Women in STEM: The importance of diversity and inclusivity

A group of 3 diverse women sat at a board table, one of whom is laughing

Written by Kat Stubbings, Head of Projects, UKCloud

At UKCloud we believe in challenging everything, including the way we work. Orthodoxy is not in our vocabulary! We encourage healthy debate, not restricted by a job title, age or gender. We encourage innovation at every level and are committed to giving every single person in our team the opportunity to contribute. Our success is based on innovation and pushing those boundaries.

As a company, we are dedicated to diversity in the workplace, and are proud to accredit part of our success to the committed highly skilled women in STEM across our organisation. 15% of UKCloud’s workforce are female. We’re driving towards increasing that percentage particularly through work in our undergraduate placement programme and those in their early careers.

There are, however, a number of challenges to overcome in this space, both environmental and psychological. As a responsible employer, UKCloud has adapted its recruitment style, on-boarding process and employee support schemes to support our company growth plans and attract the next generation of UK digital talent. We lead, not follow, so innovation is naturally at the core of what we do.

A diverse workforce helps us rise to that challenge.

Awareness and employer responsibility

The tech industry has been a male domain for decades and although the diversity picture is improving there is still some way to go. Actual barriers to entry to the industry are lowering but all employers and employees should have an awareness of other challenges that may prevent women from entering into, and being successful in a STEM role. Awareness of issues such as “gender stereotyping” which can make women frightened to push boundaries and make mistakes for fear of further contributing to a women don’t have a place in tech mindset and understanding the importance of female role models is paramount.

This issue isn’t something we can face and combat alone, there is a need for employers to take responsibility and introduce positive change. Just like UKCloud are doing with their increased intake of women, and their dedication to ensuring that they are rewarded for their passion, dedication and experience regardless of gender. Simple things like the language used in job descriptions can attract both genders, rather than just one. The action is not one of positive discrimination but of inclusivity.

Above all, employers need to stop just talking about it and instead be proactive in making change.

The importance of double consciousness awareness

Double consciousness is a term describing the internal conflict experienced by subordinated groups in an oppressive society. It was coined by W. E. B. Du Bois with reference to African American “double consciousness,” including his own.

The term originally referred to the psychological challenge of “always looking at one’s self through the eyes” of a racist white society, and “measuring oneself by the means of a nation that looked back in contempt”. It’s now common usage is much wider and can and has been applied to numerous situations of social inequality.

I think it can be taken even more simply than that and read as perceiving yourself through the gaze of others. Overall, women are generally more emotionally empathic than men i.e. feeling what the other person feels, so women more readily fall into an awareness of double consciousness. Awareness of this even as a concept is helpful in itself. In practical application, understanding how another may feel about us or perceive us is incredibly useful. We can accentuate elements of our experience or background and dull others to help form relationships and build understanding of each other. The key here is remaining authentic to you and your beliefs and values. In an environment where you may be underrepresented as a woman it’s not about suppressing what makes you you to fit in or standardise, it’s about finding common ground but realising the value in your differences.

Establishing your normal

Establishing a new normal is essential for both organisations, and individuals themselves. It is normal for women to be in technical roles, to be high achievers and work within a role that they feel passionate about to be respected for the value they bring.

But to establish this normal, changes need to be made and sometimes it is a focus on self and the small things that can be done that can assist in kickstarting these changes and creating a better workplace for yourself and others around you. Look to become more direct. It can be the simplest of things like being the only woman in the room or the youngest or the most junior and being asked to take minutes. It may be appropriate, or it may not be. Approach things with an open mind but know your worth.

It’s also not normal nor does it need to be accepted to have conversations in the office based upon someone’s looks or political beliefs. How do you make that not normal? You stop it every time. We all have a responsibility to do that. Practically it can be as simple and as shut down as “that’s not interesting or funny” or by not engaging and encouraging others not to engage either. The situation will dictate the appropriate response.

It’s about speaking up. Much has been said about the gender pay gap but little about the “say” gap. We all have a responsibility to encourage women to speak up, to cement the fact that women make a valuable contribution across their teams and in the wider organisation. Think about it in the next meeting you’re in. Watch for how the discussion moves around the group and be aware if a female member of the team is spoken over or ignored. Step in and call it out. Simplicity here is key. Saying things like “hang on, x person had a point there. Did we miss that?” can make all the difference.

Above all, diversity is of limited value without inclusivity. Every individual has a valid contribution regardless of gender, ethnicity, education, background and on. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you know or where you come from, “What matters is what you believe in” – Pascal Soriot, CEO Astra Zenica

This article was originally published here.


More Thought Leadership

Comments are closed.