Last week the world celebrated International Women’s Day and over the week many female leaders shared powerful stories. One pleasing change I've seen over the past few years is a shift from a focus on Equality to Equity for Women in the workforce. Where once quotas were a big discussion point, we’re actually talking about the real stuff – how workplace culture and sexism tends to just make it challenging for females to succeed to the same levels as men.
As a male leader in tech, hearing from others on their lived experiences is always a strong reminder of just how important diversity is for the success of a business.
My wife is a talented Software Engineer. She didn’t always work in tech though - when we first met she was a school teacher. She’s always loved computers and technology, so one day she just up and decided she’d go back to school and retrain as a developer. In a week or two she’d already set up interviews with a bunch of schools. She chose one, got a loan, studied in and around work hours, and graduated. Not much later, she was applying for jobs. She’s a bit of a badass like that - she sees something and goes for it.
Tech is currently a male-dominated industry. The hiring process for most tech roles is a gauntlet of knowledge and skills tests. Most developers also tend to think they’re quite smart (understatement?). This surfaces as an often adversarial interview experience where you’re challenged to prove not only you have the skills for the job, but also that you’re smart enough to be considered an equal by the interviewer.
Once you get a job in software, there are many more adversarial dynamics and biases built into the industry. Having your peers review every line of code you write searching for mistakes or offering feedback. Only gaining permission to certain systems and work once “you’re experienced enough”. The most interesting work usually being given to the “lead” engineer and other examples. When implemented poorly this environment tends to reward the loud, and ego driven, and detracts from the support and growth of those who don’t fit the mould. It’s one of the drivers behind why I always ensure my teams assess peer feedback tone and style at the first stage of our hiring process (a code review challenge), and require representation at all stages of the hiring, feedback and growth cycle in Engineering.
Watching my wife go through similar career experiences to my own over the years was a humbling experience. Where I may have attracted mentors and advocates, she’s often had to seek them out. Where I found people excited about my ideas, she’s often had to work to convince colleagues that hers were worth hearing. Where my pushback on code reviews may have been met with respect, she’s often had to be overly polite in disagreeing with feedback.
These experiences made it clear to me just how important investing in an inclusive workplace is, and how, sadly, accessibility can be impacted by various challenges, biases and barriers.
Organisations are better when we can all bring our best selves and lived experiences together to help solve user problems. However, creating an environment where that’s possible takes intentional effort - from all of us. There’s still more we can be doing to improve, but I’m definitely not waiting to be told that making diversity, equity and inclusion a priority is important.