Parts of the world – especially the online world – are still openly hostile to women. As parts of public life become more gender-balanced, some online spaces become dark shadows of their real-life peers.
This began to impact our politics and even the functioning of our democracy, because parliamentarians are the ones who suffer the most from this treatment. But things will not change until the big tech companies stop being so male-dominated and start to tackle the size of the problem, perhaps employing leadership teams that can more easily identify with the recipient people.
In the past, as a woman in technology, I am presumed to be a personal assistant or secretary (in fact, I currently lead one of the fastest growing software companies in the UK). When attending conferences or outside events, I am often the only woman in the room. Is it any wonder that such an industry sometimes struggles to sympathize with female victims of hatred online, even if they are top political leaders?
Far from being a safe haven where diverse voices can be heard and respected, new media platforms often reflect the worst prejudices of older media when it comes to minorities, including women.
In the United Kingdom, for example, female MPs were turned off by hate groups fed by a toxic cocktail of sexism and fake news. With threats of rape and death becoming a daily occurrence for women in parliament, 18 of them are standing before the December general election. Many cited online abuse as a reason for its withdrawal from public life. The situation is similar for several US congressmen, particularly minority congressmen.
Big Tech's culture is predominantly male. Google was founded by two men. Twitter was founded by four men. And Facebook was started by one man (or two, according to the Winklevoss twins). Executives like Sheryl Sandberg are the exceptions that prove the rule that, while high-level, seems powerless to change the culture or policies that endanger women in public life.
Politics used to be an old boy's club. Silicon Valley is a club for young people. Where the two intersect, women are being marginalized. Big Tech cannot even claim ignorance; The James Damore Incident Last year showed that technicians are comfortable with the status quo and sometimes even hostile to efforts to change it.
Not all the blame can be placed on the doorsteps of the companies themselves. If, from preschool, parents or teachers are accomplices of boys being pushed into science and technology while girls are taken to other disciplines, we will inevitably end up with a male-inclined industry.
WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) found that less than 1 in 4 people holding positions at Stem in the UK are women, while PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) states that only 5% of technology leadership positions are held. by women. In a sample of 1,000 US consumers from LivePerson, a US software company, only 8.3% of people were able to name a woman famous in technology – and the majority of 8.3% referred to Siri or Alexa at additional questions. Sometimes Big Tech likes using female voices more than listening to them.
As Big Tech companies continue to evolve into media conglomerates, gender participation schemes like those of other parts of the media (such as the BBC, for example) must be transferred to the technology world. This is not just about principle – it can be about profit.
Companies with gender-balanced management teams are more competitive, creative and productive. More traditional sectors, such as the automotive and utilities sectors, have experienced higher levels of innovation since the introduction of more women in C-level positions. It's time for Silicon Valley to follow suit.
As Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors said, diversity is all about the pipeline. If women are not getting into technology, it is impossible for them to reach the top. Male-dominated panels and gender issues mean that things take a long time to change at the entry level, let alone at higher positions.
Organizations like She Can Code train women in software development, but entry does not guarantee progression to the C-suite. Embolden Her, an organization I co-founded with Abbie Howell and Kamile Matulenaite, works to connect female technology leaders and create mentoring opportunities for women who are often the only women on their team, department, or sometimes even in your company. We also hold monthly leadership workshops for women in technology to build collaboration and share resources.
This allowed me to work with my employer, Theodo, to create an environment in which my colleagues and I know we are just as likely to be promoted as our male colleagues. It is an environment in which the diversity we create is taken as seriously as the code we write.
Diversity efforts need to focus on where power is – and will be in the future. Increasingly, the corridors of power will not only be in politics or industry, but in Big Tech. If only half of the population is reflected at the top of these important organizations, this does not bode well for the other half – even if they are members of parliament.
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