This blogpost is a guest article written by a participant of the Civic Tech Sisters program.
Immediately after I became Vice President of IT Integrator in spring 2017, we had a corporate party. I clearly remember that I was very surprised and even shocked that there were too few women at that celebration, that is, there were too few women in the team compared to men. As it turned out a little later, there were almost no women in managerial positions. Meanwhile, the whole modern corporate world has been living in the opposite trend for years, the number of women involved in the management of progressive companies is constantly growing. And then I thought "Something needs to be done about this, probably this is the issue we need to address first". I was convinced that the value of involving women in management of the company was underestimated.
Over the last 5 years, the gender balance in the Ukrainian IT sector has improved — the percentage of women was only 14%, and today — a quarter of all IT professionals are women. This is indicated by the results of a recent study by GlobalLogic. That is, the gender balance in the industry is gradually changing but it is impossible to say if these changes are already fundamental and inevitable. Unfortunately, IT remains largely a male sphere — there are still too few women in management positions.
So what's the matter? Why are our girls and women less focused on IT careers than men? The UNICEF poll highlights the reasons Ukrainian women consider to be dominant. 31% of female respondents answered that they are insufficiently informed in this area, 28% — that they are not interested in the industry, 23% are not confident in their abilities, and 17% consider the sphere to be a male profession.
But I believe that in the current situation in the industry there are quite objective explanations and preconditions that I want to talk about. Here are 6 obstacles for women to overcome in the workforce:
A World Bank’s research released in January 2020 demonstrates the state of women's legal economic rights around the world. “Although significant progress has been made recently, women still face barriers to entrepreneurship and employment. In fact, on average around the world women have only three-quarters of the legal economic rights granted to men” state the study's authors.
The World Bank has analyzed eight indicators that affect women's economic empowerment at different stages of life: mobility, the workplace, wages, marital status, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets, and retirement. In the research, Ukraine ranks 95th with a score of 78.8, along with Tajikistan, Vietnam and Rwanda. For comparison, Poland has a score of 93.8, and Russia — 73.1.
For years, the realities of our corporate sphere have exacerbated the problem of women's professional lag. The reasons for such a situation are several systemic problems. First, it is a distinct bias in the process of selection and development of potential management staff. Second, women have significant difficulty communicating with their senior management. Third, there is the phenomenon of the "glass ceiling" — a term from American management, introduced in the early 1980s to describe an invisible barrier that limits the promotion of the ladder. This form of discrimination is described as "a barrier so invisible that it is transparent, but at the same time so thorough that it prevents women and members of different social groups from advancing in the management hierarchy."
According to his research, the famous English sociologist E. Oakley identifies the following barriers in women's careers:
From the standpoint of my own 15 years management experience, I can say that for our business environment, all these factors are more than real and significant.
If you are a woman in management, you must be able to work under stress, use psychological qualities that allow you to expand your own capabilities.
We all have many inner barriers. First, it is the framework of social stereotypes and our own beliefs about ourselves. Since childhood, we hear from our mothers and sisters - be a good girl, study well, behave well, help others. And it doesn't always shape the personality traits that help women become successful in big business.
There are a number of psychological traits — signs that often prevent women from being effective managers. This is primarily kindness, emotionality, a tendency to doubt our actions, lack of criticism, conflict avoidance that prevail in business behavior and prevent us from making unpopular decisions or earning our place in the corporate world.
At the same time, women have a whole set of traits that help them be successful in management. They are very persistent, open to new experiences, hardworking, energetic, responsible, sociable and organized.
One of KPMG researches shows that there are factors that are essential to a woman's business success. Those are an active personal network of contacts, strong communication skills, understanding of new technologies, strong connections within the company, willingness to make unpopular decisions. Women should put systematic efforts and persistently develop these skills.
Are there any business biases against women? I'm certain they exist, particularly for women managers. Such women are often perceived as a model of a mother. Even a professional manager in the perception of many men takes good care of her employees. But as for the business as a whole, there is a lot of doubt on the part of men whether she can really run it effectively. Or the manager is perceived simply as a beautiful woman who holds a manager’s position as a so-called "mascot", a person who brings good luck to business, but not the one who manages it. Or another very lasting prejudice that a woman in management is a very cruel, so-called "iron lady", more of a robot than a person.
Our own beliefs and perceptions of ourselves are extremely strong tools and can sometimes be an insurmountable obstacle to success and career advancement. There is an expression "What you believe — you deserve. What you believe — is a limit". In order to go beyond the limits of our own ideas about ourselves, women need to change the beliefs that limit their development and self-identification.
Now and then they have to go beyond an unchanging and normal environment. At some point people realize that they have become too big a fish for a small pond. It is reasonable to assume that at this moment it's time to move to a larger pond with the smarter and bigger fish. In such an environment the status will be slightly lower, but it gives the room to grow and it presents an area of optimal experience to strive to.
What is the limit of knowledge? The higher one rises in the hierarchy and competence, the more critical does the cognitive flexibility become. That is, the ability to adapt to a new environment, to absorb new knowledge, the ability to make hard decisions. In fact, managers often have to jump above their heads. Where, how and with whom to jump is a challenging question that our women must answer with all perseverance and creativity. The point is to create an atmosphere of teamwork in a safe environment, moving away from constant competition, keeping the team from stress. At the same time, a person should avoid positions for which one is not yet ready, so as not to fall into the trap of incompetence — position should be suitable for achieving maximum success as a manager.
What to do with all these obstacles that stand in the way of modern women in business? Indubitably, women themselves should radically change the situation. At the same time, companies, especially innovative and modern ones, should also act proactively. I do not doubt that in the near-term prospects this activity shall bring companies significant and tangible dividends. Such companies should rely on the development of women and ensure their barrier-free advancement. In essence, businesses need to take responsibility for promoting global cultural change that radically changes modern business and corporate culture.
What exactly should such companies do? I will reveal in the following blog on the example of IT-Integrator. In the meantime, we are working together and plan to break down gender barriers.
Nadiia Omelchenko, Vice-president of IT-Integrator