In honour of International Women’s Day, we asked Lauren Salisbury, the General Manager of Digital Strategy at our parent company Accordant, to write a guest blog about women in tech.
Lauren has worked at the forefront of technology and innovation internationally for 19 years, working for large, industry-leading companies, before spending her last 5 years as an executive leader in tech organisations here in Aotearoa
Below Lauren shares her own personal experience of the industry, along with tips and insights into how the industry can achieve equality through equity. Check it out, and keep an eye out for more from Lauren, in our annual Job Market & Salary Report, where we spotlight Women in Tech. The report will be released at the end of March, but you can register for early access here.
Embracing Equity in Tech
Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #EmbraceEquity. So what is equity? How is it different from equality? And why is it important, especially in the tech industry?
The words equity and equality are often used interchangeably, and while they both come from the same root word meaning “even”, “fair”, or “equal”, they actually have different definitions.
Equality means ensuring that everyone, regardless of gender, is given the same opportunities, resources, and rights.
Equity means recognising that each individual has different circumstances, and then ensuring that everyone has the exact resource and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.
So, equality is achieved through equity.
As the official International Women’s Day website puts it: “Equal opportunities are no longer enough, and can in fact be exclusionary, rather than inclusive.
The Need for Equity in the Tech Industry
Let’s paint the picture by numbers. According to a report by the Ministry for Women in New Zealand, women are significantly underrepresented in the tech industry. As of 2021, the representation of women in tech in New Zealand is as follows:
- Women make up only 23% of the tech workforce in New Zealand.
- Women hold only 25% of tech senior leadership roles in New Zealand.
- Women make up only 14% of board members in tech companies in New Zealand.
- Women earn on average 9% less than men in the tech industry in New Zealand.
- Women make up only 5% of founders.
It’s a bleak picture.
As an industry, we need to give more consideration to what these numbers reflect, and why women are so underrepresented. I believe these statistics reflect the need for more equitable opportunities and resources in order to balance out the numbers and achieve true equality in the New Zealand tech industry.
For me personally, I have spent my career breaking down these barriers, and I am proud to be part of the group of women making up these numbers – I’m a founder, an executive, and a chartered director, yet after decades in the industry, I still experience inequality.
For example, a few years ago I was a keynote speaker at a tech event in Auckland, and yet I was asked multiple times where to find the tea and coffee; people automatically assumed I was a server because I was one of the few females attending.
And only last year, I pitched as a female founder to a room of male angel investors who would barely hold eye contact with me, and contradicted my knowledge of an industry that 1) they hadn’t worked in and 2) I’ve been recognised internationally for my contributions to innovation over 25 years.
The New Zealand tech industry may be ahead of the game in many ways, but clearly we still have a long way to go before we achieve equality.
Here’s a very confronting statement that I often reflect on, which comes from a documentary I saw a few years ago:
“There comes a moment in every young girl’s life when she realises she is not equal, and from that moment forward, she’s fighting for that moment to come later, for the next generation”.
We must work faster to create a world where young girls do not carry this burden and are unhindered by bias and unequal opportunities.
Promoting Equity in the Workplace
We must make diversity and inclusion a core value of the business, not just a checkbox. I believe we need to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and valued, and that we create a culture that is agile and inclusive.
This starts with attracting and retaining talent:
- Provide opportunities for everyone to grow and advance their careers, including leadership positions and highly visible roles. Attracting more women into the tech industry relies on them having more female mentors.
- Flexible working is the norm now, so ensure it extends to the needs of working parents and caregivers. Be flexible all the time too, as kids get sick or have events parents shouldn’t miss. An outcome driven culture coupled with flexible working will promote a high performing team.
- Create a feedback friendly workplace that values open and honest communication. Train managers to listen to understand, and speak to be understood. Encourage managers to act on feedback with a bias towards accountability.
- Self-care and wellbeing should be encouraged – we all perform better when we are healthy, physically and mentally. This may take the form of wellness programmes, education, or other forms of support like free health insurance.
- Ensure your physical environment is inclusive. Take a critical look at your workspace, especially if it’s been the same for years. Consider what could be done to improve it, and then take action (please don’t poll the female talent and ask if they’re ‘OK with it’, as it could make them feel pressured – if you’re not sure then I’d suggest it needs changing).
These should all be considered through an equitable lens, taking into consideration what each individual or group of individuals may need (whether that’s a certain type of flexibility or physical workspace) to ensure the outcome is equal.
A Profitable Imperative
It is well understood that this is the right thing to do as a human imperative, but embracing equality is also key for a profitable business strategy.
Here’s the facts:
- Increased profitability
Top-quartile gender diverse companies have 25% higher likelihood of above-average profitability (McKinsey & Company study)
- Enhanced Customer Understanding
Women make up half of the global consumer market, highlighting the importance of bringing in more female talent to better understand and connect with this demographic.
- Better decision making
More women in leadership positions associated with higher profitability and better decision-making (Peterson Institute for International Economics study)
- Improved innovation
Companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher innovation revenues (Boston Consulting Group study)
However, the pace of progress towards gender equality in business remains slow, and urgent action is needed to accelerate change in the New Zealand tech industry. Only then can we unlock the full potential of gender equality and build truly successful and sustainable businesses for future generations.