International Women's Day: Close, but not quite close enough

This is a contributed piece from Kristina Prokop, co-founder of Eyeota


International Women’s Day marks its 26th birthday this year, and there is indeed much to celebrate.

Last year we saw some brilliant strides forward in terms of gender equality: from Shared Parental Leave – allowing parents to take a year off however they like, splitting 37 weeks of statutory parental pay between them – through to the release of Suffragette, which had a female director, producer, screenwriter and largely female crew. Not to mention the boost of female MPs in the 2015 election, jumping from 22% women in the previous election to 29%.

But we’ve still got some way to go.

You do not need to look far to see the evidence: 84% of women working in Silicon Valley were told they were ‘too aggressive’ when they spoke their minds at work. Alongside this, recent research revealed that code written by women had a higher approval rating than men – but only if their gender is not identified. Equally, only 18% of Google’s staff and 16% of Facebook’s staff are women. Yet, it was Ada Lovelace – a woman – who was the first computer programmer.

Businesses could – and should – be doing more to improve equality in the workplace and to even out the disproportionately low amount of female employees, commonly seen across tech and financial services. This will not only benefit society as a whole but, businesses also have a lot to gain from more diverse teams. Case in point: HFR’s Index exploring hedge funds from 2007 to 2015 showed that if the fund was run by women, or women owned, returns bolstered from 37% to 59%. Further support for this claim comes from Peterson Institute's study which revealed a company with 30%  female leaders, could expect to add up to six percentage points to its net margin when compared with an otherwise similar business with no female leaders. Despite this, nearly one-third of companies analysed in the report had no women in either board or top management positions, 60% had no female board members and 50% had no female top executives.

The fact is that progress on gender diversity is still slow. How could businesses be doing more to reduce the gap between men and women in the workplace? There are, to my mind, a number of interlinking factors that could help bring more equality:



Working in a heavily male-dominated tech landscape, I firmly believe that women can hold their ground in the industry, and when we do, we shine. For instance, women are excellent communicators, as shown by the LeFever study which found baby girls are biologically more inclined to understand their parents’ faces and expressions, and, therefore, learn to read expressions much sooner than boys. LeFever stated that this is why perhaps women are better at playing to their audiences’ interests and are subsequently better storytellers and overall communicators. A large part of women shining at the workplace is about having the confidence to claim a seat at the table.


Establish internal benchmarks

Assessing your current recruitment process and seeing whether you have things like internal benchmarks in place ensures you’re hiring gender diverse teams and helps in closing the gap between men and women in the workplace, for example, at Eyeota, more than 50% of our workforce is female. Although this may not work for all organisations, more initiatives such as these should be implemented. Additionally, a better maternity process would increase the number of women in leadership positions. By offering working mothers flexible work options, that do not discriminate financially, but rather reward them for their worth and effort in light of their multiple roles.  


Shared responsibilities

I co-founded Eyeota when I was eight months pregnant, and continue to juggle multiple responsibilities along with many other mums and dads out there. That said – men and women – we still need our partners to share our responsibilities, as women face greater pressure in balancing the needs of their careers and family. In Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg debunks the myth of ‘having it all’ and emphasises that for women to advance professionally, they need partners who are willing to take on at least half of the household and child-rearing responsibilities. What I’ve learnt from my experience is asking for extra help, if needed, from my employer or partner, has enabled me to be the best in any role I’ve taken on.

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to this problem. We’re close, but not quite close enough, so a collective endeavour from men, women and organisations needs to take place in continuing to make leaps towards the goal of a better and equal workplace and society.


Further reading:

Is sexism really worse in tech?

Why do we need more women in IT?

Mimi Thigpen: On being a female CEO

Perspective: A woman in tech in Palestine

South Africa: Being black and female in tech

Spotlight: 5 Cameroonian female techies

Shellye Archambeau: Racism and the road to tech CEO


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