Empowering Women in Tech: Overcoming Barriers

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The technology industry is one of the fastest-growing and most innovative sectors in the world. However, it is also one of the most male-dominated. Women make up just 25% of the workforce in tech, and even fewer hold leadership positions. This lack of gender diversity not only limits the pool of talent available to the industry, but it also perpetuates stereotypes and bias that can make it difficult for women to succeed in the field.

What are the biggest challenges women face in tech?

EDUCATION: It seems to start at school. Despite a big push in the last 10 years to get girls and young women to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects at a higher level, data collected by WISE shows that in 2018, only 9% of female graduates studied a core STEM subject. Those numbers are shockingly low, and that trend continues on into the workplace. Women make up only 17% of IT specialists in the UK and the number of women in the tech sector has barely shifted over the last 10 years. Only 14% of UK VR companies have female directors.

PAY GAP: Women in tech often face difficulties surrounding the gender pay gap. Studies have shown that women in tech are paid less than men, even when they have the same qualifications and experience. This is often a result of unconscious bias, where women are perceived as less competent or ambitious than men.

#METOO: Another common problem that women in tech face is sexual harassment. The #MeToo movement has brought attention to the prevalence of harassment and discrimination in the tech industry. To combat this issue, companies can implement strict policies against harassment and discrimination and ensure that there are mechanisms in place for employees to report incidents.

PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITES: Parental leave policies are also crucial for women in tech, as they often have to take time off to care for children. This can put them at a disadvantage when it comes to career advancement. To support working mothers, companies can offer generous parental leave policies and flexible work arrangements.

Women have proven time and time again that their intellect can match, if not excel, male counterparts, that their input within the world of technology and STEM topics is priceless – just take these women at NASA. But more often than not, working arrangements can cause another hurdle for them to overcome. Many great minds are also often mothers, but that’s not to say they can’t change the world and have the answers to the unsolved riddle whilst balancing a baby at home – they just need space and flexibility to do so.

Why do women need to be involved with tech?

PRODUCT DESIGN: Technology is designed to be scaled to large populations, but functionalities, designs and uses are predominantly based on a man’s physical structure. Did you know mobile phones are based on a man’s hand-span meaning women are more likely to suffer with repetitive strain injuries as they’re often over stretching across the screen? That car seats and headrests are shaped around a man’s physique, leading to more fatal female car crashes because women are not as protected as a man would be? And those are just a few examples. Now imagine a woman was part of those discussions, how different could these designs be? What innovative ideas could have been created that were safe for both men and women? 

And what about VR headsets, engineered for male-shaped heads? Big, clunky pieces of kit. They may be designed to suit the tech inside but it’s also fairly convenient that such a product has gone to market once male consumers are happy it works. If this was a product with women in mind, and they heard the complaints of pain and discomfort when using a VR headset, would it have gone to market so easily? The idea of VR glasses can’t come soon enough, not because of the sophistication, but because they’re likely to be a product that suits female body types.

REPRESENTATION: Gendered representations are another area perpetuating issues within the conversation of women in the tech industry. Take tech right now, when you think of VR what do you think of? Gaming? Male focused, right? Even terminology has recently been debated as too male focused. The scientific background of technology is understandable but as argued by many, more can be done to make the tech industry more inclusive. To make it a comfortable environment for all to explore and have opportunities to collaborate with a much wider vocabulary. It’s ok to talk about the emotive focus technology can bring, it’s ‘magical’ element that restores and transforms. It’s practical use that can save lives, can bring households together and empower societies. This type of communication, in partnership with scientific terms, can help us to explore what can really be a game-changer for all.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

So what exactly can be done about issues that remain? First and foremost, it is important for companies in the tech industry to prioritize diversity and inclusivity. This means actively seeking out and hiring women for technical roles and leadership positions, and creating a workplace culture that values and supports women.

It is also crucial for men in the tech industry to be allies and advocates for women. Men who hold leadership roles can use their influence to create opportunities for women and challenge bias and discrimination in the workplace. Men can also take an active role in mentoring and supporting women in their careers.

Finally, it is important for women to advocate for themselves and each other. Women can support each other by sharing their experiences and providing mentorship and networking opportunities. By coming together and speaking out against prejudice and bias, women in tech can work towards breaking the glass ceiling and creating a more inclusive industry for everyone.

Women in VR to Watch

Of the small percentage of women in tech, some are doing incredibly well and are quite frankly storming ahead. Take a look at some of these women and what they’re up to.

Sarah Hill and Healium
VR can sound slick, futuristic and fantastical, but it’s a powerful tool with many applications that can be used to achieve a lot of good. Sarah Hill, who has suffered with debilitating anxiety, realised that through a VR headset, popular and effective neurofeedback treatments for anxiety could be recreated and made more accessible. Healium helps people improve their focus, sleep, and human performance through virtual and augmented reality.

Carrie Shaw and Embodied Labs
Alzeimhers and Dementia are on the rise and if you’ve ever cared for someone with Alzeimhers or Dementia, you’ll understand what drove Carrie Shaw to create Embodied Labs. Embodied Labs gives caregivers the opportunity to step into the shoes of the person you’re caring for. It gives people the chance to experience what having macular degeneration, hearing loss and other chronic conditions feels like. Having these experiences develops a felt empathic understanding that then enriches the quality of care being given. VR can serve as a reference for caregivers to better understand their patient.

Morgan Mercer and Vantage Point
Empathy was the driver for Morgan Mercer to create Vantage Point, a company that offers workplace and diversity training through the medium of VR. As a bi-racial woman, Morgan believed that colleagues and peers would have more empathy for her experiences in the workplace if they could walk a mile in her shoes. Through VR she has made that happen. Vantage Point places the user into situations where they can confront their biases, prejudices and beliefs. It’s difficult to imagine that training being carried out in any other way, especially when you add in the time and cost factor. It’s an incredible training opportunity.

Isabel Va De Keere and Immersive Rehab
Rehab can be boring and isolating, but thanks to Dr Isabel Van De Keere, it no longer has to be. After suffering an accident that made her immobile for a long period, Immersive Rehab was founded.The company creates immersive VR programs to help improve patients’ recovery. Rehab is often about redeveloping motor skills and building strength, but moving your leg up and down 25 times a day can be very unengaging! This is because your brain is not able to link your movements to anything. Consequently, undergoing rehab in a VR world, can be much more engaging and effective as you are able to move virtual objects around you which feels very real.

What are circus doing to play our part?

Thanks to the current virtual revolution, women in tech, including areas of VR, are slowly having more opportunities to bring new ideas, new perspectives and intellect to vital stages of development. More companies are looking at improving staff benefits: instead of offering free table tennis games at lunch, they are focusing on flexible working, part time options, higher pensions and wider healthcare provision – things that really matter. Bosses are recognising the need to diversify their teams and the importance of wellbeing, two areas that provide space for women to join the conversation. So long as there is fair opportunity for women to progress in this industry and they feel comfortable doing so, there’s no reason why the 14% female UK VR directors won’t become 50% in the near future.

Here at CIRCUS we recognise that gender diversity in the tech industry is essential for the continued growth and innovation of the sector. That by implementing initiatives to advance women in tech, companies can tap into a wider pool of talent, and create a more inclusive and equitable work environment. By overcoming barriers such as lack of representation, pay gap, harassment, and inadequate parental leave policies, we can empower women in tech to reach their full potential. That’s why we’re a team of predominantly working-parents, with a high proportion of women leading strategy and laying fundamental foundations as well as out in the field. We also communicate openly and creatively, creating safe environments for clients and staff to enjoy without intimidation through techy-jargon, without gender barriers. We also create a flexible working arrangements that is fair to all and maintain a virtual office environment, allowing our staff to focus on what they do best and to illuminate stresses often found with gender bias.

We believe in a brighter future that is fair for all.

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