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Leadership and mentoring

Guys, can I grab your attention for a second?

To celebrate International Women’s Day, the Business Growth Hub has produced a series of blogs to look closely at the role of women within different business sectors. Here, Katie reflects on how businesses in the tech sector can tackle the issue of unconscious bias that permeates the workplace.

In a world full of unconscious bias, it’s no wonder that some people are perplexed at the frustrations women still feel in the working world. I don’t remember a single time where I’ve seen a room of women and men addressed as ‘gals’, yet it’s a social norm for ‘guys’ to be deemed gender neutral.

As a female in the tech sector, in the last month alone I’ve addressed the following comments:

“Do you think people seek your advice because you’re successful or because you’ve achieved success as a woman?”

“My staff are similar to my wife – I let them think they get their way, while I’m really the boss.”

“It doesn’t surprise me that [insert name of successful entrepreneur] is working with you. He likes speaking with young girls.”

“People will initially think you’re just a pretty girl and then when you start speaking they’ll realise how impressive you are.”

The last one particularly amuses and disappoints me, given the intention of the person who delivered it was definitely meant to be good.

My point is, I don’t come across many people who I deem as truly sexist but daily I come across men and women who use language, follow processes and create cultures that are less engaging for women than men. Yes, that’s right, women are absolutely culprits too.

Please don’t mistake this article as me asking any business leader in the tech sector to defend why their workforce is mainly men, if they are within this majority. Let’s rather make the discussion about becoming conscious to gender bias and, importantly, about addressing it. We’re in a time of talent shortage in the tech sector, and most businesses would profess to jump at the chance to widen their appeal and win the war for the best candidates.

In helping to address the issue, I don’t believe that it’s good enough to have women-specific activities designed for awareness rather than action. I don’t want to just attend your women in tech event or just be nominated for your women in business awards and I definitely don’t want my voice to only be heard on International Women’s Day. Rather than isolate women and the issue, I want to ensure that the activities and campaigns open to all are designed in ways that welcome, showcase and attract both men and women. I’ll gladly engage with those.

Let me be clear, I don’t blame businesses for this unconscious bias, because it’s just that, unconscious. The crime is not mitigating and overcoming it once aware. Our entire culture shapes and influences our unconscious bias so tackling it is no small feat, but vital to truly addressing the issue.

The industrial revolution saw us create a workforce of cogs in factories and offices; people who were culturally brainwashed to believe that accepting hierarchy and lack of responsibility was the correct and best way. It produced a whole generation of prepped and primed factory/office workers to feed the demand and line the pockets of the factory owners. Evidently we can be moulded by our society to be what industry needs us to be, so let’s use that for good.

In the tech sector, where we’re trying to win a race to the top rather than the bottom, we strive to specialise, not standardise. A new breed of worker and leader is coveted – the problem solvers, the connectors, the ‘linchpins’. We are therefore going to have to adapt how we nurture and engage talent in order to supply this new demand - so while we’re at it, let’s neutralise gender bias.

I'm asking our tech community to bring this issue into your stream of consciousness and challenge everything from your processes, structure, language, environment and even clients. Review the wording of your job adverts, the employee perks you offer and your meeting environments. Can you genuinely say you’re doing everything you can to actively engage women and men equally in your business?

ThoughtWorks are leaders in this approach and widely recognised as the most women-friendly tech company, beating Google and Facebook to this top spot. They ensure all of their staff has training on unconscious bias and walk away from clients who show they are not aligned with the inclusive culture they hold so dear. I’d actively encourage others to learn from this approach.

We are all part of the digital revolution so, come on gals and guys, let’s make sure we create a culture where everyone is fairly engaged and welcomed.

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Katie Peate

Katie Peate, Head of Creative, Digital and Tech

Katie manages the Hub’s offer to the CDT sectors along with the Digital Growth programme, as well as overseeing the Hub’s own Digital Transformation Project.

Katie spent four years at a Manchester digital consultancy, working her way up to director level and handling accounts for the Arts Council England, Big Lottery Fund and the University of Manchester. As part of this role, she was seconded to Singapore to launch a key enterprise project and manage a staff training programme.  

In 2014, she was placed third on The Drum’s list of the top women in digital under 30, while also picking up an international Stevie Award for Women in Business.