A problem shared: Female tech leaders discuss bridging the gender gap

There’s been a huge push in recent years to highlight the gender equality gap within the tech sector, yet the imbalance remains. So, why are there so few women in the industry, and why are they so under-represented in leadership roles? A recent Women in Digital panel event, hosted by BounceX, the people-based marketing cloud company, featured female tech achievers sharing their experiences of breaking through the industry glass ceiling.

How can female tech employees navigate a male-dominated workplace?

This was one of the key questions posed by Ryan Lathrum, Director of Diversity at BounceX. The panel agreed that female tech employees need to achieve more than their male peers to enjoy equal recognition.

Geeta Randev, Senior Digital Marketing Specialist at Champion, didn’t pull any punches when she said: “My old way of thinking was that women have to work twice as hard to get half as far, which I don’t think was unfounded. But that way of thinking was a blocker for me getting a seat at the table, and I had to work hard to change that narrative in my own mind. It’s my differences that make me stand out, it’s my USP. Female employees need to showcase & celebrate what is different about them.  I’m really data-driven, so when I have something to bring to the table, I make sure that it is backed up with fact.”

How do you ensure your voice, and the voice of your team is heard?

Ensuring your input is recognised and appreciated can be especially challenging for female employees in a male-dominated industry. However, a tech environment does also offer some unique opportunities.

Jacqueline Abernathy, BounceX’s Director of Customer Success, said: “Working in start-ups means there’s a lot more work-intensive problem solving to be done. This also means you can find opportunities to make a real difference and with every problem you solve you can gradually build more and more authority, proving your value and ensuring your voice is heard.

Emilie Maunoury, Digital Director at Clarins, added that female leaders should cultivate a collegiate approach to work. She said: ‘You should push your team to challenge you. Giving your team the confidence to disagree and challenge you. Don’t take an order as an order, if you or a team can think of a better way, they should just say so.”

What’s the biggest barrier to women achieving promotion to senior leadership?

The panel agreed that a lack of gender diversity in senior leadership roles was a self-perpetuating problem. Aspiring women had few role models and a limited number of female leaders to ask for advice.

Jacqueline Abernathy said: “There are so few women in leadership, it’s important to have someone you trust and can go to and act as a sounding board. That’s why we need to build a community, like a sisterhood. Find someone who has similar struggles within the business, but maybe not the same role.”

Can working mothers compete in the workplace?

Why should a modern business even consider this question? The panel agreed that parental responsibilities are never a bar to male promotion, so they shouldn’t be taken into account when considering a female employee’s prospects?

Emilie said: “We keep being taught and asked, ‘can you take this job, you have two kids, can you do this?’ People continually put pressure on you, questioning whether you’re good enough. You wouldn’t ask the same question to men as women. If I have kids its none of your business. Maternity shouldn’t be a consideration.”

Is mentoring the key to female success?

The panel agreed that in a male-dominated industry like tech, where female role models are in short supply, mentoring has an important role to play. Even out-of-work activities that bring important networking opportunities are male dominated so female employees can miss out.

Geeta Randev said the support she’s had from her three mentors during the past ten years has given her the confidence to progress her career.  She said: “A manager, a sponsor and mentor have three very different roles. The role of my various mentor’s was (and still is) to help me strengthen weaknesses that have held me back in the past. I’m lucky I found mine organically – and none of them ‘were like me’. I think that’s why I was immediately drawn to them.

“With one specific mentor, I initially would turn to him to make decisions for me, and then eventually he started teaching me how to make decisions myself. Now I make the decision and he validates. I love this flow from dependence to independence…. It’s liberating.

“When you’re looking for a mentor, try and choose people outside of your organisation/industry. And don’t think you just need one. Different people can teach you different things, and as you evolve & progress in your career, you will identify different areas to strengthen. It is an on-going, never ending process.”

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