Women in tech

Mastering tech and nurturing talent are key to the survival of newsrooms but women currently only make up a small proportion of tech roles.

Speaking at an online event held by Journalism.co.uk today, Kajsa Norell, a manager at Swedish Radio, summed up why that is a problem: "Tech will be an integral part of the future for all of us, and we have to make sure women are there. It’s a democratic issue, and we also have to make sure that tech suits our needs."

So what needs to be done to make progress? Here are five takeaways from the discussion that you can watch in full here.

Be aware of gender issues

Even supportive managers have blind spots and it is worth taking time to think about how an organisation or industry’s practices might affect women and other under-represented groups.

Managers need to be actively on the lookout for men speaking over women colleagues, for example, as well as microaggressions and other patterns that make women feel ostracised at work but which many women will not deem serious enough to report. They should also be more receptive when women do raise issues they are facing.

"It is often not blatant sexism that holds us back, but these smaller things that you just won’t be attuned to if you’re not the target," noted Heather Landy, executive editor at Quartz and the editor of Quartz At Work.

Then there is the question of pay and opportunities: women are less likely to ask for a pay rise or promotion than male colleagues.

Anna Vissens, who leads a team of data scientists at The Guardian with a roughly 50:50 gender split, said that she tries to start conversations about a pay rise, promotion or other opportunities for people on her team rather than wait for them to bring up these issues.

These are small changes that can have a big impact but will only happen if managers are aware of the ways gender inequality can come into play at work.

Operational changes

Having made an effort to notice how company policies might negatively affect women, the next step is to change those systems where possible.

Landy recalled being responsible for weekend and holiday scheduling, with the latter run on a volunteer basis. At some point, she noticed that only women had volunteered. So she told staff she would only accept men as volunteers for a few months and later changed the system so that holiday shifts were assigned automatically.

This example highlights another well-documented trend, that women will often step up to take on duties outside their usual work, whether it is extra shifts at inconvenient times, administrative tasks, or emotional labour.

Norell noted that as well as ensuring that emotional labour is shared equally between men and women on a team, it is also important to value that work, for example, if someone spends time checking in with how their colleagues are doing.

Allies and advocates

Norell added that although she had not experienced much "blatant sexism" during her career, she noticed inequality playing out in other ways.

"It’s more about subtle signals, being told ‘maybe you should go in this direction instead’. In my career I have had people, including men, who were important in pushing me in the right direction," she said.

"Women working in these areas [journalism and tech] are used to working really hard – but sometimes you do need doors to be opened."

Women interested in a tech career could benefit from proactively approaching people already working in the industry, while managers can make connections and introductions to support their women colleagues, as well as ensuring their staff feel supported in taking a forward step.

Make the business case

If gender equality is something an organisation pays lip service to but does not proactively address, it may be worth making the business case to increase the sense of urgency.

Norell said: "There is data on the fact that AI teams that are not diverse make AI with problems. It’s not just about being ‘nice’ or about tokenism, it's about making better products."

While women bring more to the table than just their gender, this kind of framing may help a manager realise that gender inequality is a problem that will affect the final product.

Structural support

One point raised by several attendees was that women’s ability to participate in the workforce is often affected by policies at the national level, in particular maternity leave and childcare.

The situation is different in each country so it is hard to give universal advice. Sweden, for instance, offers generous maternity leave (subsidised by the state rather than individual employers, and offered equally to men and women, though women still take the majority) while the USA has no guaranteed parental leave, and in the UK the offer varies between employers while childcare costs are among the highest in Europe.

An individual manager does not have the ability to tackle gender bias at a societal level but there may be ways they can support colleagues affected by this bias.

Examples raised during the event included reviewing whether jobs could be adjusted to involve less travel (since women disproportionately take on care responsibilities), providing flexibility, and reviewing benefits packages.

Practical tips for women in tech

While the advice above outlines how organisations and managers can support their women colleagues, there are steps individuals can take to set themselves up for a tech role in (or out of) the newsroom. Here are some of the suggestions from our speakers:

   •   Take courses, such as Google’s free online courses, Codecademy as an introduction to coding, or a MOOC from a university

   •   Contact people in tech roles and ask them questions about how they got there

   •   Make a plan for your career and start taking actions

   •   If you get an opportunity, do not say ‘no’ straight away. If you think you could do it but would need some tweaks in the job description, ask for them

You can watch a recording of the event here. Sign up to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter to be informed about future events. Thanks to United Robots, whose support allowed us to produce this event for our community for free.

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