The Computing and CRN Women in Tech Festival will take place in London on 31st October, and will bring together some of the brightest and most influential women to connect, share their stories, celebrate success and build for the future.
One of the first speakers at the festival will be Kate Philpot, Senior Director of Global Sales Enablement at Getty Images and a Board Member at GTA Black Women in Tech, a not-for-profit global organisation dedicated to enabling building pathways for Black female talent into tech and building support networks to develop and progress that talent. In addition to her work at Black Women in Tech, Philpot is also Co-Chair of the Getty Images Multi-Culture Network ERG.
Philpot's subject matter at WITF is all about the why. Why do we still need events to support and celebrate women working in technology? For Philpot, events like WITF are important for women who statistically are highly likely to be in a minority whenever they are at work.
"When men constitute a disproportionate percentage of those working in a particular industry there are barriers to entry - or perceived barriers to entry - that may or may not exist. I think a lot of women, and women of colour, if they can't see people within those organisations who look like them and see them at the levels at which they aspire to operate either eventually or straightaway, they will conclude that ‘this is not the place for me, not a place where I can thrive or where it looks like I will be welcome. So I will take my skills and put them in a place where I do feel welcome.'"
Attacking structural bias
This is exactly what those advocating for greater diversity mean when they talk about structural bias. Nobody is deliberately setting out to turn women away from working in technology, just like nobody is setting out to deliberately exclude women from leadership roles, yet here we are.
Whilst encouraging children and young adults from all sort of different backgrounds into technology is critically important for improving the pipeline of talent into the industry, these structural biases need attacking if we want diverse hires to stay in the industry and develop their careers. How should companies go about doing just that? Philpot has plenty of suggestions, and refreshingly they don't start and end with women volunteering to be role models.
"It is harder to aspire to being something that you cannot see. So firstly, if you want to be representative of the population, make sure you are showing the people you purport to serve. That starts on your website. If you're saying, ‘We are hiring,' but the hiring page on your website is full of images of men, usually white, maybe South Asian doing technical work in your organisation, you're saying to women, ‘you're going to do well to make a success of your life here because look who we hire.' So there are ways of choosing imagery that show that you are genuinely committed to diversity.
"Secondly, if you're working with recruitment agencies, make sure that you ask them to present you with a diverse slate of candidates. They can be forgiven for thinking that all you want is young white men if that's all they see of your organisation so you're going to need to make it explicit that you want a diverse slate of candidates.
Then you need to make sure that your hiring practices are appropriately blind and that you also take out any potential bias from your from your processes. A lot of tech recruitment literature is dense with very technological language that's which in itself can be discouraging to women and to minority women."
There are tools available which can review recruitment language to identify the extent to which it is gendered and make recommendations to remove that bias.
"We've seen in our organisation quite a shift in the balance of gender and ethnicity because of using that kind of tool in our externally facing hiring communications," confirms Philpot.
The next step is to make people feel welcome.
"Once you get people through the door, you need to make sure that your culture, again doesn't just say that it is welcoming and inclusive of all genders and ethnicities, but that it actually is and that means making sure that people are aware of the impact of their unconscious biases. It means maybe setting up employee resource groups, (ERGs) where people know that they are not alone. We have ERGs in our organisation and it is incredibly powerful when you do gather employees who look the same or have some kind of an affinity.
"I will never forget the first meeting of the multi-culture network [which Philpot coaches] where we had people come and say, ‘ I thought I was on my own.' There are actually 195 of us, just over 10% of our company. There are tangible things that can be done to make people feel that they belong."