More than words: Are Women To Blame?

Are women to blame for inequality?

Women have been fighting for over 100 years for the right to be equal to men. As far back as 1903 a movement was started in the UK named suffragettes and categorised as “civil disobedience”, fighting for the right to vote alongside men. Their cry was “Deeds Not Words”. It took 25 years of militant campaigning to change the law.

OK, so shoot forward 91 years to 2019 and this is where we are*:

  • Women earn 85c to every man’s $1
  • Women retire with just over half the superannuation balance of men (58%), that’s $113,660 less
  • Women spend almost twice as many hours performing unpaid care work as men each day (64.4% of women’s work day vs 36.1% of men’s workday)
  • 1 in 2 mothers experience workplace discrimination as a result of their pregnancy, parental leave, or on return to work
  • 1 in 2 women has experienced sexual harassment
  • 1 in 3 women has experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15
  • 1 in 5 women has experienced violence by a partner since the age of 15

With all the fighting and campaigning for equality, how is it that equality remains elusive?

In addition to the above, some of the most worrying stats of today show that far too few women are found in key roles that have a significant influence on future innovation, like software development and technology leadership. In fact, research shows that the technology the world uses today is being created by a relatively homogeneous group of people, despite widespread and much-evidenced knowledge of the critical benefits diversity brings to innovation, problem-solving and creativity.

In the wake of viral campaigns like #metoo, #timesup, and #heforshe, there’s been a flood of activity by companies taking up the Diversity & Inclusion mantle, many amplifying impressively enhanced female-friendly policies. But even these plus fabulous kitchens stocked with yummy treats, dog-friendly offices, weekly yoga and barista’d Ugandan coffee can’t make up for everyday sexism, boys club culture and being overlooked for promotions. And it’s these challenges that are faced by women working in tech jobs today.

In recent weeks we’ve read about yet another young woman murdered in an Australian park and the synonymous diatribe on what ‘women need to do’ to prevent these things happening to them. Then at a women-in-STEM event, I attended recently two of the panellists were leaders of global technology companies as well as members of Liz Broderick’s Male Champions Of Change movement, which I have always been deeply inspired by. One of these panellists advised that women needed to “dial down the modesty and dial up the confidence” in order to get on. The other agreed and one of the female leaders on the panel also insisted women must empower themselves and exhibit strength and confidence, as she had done if they want to progress.

This message worries me. So we tell women who have been attacked that they brought it on themselves with what they wore or how they behaved. We tell tech women who got overlooked for promotion or being hired that they brought it on themselves by being modest or not speaking up enough.

Research shows women who do speak up are reviewed negatively for doing so. According to a study by the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, women receive 2.5 times more feedback than men about “aggressive” communication styles.

If we genuinely want women to participate in how our world evolves, if we value women’s perspectives equally to men’s, if we recognise the value of women in fostering creativity, problem-solving and innovation, why are we still looking to women to change who they are?

The facts evidenced in the cold hard data are that women working in technology roles do not experience work in the same way as women in other roles like HR, marketing and finance. Much like those in Parliament, sports and media, women in technology careers value pay equity, career advancement and belonging above parental leave and other family-specific benefits**. They want to be treated like their male counterparts, with the same pay, the same opportunity and the same respect. You could say this is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs re-wired for the fundamentals of women working in these unique environments.
It’s time to get better at this, considering all the campaigning in the last 100 or so years, we really ought to be further along than we are. I’m calling on all leaders who genuinely care, and there are plenty that do, to take action to move the needle. Like the suffragettes said “deeds not words”.

*Source: Australian Human Rights Commission
**Source: 2018 survey by Project F of 1200+ women in tech

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