I am a woman, and I work in technology. I am incredibly proud to be able to say that.
Technology is one of the key drivers of social and economic change, and as the CEO of Booking.com I am able to play my part in that. There are women the world over who are making an incredible impact in technology every day, disrupting and transforming businesses, industries and communities.
However, there is still a strong under-representation of women in tech. This needs to change. Not only do we need more women in technology, we also need to see more of these women in leadership roles.
According to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2017, the slow but steady progress on improving parity between the sexes came to a halt this year, with the global gender gap widening for the first time since the report was first published in 2006. Clearly, more must be done to drive the diversity agenda as a whole.
The benefits of addressing the gender gap and encouraging more women to enter into technology are strikingly obvious. According to a report by the European Commission, encouraging more women to take on roles in the digital sector could boost the EU’s GDP by €9 billion a year. What is more, the Credit Suisse Gender 3000 report found that companies with greater board gender diversity show greater stock market returns adjusted for sector bias, as well as higher valuations and payout ratios – indicating a clear business case for empowering women to take on senior management positions and leadership roles.
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To redress the gender imbalance, it is imperative that those at the helms of organisations imbue a working culture that encourages diversity at all levels of the organization. We need to create businesses and organisations that women actually want to work for. In the first instance this means taking into account the challenges and obstacles women face in the workplace, and addressing these through gender-equal HR policies and benefits packages. In my experience, though, it also means creating a culture of confidence. There’s no ability gap, so it is essential that we close the perception that there is one.
The myth and perception is that there aren’t opportunities for women in tech who don’t have a coding or engineering background. Technology companies need women in those roles, but they also need more women across other critical functions, such marketing and finance. More women in non-technical roles can help drive and engage women in technical roles too: diversity extends beyond functional silos.
Like any CEO in the industry, I always feel like my company could be doing more. One of the barriers cited most often by women considering the tech industry is the lack of visible role models. Therefore, as a female tech leader, one of my key responsibilities is to share my story and to support, empower and inspire others.
This is why I have encouraged a number of ongoing and active initiatives where we are trying to make a real difference, and to make the industry a more attractive career choice for talented women.
As a demonstration of our commitment to this cause, we have recently launched a number of Women in Tech initiatives, both within the walls of Booking.com and outside, including the Technology Playmaker awards, which celebrate successful women in the industry. They will recognise, applaud and reward women’s achievements, so they can become a source of inspiration for future generations of women looking to embrace the opportunities the world of technology can offer.
We have also introduced a scholarship programme with two leading European universities – Oxford and Delft TU – and a mentoring programme for women at Web Summit, as well as supporting the aims of the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition of the European Commission.
Other organisations across the technology sector are doing the same. Accenture’s chief leadership and human resources officer recently announced that the company plans to create a 50 percent female workforce by 2025. Currently, just over 35 percent of its employees are women – which shows the level of commitment the company is willing to make. Salesforce has also worked towards the inclusion of women and mothers in the workforce, launching its Supermums programme as a way of supporting working mothers in the sector.
Great strides are being made to close the gender gap, and women in technology are doing brilliant things every day. But to truly make a difference, leaders from across the sector need to come together to champion and promote the industry. By showcasing our female leaders and innovators, we will encourage more companies to think about and embrace gender diversity in technology. Only then will organisations be able to better attract and retain female talent. For reasons beyond the boardroom, gender-diverse workforces are the key to fair, strong and prosperous societies.