Women of Silicon Roundabout
July 4, 2019
The Women of Silicon Roundabout conference took place on the 25th and 26th of June. It’s a conference generally aimed at women in tech, which features a variety of talks both about technology as well as broader topics such as diversity and inclusion. Unfortunately I had to miss the first day because I was ill, but managed to make it to the second. It was incredibly heartening to see that there are so many women in the tech sector, and that there are lots of people out there who are motivated to trying to improve its diversity.
Whilst there I heard a couple of interesting technical talks - how AI can help the insurance business, and how deep learning works. However, my favourite session of the day was “Why are women leaving technology jobs?”. It wasn’t a lecture but a discussion about this phenomenon, and what people are doing to try and support women to stay in their roles. Here are a few insights as to why this happens, and what can be done to stop it
- Women often end up doing the “glue-work”. "Glue-work” refers to the tasks in the office that aren’t part of any job description, but without which everything would fall apart. From writing documentation and enabling good communication between teams, to buying the birthday cakes and organising social events. See Tanya Reilly’s amazing talk about this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cr2Yn_MrKg. This work often goes unrecognised both at a day to day level, and when it comes to promotion time. It can lead to exhaustion and frustration for the people who do it, and so they end up leaving.
- Women tend to receive different kind of feedback in reviews from men. When women receive feedback, sometimes their personalities are commented on rather than their work. One women shared her experience of this in which she was told that she was “kind” but she should behave “more aggressively”. In fact I’ve heard similar stories from my female friends who work in different sectors. This can be discouraging and lead to women feeling that they are not respected members of the team.
- The classic - maternity and paternity leave. It’s a well-known issue, but it seems it’s still not being sufficiently addressed. There are several facets to this. Women’s maternity leave (though often not enough) is usually more than their partner’s and so they end up having to take the time off. If they take off a lot of time, they can feel under confident coming back to work, and so can come in at a lower level from that which they originally left.
Some of the problems above have clear solutions (e.g. equal and good maternity and paternity pay). But here are some ideas that I at least had never thought about to promote inclusion in the workplace.
- Find other people to shout your successes. Women tend to be less vocal about their achievements and so go unrecognised. If you don’t feel confident about letting people in your team know when you’ve done well, find a buddy who will do it for you. And then return the favour!
- Reverse mentoring. This phrase can be used in a technical sense to refer to senior executives being mentored by younger employees about technology or social media. But it can also be used to refer to diversity. Have female or BAME colleagues mentor male or white colleagues, sharing their experiences. Go for a coffee once a month, or do some shadowing. People may be unaware of how excluding the workplace can be, and can only make suitable changes if they know what the problems are.
- Drop the glue work. This is maybe a last resort (as Reilly says in the video mentioned above) but if you find yourself doing a lot of glue work and not being recognised, stop doing it. Things probably will fall apart, and it will be very hard to stop and watch things fall apart. But you’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favours by taking on all the responsibilities. Others need to share your knowledge, and you need to ensure you don’t exhaust yourself and that you’re getting the most out of your career.
These are just some ideas that came out of this workshop, and hopefully do not reflect everyone’s experiences. I find these kinds of discussions very useful for starting to think about inclusion and reflecting on my own behaviour. It has also inspired me to get the conversation going in Unboxed, and think about how we might make it an even better place for everyone to work.