘good girl’ comments for doing my job or male colleagues being promoted for a job that I also applied for but the other person is underqualified for because of a “boys club” mentality.”
“Situations like this in the workplace are challenging and can be demoralising and it definitely takes more than one person to change the culture.”
“My advice – which I have done in the past – is to call out and question subtle or overtly obvious gender discrimination in your workplace by talking to Human Resources or your manager to express your observations – with clear examples – succinctly.”
“On a day to day basis, when these things happen with your colleagues, I would also try to call out that it is inappropriate to do my bit to challenge the status quo again. My experiences to date prior to Open Systems Support is that you don’t get far with doing it on your own.”
“So my next best advice once you know this and you’ve tried to encourage embracing equity is to have the courage to find something better for yourself.”
Know your worth and ask for it
When Jerrica realised she can’t do more to challenge the status quo, she embarked on a journey to change workplaces and this time around, interview them for best fit!
“Fight for yourself and know your worth – you’ve got to be your biggest advocate – so be prepared when you go seek a better workplace that you know what you want from your employer too,” said Jerrica.
“For example, during my interview with Tom and Matt, I explained my desire to expand my knowledge in IT and not just stay seated behind a desk, doing the same tickers day in and day out. They were both very understanding and provided me with the support I needed to get my IT sea legs back!.”
“In addition, I realised I wanted this time around to be a part of a team where you are just not a number in the system and your voice can be heard for new ideas and to challenge some of that status quo and I find that with OSS.”
“Knowing your worth is not something that is gender specific. I do believe everyone deserves to be treated equally and well in the workplace, no matter what gender, background or differences you have.”
“Embracing equity for International Women’s Day 2023 and beyond means celebrating everyone and importantly, helping others to understand how differences we bring does help to create a stronger, better and more innovative team each and every time.”
Find out more about International Women’s Day 2023
A big thanks to Jerrica for sharing her story and advice on how we can all be DigiTALL this International Women’s Day. For more information and how you can also help to celebrate and forge equity in your workplace, communities and schools, check out the IWD website at https://www.un.org/en/observances/womens-day