Sounds like a loaded statement but is one I hear often used to start a sentence, in the past I have been guilty of doing the same “the problem with women in tech…..”, “the problem with women on boards….”,”the problem with women in leadership…..”

Surely it’s time to STOP saying “the problem” and START saying “The opportunity for women…..” sounds so much better doesn’t it. “The opportunity for women in leadership is…” Turning our perspective on it’s head leads to a powerful positioning statement, changing the whole context of the conversation around.

Fraught and Complex Issues

Last week I had lovely conversation with Laura Dooney an education journalist who just published this great article 17-year-old believes students aren’t getting enough exposure to technology. Laura called me for a comment on the problem with our education system wrt technology and seeking some insight into the problem with women in technology. Her article just scratches the surface of a fraught and complex set of issues systemic in our education system from lack of technology within the curriculum to limited exposure to the possible future leveraging technology can bring across a range of job roles.

Recently Huffington Post attempted to address the fraught and complex issue of pay equity for women, their article represents a subset of the conditions that lead to an imbalance of pay rate between men and women visually representing two – differences in hourly wages of men and women segmented by Education achieved; and levels of interest in pursuing STEM fields segmented by gender. Hard topic to unpick and even harder to sell when you insert quotes like this one into the mix:

But wait ― there are yet more layers baked into this cake. Because domestic responsibilities are still overwhelmingly coded as female, women often have to work the equivalent of two jobs ― acting as caregivers of children or elderly relatives while also working for an actual salary. That puts them in a bind when it comes to taking on work that demands long hours.

I could go on with many examples, why people are fatigued by talking about these challenges and the systemic challenges women have faced over the years – but will spare you. In writing this I have been trying to recall when the language changed, I grew up in the age of girls can do anything believing this to be true so when did my gender start to matter?

Creating Opportunities for Women

Lets cut to the chase here, we are all people at the end of the day, men and women are individuals with skills and abilities of equal measure. Men and women alike can create opportunities for women and provide leadership in this space. Focus areas can be on opening the minds of young women as they pass through the education system, or mentoring school leavers as they enter higher education or the workforce, through to creating roles and working conditions that support women in your workplace.

Quite specifically here are 5 things you can do to assist with creating opportunities for women:

  1. Know your biases – before you set forth creating opportunities for women take a critical look at yourself and get to know whether you have a conditioned unconscious bias. Here is some guidance on how to identify your own biases, you may surprise yourself!
  2. Volunteer your time – I am in awe of those who donate their time to teach kids to code, or make robotics, or work with single mothers as they commence their journeys into working. We are all time poor yet some people fit so much more into their day than others. You can take small steps towards volunteering in this space vs making a long term commitment.
    • Get involved in a one off event is a great way to start. Ask 5 people and someone will know of an upcoming event you can provide input into that will create opportunities for women. Alternatively look for local events in your area – here is one example full of Digital and Technology focused initiatives for young women in my local area.
    • Opening young minds to the possibilities of your role is a great way to volunteer, speaking to school groups on career days or at career expo’s are time boxed ways to make a real impact.
    • I donate 2-3 hours per week to any new startups (pre or post revenue) who want to discuss their business idea or work through any concept or challenge, again a time boxed method of sharing your expertise in a directed way.
  3. Mentor someone or a team – there are many structured programmes you can join to be coached as a new mentor or given a mentoring programme to follow – not all mentors are created equally and its not a natural skill for all of us –  if you are new to mentoring I recommend you research this topic and work with a structured programme.
    • Be very clear on your own motives entering a mentoring role, mentoring is about your mentee and how you can support her to meet her potential, it shouldn’t be about you beyond giving back.
    • If you take on a mentor role it’s a long term commitment, equally you should be self aware enough that if you are no longer adding value it might be time for you to step away so remember to check your impact on a regular basis.
    • Some suggestions on mentoring programmes – preparing for work placement for refugees or immigrants, Young Enterprise programmes, “Hackfest” style weekend events or Startup weekends, holiday programmes, school programmes, youth programmes, domain specific adult programmes.
  4. Create a Supportive Workplace – whether you are an owner or employee you can influence your workplace to be supportive of women as team members, here are some of the things we do:
    • Flexible working hours, ability to work from home
    • A breastfeeding / expressing room (well it’s one of our breakout rooms but everyone knows that is it’s dual purpose)
    • Collaborative, highly consultative, chatty culture where women feel safe and comfortable
    • Kids are allowed in the office and encouraged to write on the walls
  5. Workplace Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – again whether you are an owner or an employee you can influence your workplace and where CSR efforts are directed, again using our own examples as some you could use as prompts:
    • Join and support Workplace programmes eg: Shadow Tech Day, to bring young women into your workplace to learn about roles and jobs
    • Internships, University Study Practicum placement hours and other initiatives to provide young women with vocational time in your workplace to extend their studies
    • Whole teams mentoring other teams e.g.: VentureUp, our whole team was involved in mentoring a team trying to solve overcrowding for large families in South Auckland – we all learned so much.
Inspiration to get you started

emily roadtripAfter looking for a compelling quote or soundbite to share from an inspiring woman I realised I talk to this inspiring woman every day – the fabulous Emily. Here is a blog I wrote recently inspired by Youth Week “A Profoundly Rewarding Experience Mentoring a Young Entrepreneur” about my experience working with Emily and how seriously wonderful it has been, from which I summarised:

For me, working with Emily has been a rewarding experience, I simply love her tireless, optimistic perspective and watching her grow from strength to strength. Injecting younger people into your workplace is an invaluable exercise so I encourage everyone to consider opportunities to do so here during Youth Week.

Nothing to stop you now – creating opportunities for women! Let me know how you get on. Vic.