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Women in Work and the Tech Industry

Why Inclusivity, Equity and Leadership are key.

Recently, I found an annual report from my first employer, a large UK firm, where I was one of six graduate trainees, with five of us being women.

At that stage in my life, I didn’t even think about equality and diversity, and assumed the notion of 'work hard and you will be rewarded whatever your gender', would be upheld.

Finding the report prompted me to reflect on how, over the last 20 years, work life has changed for me, particularly through the integration of technology into our daily lives. When I joined my first company, believe it or not, not everyone had a computer on their desks. Mobile phones, if you were lucky enough to have one, required a trolley to move their batteries around and people used to send mail in the post. The pace of change in how we work is astounding, and in just over 20 years, we can do almost all of our work and correspondence online, through our computers and phones, all over the world. The pace of change in the workplace is being enabled by technology at a phenomenal pace, but how is this pace of change affecting women?

It has been 46 years since equal pay for equal work was enshrined in law. The Equal Pay Act in 1970 put into law an aspect of The United Nations 1945 Declaration of Human Rights. Sadly though, despite this development, pay is still not equal and there is approximately a 20% difference between male and female wage packets in 2016. Women are limping slowly towards this goal of equal pay, but we are still far from the desired outcome.

The National Office of Statistics 2008 report by Debra Leaker, which focused on gender pay gap in the UK, found that whilst at entry level the pay gap between men and women is narrow, it widens after 10 years of employment (30-39) and widens again at the next 10 years (40-49). This can be partly explained by the choices that women make to have a career break. Other factors which contributed to the gap included differences in education and work experience, part time vs. full time, as well as the fact that occupations where women are highly concentrated are in general lower paid industries.

The more recent changes in the 2010 Equal Pay Act are moving in the right direction, by encouraging vs legislating that organizations should publish pay gaps if they have more than a certain number of employees. This reinforces one particular employer case study on Gov.UK, which said: “What gets measured gets managed. What gets published gets managed better.

With this in mind, everything seems to be moving in the right direction, but we are not fully addressing some of the core issues behind the pay gap. If we are to move beyond equality and into equity, the organizational aspects of work and how these fit into society needs to change.

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word equity as “quality of being fair and impartial” and equality as “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights or opportunities.” I asked some of the women who had been through our Leadership Development Programmes here at Thoughtworks, what equity at work meant for them, and responses included, “We balance privileges in the workplace, providing opportunities and the necessary support to individuals who require it", as well as, “My opinion is considered on its merit as if it were put on a post it note”.

It isn’t just about measuring gaps, it’s about providing equal opportunities and supporting people in order for them to grow and develop and even to enter the world of work. Much of our focus around gender seems to look at equality, rather than the broader issue of equity. In focusing on the laws put in place, are we promoting equality or equity?

Exploring the groups who are unable to join employment, as well as addressing imbalance around education, opportunity and privilege is a much wider topic than equal pay. The main challenge I can see here is that we are trying to solve the problem by implementing fair and impartial policies on top of a system that is fundamentally not fair and impartial itself.

The institution of work hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, and remains a predominately patriarchal environment, with post-industrial and fixed views that work can only be done in an office or on a client site between Monday to Friday and 9 – 5 pm. Whilst this model continues, the most we can aspire for is equality and equity, which will be essentially out of reach unless we challenge both our employment and hiring practices.

Our concept of work today is a real barrier for the equality of opportunities. Our society is oriented around this pattern, and our hospitals and medical surgeries are all orbiting this post-industrial pattern of work. Technology has evolved and developed so much whilst our construct of work hasn’t shifted. Imagine if being able to work part time meant that you suffered no pay detriment when compared to a full-time salary, and where your work was fulfilling and enabled you to grow. According to recent statistics, this would make a huge impact to reduce the pay gap for women.

Finding my previous annual report and going back to my first job at the time, did I observe or notice that all of the board members were white males? No. This was probably down to my youth and inexperience; I wasn’t challenged or tainted by inequality. In researching the original company today, 38% of the board are women. Do I notice that now? Yes.

As women in leadership roles, we have a responsibility to look and notice and comment on these things. A recent article in the Sunday Times titled :“Top Firms shun female executives” explored the fact that whilst on the surface, the FTSE 100 have hit targets for increasing the proportion of women in the boardroom, most of these were through lower paid, non-executive positions.

On taking a closer look at the previously mentioned annual report, I noticed all the women on the board were in non-executive roles. This unsurprising fact enforces the notion that perhaps what we currently measure isn’t what needs to be addressed to make a change.

This article was originally published on wearethecity.com.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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