Putting gender equality at the heart of SMEs

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Sharon Jay
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Over the coming months, Sharon Jay, co-owner of Five Mile and Karolina Brongiel, account manager at miggle will be working collaboratively to explore the experiences of two non-tech women working in tech.

As a starting point we believe it’s important that as small agencies, we not only highlight the positives of sharing our experiences and learn from each other, but also we can show how other SMEs can evolve and build the right culture to create strong businesses. 

Supported by the digital agencies they are part of, Sharon and Karolina will address the same topic for each blog they write. Sometimes personal. Sometimes pragmatic. But always uncovering interesting perspectives, while also highlighting the general trends and issues many women face in work.

In her first blog, Sharon explores the topic “putting gender equality at heart of SMEs”.

The tech industry is known for its male dominated culture. That’s nothing new. But it’s not just up to women to build a world where gender equality ‘is equality for all’. Everyone needs to be involved. The crusade to make things better is a constant drawn-out struggle that both women and men are part of.

In the tech world, the figures, while improving, are still pretty woeful:

Standing on the shoulders of (female) tech giants

Despite women’s role within computer sciences, increasing gender diversity is an on-going struggle for many tech companies. Yet we have history on our side: Ada Lovelace in the 19th century is often regarded as the first computer programmer.

Then there's “ENIAC Six” — Jean Jennings Bartik, Betty Snyder Holberton, Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Frances Bilas Spence and Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum- female programmers who created programmes for one of the worlds first fully electronic general purpose computers. And of course we can't forget Grace Hopper, American computer scientist and United States Navy Rear Admiral. In short, women have been instrumental to the tech revolution since it began.  

It’s not that women aren’t interested in tech. It’s that we haven’t cracked how to make the tech world relevant - and inclusive - to us as well as men. We also have an on-going demand to find talented people, but as it stands half of the available talent market is being missed.

A very complex issue, as owner of a digital agency, I’ve met some highly skilled and experienced women in tech, mainly within digital strategy, design, project management and marketing positions. And while this is great, I can count the number of female developers I’ve met on one hand.

Despite the building of amazing things and in some areas the development of inclusive tech cultures events like TechCrunch’s 2013 Disrupt Hackathon doesn’t help the progression. Organisers allowed developers to showcase an app that lets you stare at women’s breasts. Some of the male developer reaction failed to miss the point  - incidents like this showcase that areas within the tech industry continue to struggle with sexism.

Fall out of TitStare Tech Crunch app

Change the culture. Change the world

Cultures can, but more crucially, must be changed. To improve the balance we need to look at our own behaviours and consider what gender equality really looks like within our own companies as SMEs.

There are numerous paths we could go down but if we are not committing resources to resolve the problem then we have to question if we are really prepared to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

As a woman working in tech and as a small agency owner, I know that I must - and can - do more. We need to share our experiences, talk about what we need do, and why, to start creating opportunities. Good intentions won’t shift the balance. Real tangible action will.

So, here are my personal starting points for Five Mile:

  • Improve our hiring practices and seek external help with writing job descriptions - though inclusive we need to ensure that this is our message

  • Commitment of resources to address the problem including time, budget and interventions to encourage more women into tech roles - being a small agency with limited resources is not a barrier

  • Implementation of flexible work approaches including job shares - it’s a common take that the long-hours culture of tech prevents mums from applying for positions

  • Experiment and keep trying to improve the balance - there’s much more we can do through engagement, performance and innovation

I’m keen to hear from other agencies - men and women - on your experiences. There over five million small businesses in the UK and as SME’s we cannot ignore the role we play in tackling gender inequality. Together we can make a difference. If we’re willing and able to make it more than just lip service.

Like this? Then read Karolina Brongiel’s interpretation of this topic in her first collaborative blog

About Sharon:

I help identify and develop ideas and approaches to ensure that Five Mile continues to grow as a strong and ambitious digital agency passionate about user experience, open-source technology, community and culture. At Five Mile I take pride in ensuring that our talented and expert team deliver great digital experiences, create happy users and ultimately help businesses thrive.

@fivemile