A debate about the issue of cultural embeddedness and structural change
How can we integrate more women in the tech industry? In what way can we achieve more diversity in this area? And what is it actually like to work in the tech industry as a woman?
These and other burning questions were on the agenda at the Danish Technical University (DTU)’s event about women in tech, where the administrative director of Microsoft, Marianne Dahl Steensen, the representative from the Danish Social-Liberal Party (Radikale Venstre) Sofie Karsten Nielsen and Anne Kristine Schwartzbach, founder of Konfront presented their views and shared their experiences in a panel debate. The event was led by Caroline Andersen from Women in Tech.
A Long Way to Go
There is no reason to pat ourselves on the shoulder when it comes gender equality in Scandinavia. Denmark is far from having achieved gender equality, says Margrete Vestager, Denmarks EU Commissioner, who introduced the debate.
No PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study shows that girls are less capable of working with tech related tasks than boys which stresses that there is no valid reason not to challenge the lack of women in the tech sector. She was hesitant in the beginning, but after having worked with the quota system for five years, Vestager favours introducing quotas when recruiting new employees. This is because it shows positive results. In fact, the number of women working in senior management positions in Denmark has risen 10% since Vestager started to work with quotas. She further stressed that its equally important for men to get involved in making a change.
The Importance of Education
The three women representing the corporate, entrepreneurship and political sector all agreed that having 14% women in top leading positions in Danish businesses is a big problem and that there is a need to change stereotypes from an early age. Technical education needs to be part of the school curriculum, in order to give girls the opportunity to learn and become interested in technology. It is important to not only provide an understanding of technology as a user-experience, but also as a medium to be created and innovated, says Sofie from Radikale Venstre.
Stepping into Big Tech Companies
Microsoft is known for its diverse company culture within the tech industry. Diversity and inclusion both in regard to gender and nationality are one of the most important criteria, explains Marinne Dahl. As of now they have 32% women in higher positions and in recent years they have amongst others introduced coding as part of the curriculum in schools and trained teachers in order to equip them with technological skills. Surprisingly, she mentions that they don’t follow a strategy or work with set targets.
On the note on what you can do to change the situation, Anne shares her experience about entering the tech industry with a pedagogical background. She encouraged the women in the room to be brave and take a chance if they were interested in working with technology. Anne further observes that women are often afraid of making mistakes, which hinders them from entering positions where they could actually grow and learn. While encouragement from women who have overcome the burden of entering the tech industry is refreshing, it does not solve the actual problem that most women face. And this is where Sofie Karsten Nielsen from Radikale Venstre stepped in and stressed that courage to make mistakes is not enough, but that there is a need for structural, political change that gives the same opportunities to women in the first place.
Finding the Right Balance
This sparked the frequently discussed topic about maternity vs. paternity leave. While giving men the opportunity to go on paternity leave is a good first step, it is equally important to recognise that the stigma of men leaving their workplace is still highly present and can lead to men not taking this opportunity, says Marianne.
While women are often not hired because they are more expensive due to their maternity leave period, they might not apply in the first place because they fear not getting up to speed with the job. Again, Sofie who seemed to be used to finding solutions, rather than talking about the problem, stepped in. According to the politician, the problem could be solved by allocating a fund for maternity/paternity leave in order to diminish the recruiting bias.
Salary negotiations and openness about women’s salary were further topics brought up by the panelists. While anyone can negotiate their salary, Microsoft’s representative Marianne argues, men today still earn 9.400 dkk more than women.
It is shown, Sofie mentions, that women have used the same arguments and negotiating strategies and still don’t get the same offers. And this is, she argues, because it is embedded in our culture which is a huge problem. On this note, Marianne added that she wishes more people were more open towards women’s salary to create more transparency and thus a more equal pay.
The debate ended with a wish for more female role models in the tech industry that can function as inspiration to girls and women wanting to work with technology.
The Q&A session lastly allowed the audience to ask questions to the panel. However, while the many professional women in the room seemed to have burning questions in regard to concrete advice on how to engage more women in the tech industry, the discussion seemed to mainly circulate around the same problems debated previously.
The event was rounded off with a mingle session and thus the opportunity to get answers from the experts to individual questions concerning women in tech-related questions. Let’s hope that the female entrepreneurs attending this event got the input needed to help realise a positive, structural change for women in the tech-industry!
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