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Tech Culture Must Change To Attract More Women

By Nora Zeidan

If there’s one skill set employers want right now, it’s talented technology staff.

With demand so high and competition fierce, companies are pulling out all the stops to fashion a fun, creative, youthful brand image. It started when Google and Facebook, two of the world’s largest tech companies, acted as very public advocates of the ‘cool’ office movement with beanbags, bouncy balls, slides and pinball machines.

Employees at Facebook’s headquarters got Guitar Hero and Xbox 360, while Google replaced their doors with a type more commonly found on submarines.

These office perks certainly created a new style of workplace — overly masculine.This could be completely unintentional — simply a reflection that more men work in technology. But the influence these organizations wield means that where they go, many smaller firms will follow. As a consequence, this masculine style has been propagated across the industry so that today technological wizardry seems to come hand-in-hand with a pool table, hammock, and obligatory slide.

If tech companies want to solve the skills shortage, they need to start seriously considering what their brand looks like to prospective female employees. Before the percentage of females working in IT can increase, many companies need to change their cultures from top down — starting with industry leading organizations.

What’s the use of encouraging girls to take-up ICT in schools if, when they enter the workplace, they discover that pioneering tech companies aren’t particularly supportive workplaces for women? One study found that in the past decade women gravitated toward professional occupations, making up 57% of that workforce, but declined in computer and engineering occupations by 2.7% — a telltale sign that something needs to change.

As a senior software engineer, I know that tech companies can be fantastic places for women to work. But I’m also a young mother and in order to balance my two roles and give my best to my employer I need a little flexibility — which is exactly what the company I work for offers its employees.

We live in an age where people don’t have to physically be together to work together. Remember Marissa Meyer’s announcement in February last year, when Yahoo would no longer support employees working from home? Right or wrong, Meyer’s decision highlighted the crux of the debate. Technology may enable people to effectively work from home, across different geographies and in different time zones, but it depends whether companies will foster a culture to support it. Tech companies have the capacity to be pioneers in using technology to facilitate new ways of working, but it depends on leaders embracing this change.

I’ve always wanted a career in technology and nothing is going to change that. However, if all firms — large and small — are to accommodate my ambition and those of other women, they have to take the female perspective into account. It’s not just a question of creating a more diverse workforce for the sake of it, but one of engaging a demographic with the potential to make a significant positive impact on our economy.

Nora Zeidan

Nora Zeidan is a senior software engineer at  Thomsons Online Benefits.

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