Towards inclusive growth
The changes across industry landscapes marked by accelerated digital transformation, globally connected workforces, and workplaces that transcend physical boundaries have opened up a greater channel for inclusion.
For women in STEM, while the opportunities may appear to be seemingly endless, the road to equality is paved through persistent effort and determination. Take Kimberly Bryant, founder and CEO of Black Girls Code, who focuses on introducing girls of color to the fields of technology. Or Danah Boyd, founder of Data & Society, featured in Forbes’ America’s Top 50 Women In Tech who was once told by a misogynistic classmate that girls can’t code and was determined to prove him wrong.
Standing on the shoulders of giants
Women are making a significant impact in the tech sector. Yet, this is not a new phenomenon. Today’s female leaders are simply following in the grand tradition of women who have shaped our digital world.
Victorian mathematician Ada Lovelace is widely regarded as the first computer programmer, thanks to her work on the ‘Analytical Engine’ – a mechanical precursor to modern computers.
During World War Two women on both sides of the Atlantic worked on the earliest versions of modern electronic computers, creating the first software programs and the beginnings of programming language.
Computer scientist Annie Easley was one of the first African Americans to work for NASA, developing and implementing code used to research energy-conversion systems, most famously for the Centaur upper-stage rocket. Her code was also used to analyze alternative power technology, helping to lead to the development of the battery technology used in early hybrid vehicles.
And Cambridge University computing professor Karen Spärck Jones developed the concept of inverse document frequency, a form of natural language processing that is used in almost every search engine today.
Tech helps break down barriers
Despite the inspiration provided by individual stories of success, globally, women are under-represented across all science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions.
Low levels of participation are the result of a variety of barriers, including gender discrimination, taking time off work for childcare, a lack of opportunity for promotion, and often stereotypes around role definitions.
The good news is that technology itself is providing the tools to break down these barriers.
Programs such as the Million Women Mentors campaign are influencing the career paths of women globally to promote gender equality. MWM, surpassed its initial goal and encouraged more than two million people to become mentors, and continues to remain committed to increasing the interest and confidence of women in STEM programs and careers.
Companies are rapidly recognizing that stereotyping has held them back. Women bring a high degree of emotional intelligence – otherwise known as ‘EQ’ – to the table, which is a critical driver of innovation.
Business leaders are now turning to tech to overcome recruitment and retention hurdles. The 2020 pandemic proved that with powerful infrastructure, cloud-based apps and data, and flexible policies, remote working could be an effective solution to increase the inclusion of diverse identity segments. From using AI and data-driven tools to reduce recruitment bias, workplace training and leadership elevation, companies are harnessing the latest technologies to bridge the diversity divide. For the enterprises that are committed to finding them, the solutions outnumber the challenges.
An empowered future
The tech sector is proving an enabler for greater gender equality, with research indicating better pay parity and more opportunities among tech employees than other sectors.
In Saudi Arabia, a country whose ruler King Salman is gradually changing laws towards greater equality for women, the tech sector is helping women embrace a more progressive future.
In Riyadh, more than 1,000 women now work at the all-female business center set up by Tata Consultancy Services, Saudi Aramco and GE. This center, which provides finance and accounting, enterprise data management, analytics and IT services, taps into a vast pool of female graduate talent in Saudi Arabia. Until now these female graduates have largely been restricted to roles where the working environment is segregated by gender, and such roles have generally only been available in the education and healthcare sectors. Building on this vision, in 2021, TCS launched the all-women Innovation Lab in Riyadh, contributing to digital skill development and in support of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.
Technology is reshaping their future. These women now have access to an international workplace, the option to work with global teams, and the opportunity to realize their full potential as they broaden their horizons.
Technology has the power to fine tune the balance between tradition and change in a way that will empower millions of women around the world. There is inspiration all around us – from the women who have laid the foundation of a digital future, to those who are cementing it, one brick at a time. And, for those who choose to embrace it, the opportunities are limitless.