By Sharmadean Reid
This article is one in a series covering the UN Commission on the Status of Women – a gathering of powerful female voices for women’s global fight for equality.
e have made great strides when it comes to women’s equality in the workplace. Now more than ever, women sit at the highest ranks, paving the way for future generations. In the public and government sectors, you have women such as Finland’s prime minister Sanna Marin, the first female president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and now the first female US vice president – not to mention first the first Black and Asian vice president – Kamala Harris.
You can find women pushing boundaries everywhere you go. It’s fantastic to see the tech space, in particular, explode with proud women of colour forging a new path. In Nigeria, Funke Opeke is the founder and CEO of the country’s biggest broadband infrastructure company, while Maliha M Quadir, from Bangladesh, is the founder and CEO of Shohoz, the all-round lifestyle app that can take care of food, travel, and entertainment.
While we are moving in the right direction, we still have ways to go before we see the significant shift we need. Despite tech being a rapidly growing sector, women hold only 11% of Silicon Valley leadership positions. In 2021, only 8% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women – and only three of them are women of colour. And this is still lauded as the highest it has ever been.
It is only through more women in tech leadership and political positions that we can start to drive real change. Fundamentally, women support women. When women occupy these roles, they bring new perspectives and leadership styles to the table. What we need to be doing is taking this momentum and keep pushing it forward.
“When women thrive, society thrives.”
There will always be a barrier for women if we don’t do what we can to break it down. A huge roadblock in the lack of funding. Female founders only received 2.3% of all venture capital funding, and that was a 27% drop compared to 2019. It’s why we see so many funds established with the sole purpose of giving to women; it isn’t happening naturally.
While there have been significant efforts to close the gender gap over recent years, the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. It may have affected us all, but the loss hasn't been equal; women have been losing their jobs at a higher rate than men. Often the available positions, especially in STEM fields, require qualifications that they currently do not possess, creating a block in the labour market.
Those most affected are 24- to 35-year-old women who typically have a family at home. Forced into working from home, a significant number of women have had no choice but to take a step down in their careers to free their time for their domestic load. Many of them have had to step away from their job entirely due to taking on the additional extra responsibilities without the support of schools or loved ones.
It's not just adult women that have been impacted. As many as 11 million girls may never return to school after the pandemic. Considering the tireless efforts that have already gone into changing education for young women, this is a massive setback with a monumental knock-on effect for their futures and the global economy.
Education plays a big part in creating a whole-of-society approach. If only men have the best access to digital tools and education, the gender gap will double. To pave a new path, we need to transform STEM education. Through accessible education, young girls will become involved in the industry faster and earlier than they are currently.
When women thrive, society thrive as well. There are ultimately three factors that hold women back:
Scepticism. This could be from clients, peers, or employers about anything from their credibility to their ability.
Access. This could be difficulties accessing finances, both as an employee through the gender pay gap and as a founder seeking investment. It also includes access to training and jobs compared with their male counterparts.
Society. Having to adhere to social norms and expectations.
To make a difference, we need to move past those factors. But we can't do it as individuals. We have made some progress, but we can't rest. Young girls, women, and men need to work together to push gender equality. It's through a whole-of-society approach that we begin to see real, lasting change.
Championing women's leadership in tech is incredibly powerful, as it's the sector that can combat the setbacks we face globally. It's not about the future; it's about now. When we examine the root causes of the gender gap within the tech sector, we see how we can work together to bridge the gender divide, starting from the top. By addressing the critical gap in female leadership, we can inspire those in the position to make a difference.
Women have a bigger part to play than in leadership roles in STEM.
Dorothy Tembo, deputy executive director of the International Trade Centre, reports: "It’s important for each of us to see clearly what part we can play to ensure women are equally represented in the tech sector. Women only make up 12% of cloud computing roles, 15% of engineers, and only 6% in big data."
Let’s facilitate women in tech at all levels, from programmers to content developers to strategists. We need more educators to lead from the front and teach young girls that STEM is a place for women. We need policymakers to create positive change. We need female angel investors to make funding more accessible. To ensure more women rise to the top, we need to lead from the front in every department.
To see a significant shift in gender equality, we need a whole-of-society approach to championing women’s leadership. These women can then lift up the next generation, so we can achieve the equality we want to see.
By Sharmadean Reid
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