The pink elephant – gender balance in Tech
If you haven’t been to an #HRTechWorld conference you should go. There is another one in Paris in October. You can see a palpable and invigorating energy which extends from the exhibition floor to the main stage, through to the break out rooms. There is lively discussion focused around innovation, disruption, leadership trends and the future of work. Technological process intersects with conceptual thinking and philosophy, to produce a heady cocktail of ideas, thoughts and buzz. Add a fun element: walking trees and clouds, talking sofas and selfies with Umpa-Lumpas. And not forgetting a calorie on every corner.
The exhibition hall is where the jeans and sneaker brigade, with maybe the odd hat, meets the suits. Here the talk is of latest developments, the place where the practical meets the philosophical and a new generation of innovators gets to pitch their ideas.
Inspirational Key Notes
The keynote speakers are excellent, polished and passionate about their subjects. Simon Sinek was a new speaker for me. Author of “Start with Why” he is presenter of the third most watched TedX Video “How great leaders inspire action.” He talked eloquently and convincingly about the need to move away from dopamine addicted leadership to trust, collaboration and responsibility. His inspiring rallying cry was:
“be the leader you wish you had had.”
He reminded us that good leaders are “responsible for their people who are responsible for their results” and urged us to reward the behaviour we wish to see.
Jason Averbrook predicted a dramatic shift in workplace structures, transforming jobs and functions, to make many elements of the current HR function redundant. He urged us all again that technology would only function effectively if the end-users thought data was “sexy” and used it meaningfully. He wants end users to appreciate the process, they will move from “adoption to addiction.”
“Too many HR systems are designed for HR, not the workforce who use them.”
But this buzz, the atmosphere and language are resolutely male. Women make up 76% of the HR function, yet I would guess on a look-see basis the balance at the conference was roughly 70%:30%, men to women. The language of the culture is peppered with sporting and military metaphors.
It’s all benign. There is no ill intent. No one thinks twice about it.
And that’s exactly the problem. One female participant said she is so used to it, she no longer notices. We hear about Black Belts, scrums, squads, ninjas, killer apps, champions, heroes and winners.
Skirting around the pink elephant
With the focus on the future, the one issue that is usually skirted around (literally) was tackled in greater depth. That is the topic of the lack of gender balance in tech. Or lack thereof.
Heidi Spirgi, SVP products and Services at Marcus Buckingham, in her round table session on women in tech, shared some stats. Women represent 60% of graduates, 50% of the workforce and influence 80% of consumer decisions. McKinsey estimate that advancing gender balance can add $12 trillion to global growth. Although the numbers vary internationally, women are sorely under represented in the tech sector. Even in Google, only 30% of the workforce is female.
— Sandra Cameron (@Sandycc751) March 16, 2016
Her feelings were unequivocal. In the Tech sector, which lies at the cutting edge of future developments, she maintains we are replicating old school models of influence, power and money. Women occupy just 17% of tech jobs in the UK, a number which has plateaued in the past five years despite the sector growing in importance to the economy.
— David Green (@david_green_uk) March 16, 2016
There are 600,000 open vacancies in the sector, forecast to rise to 1m by 2020, with a massive skill set deficit, where we are overlooking or losing, half of our talent pool. There was no doubt in her mind that for all businesses to succeed, not just tech, gender balance is vital. This can’t be achieved with things as they are.
This business point was reinforced in the final wrap up by Anne-Marie Tomchak who reminded us of the commercial repercussions of excluding women. Apple initially neglected to include a tracker for women’s menstrual cycles in their Health App, missing a huge global demographic of billions of girls and women aged 13-50, simply because there were no women developers on the team.
Biggest disruption will be people
So the biggest disruption and innovations in Tech may not only be a widget, gizmo, app or process. The biggest challenge to the future of work will be as Lane Fox called for, new ideas to radicalize our organisations going forward, where we will see balance and diversity. When we are talking about new leadership approaches of trust and collaboration (Sinek) and people management (Averbrook,) we should be taking responsibility to include women. Gender balance in Tech is not just a nice to have, but vital for business success.
Simon Sinek mentioned that good leadership is about serving. “Officers eat last” he said.
Well, generally so do mothers
If you are looking to strengthen your female talent pipeline hiring and retaining the best talent contact us NOW!