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7 March 2023  •  Jodi Willocks

International Women’s Day: thoughts on gender equity in tech

International Women's Day: Thoughts on gender equity in tech

While some commentators describe International Women’s Day as an annual corporate calamity (a reputation well-earned in many places), at the very least it’s a moment to be highlighting gender equity and what we can all be doing differently.

While some commentators describe International Women’s Day as an annual corporate calamity (a reputation well-earned in many places), at the very least it’s a moment to be highlighting gender equity and what we can all be doing differently. 

Having led digital agencies over recent years, this year's theme is particularly interesting to me. It calls for a safer, more inclusive and more equitable digital future and aligns with the priority theme for the upcoming 67th session of the ‘Commission on the Status of Women’:

Priority theme: “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.”

Delivering on this theme will rely more than ever on women contributing to innovation and technological change. It will rely on women working and actively participating in the tech sector. Diversity matters - without women in the sector, we can't effectively design digital tools, products and services for women. Consequently, we won’t be able to design the tools and services that contribute to the greater goal of gender equity and empowerment for women and girls.

At a time when we’re seeing women leaders switching jobs at the highest rates ever (McKinsey). Together with ‘a generation of senior female leaders stepping aside in the tech sector’ (CNN Business) and the continuing threat of online hate and misogyny (RNZ), I worry about how we’ll achieve digital equity for our future generations of women and girls. 

Fortunately in Aotearoa we do have some strong female leadership in the tech space. Organisations like Tech Women and leaders like Victoria MacLennan work tirelessly to advocate for women and equity, but progress remains slow. Depending on which report you read, only 24% - 27% of our digital technology industry are currently women.

My personal experience mirrors much of what other female leaders have highlighted, that women do experience gender pay gaps, belittling micro aggressions, being talked over or mistaken for more junior members of staff! I’ve found we do need to fight a little harder where the ‘bro’ culture exists and works as a barrier for women. On the flip side, I have also had the benefit of supportive male allies and advocates throughout my career.

If I could share three pieces of advice for women in the tech sector, it would be these: 

1. Your difference is your superpower.

What makes us different is actually what sets us apart. Be it gender, culture, sexuality or demographics. Your perspective might make you look, feel or think differently from everyone else, but that’s not a weakness, it’s your superpower. 

2. Use your voice.

Diverse views and voices will be vital to solving the problems of the future. We can’t change the world by being like the world. So, we need to stand up, speak up and back ourselves. If that’s a scary thought, then seek out allies and supporters who will support you. And, if you consistently don’t get heard, then it’s ok to use your feet. (No one should have to stay with an organisation that isn’t creating space for them)

3. Listen to your instincts.

There will be times when a situation or role just doesn’t feel right. Take notice. At times in my career, I’ve been too slow to act on my instincts, but they will always tell you when something feels wrong and when it’s time to move. If you do move, be honest in your exit interview - it might help smooth the way for the next woman to join that organisation.

To be clear, while this advice is for women, I’m not suggesting that driving progress is their responsibility. Equity has a benefit for everyone and is a job for everyone. Organisations and leaders have a responsibility to tackle their gender balances and pay gaps, and men have a vital enabling role to play. (For helpful hints on how men can better support their female colleagues, check out Jess Stuart's blog about IWD ‘allies’). Achieving gender equity in tech and beyond is a collective effort - something for us all to keep in mind not only this week, but also as we look to the future.

By: Jodi Willocks

Jodi is currently Bastion Shine’s Managing Director in Wellington. For the previous four years she led Wellington digital design agencies AKQA and Heyday Digital.

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