Every company is already—or is fast becoming—a technology company. From simply having a website to using a digital payment system, deploying an AI-enabled chatbot or designing a self-driving car, all organizations are engaging with technology. As capabilities grow, many companies have also had to rebalance the skills they need to operate, and the labor market hasn’t been able to keep pace with this demand. As technology has advanced, diversity has retreated.
Despite all the efforts to encourage girls and women to pursue careers in technology, the statistics are still alarming. Accenture analysis shows that while the total number of women in tech roles has increased over the past three decades—from 1.6M to 3.7M—the share of women in tech roles has declined. Shockingly, there was a higher percentage of women tech workers in 1984 (35%) than there is today (32%); women hold just 25% of computing roles across U.S. companies. They leave tech roles at a 45% higher rate than men. And in the largest 1,000 companies, fewer than one in five CIOs or CTOs are women.
The tech industry needs women, and not just to meet the demand for talent. Diverse, inclusive workplaces are 11 times more innovative than non-diverse organizations. And better representation of women in tech will help to ensure that products and services are designed with them in mind. To illustrate why that's important, consider this: The lack of ‘female’ crash test dummies contributes to the fact that women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in car crashes and 17% more likely to die.
At Accenture, we believe a culture reset is needed to change the game for women in tech, with a goal of doubling the number of young women working in the industry by 2030. I connected with some of Accenture’s best female tech talent, including our own CIO, to get their take on what it’s like to be a woman in tech and how companies can foster a culture of inclusion where women—and everyone—can thrive.
Here’s what they had to say:
Close the access gap
In my role as CIO, I am focused on closing any existing digital gender gaps in terms of access, use, and development of technology. This means building digital infrastructures that work for women and increasing women’s digital literacy. It’s also about boosting the participation of women in developing new technologies and creating gender-sensitive ethical guidelines on advanced technologies. This can start at any age; for the last six years, we’ve shone a spotlight on women working in IT from our partnership with the non-profit Girls Who Code. We’ve created a comfortable environment for girls while demonstrating the vast potential of STEM skills and careers.
—Penelope Prett, CIO
The key for me has been a persistent desire to keep learning, don’t be afraid to question anything you don’t understand, and find your own way to make sense of complex topics. Always remember that you deserve that seat in that meeting, you have a voice, and you have the power to inspire real change.
—Henrietta Ridley, Data Science Manager, Applied Intelligence UK
It’s critical to develop your technical skills, but perhaps even more important to approach your work with curiosity. Keep an eye out for projects that genuinely excite and engage you – immersing yourself in work that you’re passionate about makes it that much easier to stand out and advocate for yourself accordingly.
—Mary Hamilton, managing director and Accenture Innovation lead for North and Latin Americas
Make it easy to stay
I took a break in the middle of my 30+ year technology career to be a stay-at-home parent, which gave me invaluable perspective on the big picture and made me a better leader. I am a huge advocate for encouraging both women and men to take parental leave — so it is commonplace, not an exception — and believe it will bring us one step closer to creating an inclusive culture where women will feel more inclined to stay in the workplace.
—Gloria Samuels, senior managing director, Accenture Workday Business Group
It’s so important for companies to create an environment that ensures talented women want to stay or return to the workforce -- and I believe flexible working powered by digital technology enables just that. I spent ten years working a four-day week while my children were young, which helped me balance my professional and personal commitments and define my own career journey.
—Emma McGuigan, senior managing director, Intelligent Platform Services global lead
Embrace the individual
Most important thing about culture is you can’t fake it. It’s not enough to SAY we’re inclusive; we must BE inclusive. A strong culture of inclusion only emerges when employees bring their true self and FEEL valued and supported by the organization.
—Philippa Spork, senior manager, sales and marketing operations services
While a poet at heart, I was attracted to technology early in my career given the impact on our lives and economy. To me it is the great equalizer, opening up white space opportunities that we can all go after. For an organization, investing in diverse leadership and talent at every level and creating a culture that embraces individual needs is key. For a tech career candidate, jump into learning because it never stops, say yes to opportunities (even if you are scared) and trust in your strengths. It’s never been a better time to be a woman in tech!
—Ashley Skyrme, senior managing director, Global Cloud First Strategy & Consulting Lead
Multiply through mentorship
My journey in tech began in high school where I was one of a handful of girls in the computer science class. The numbers did not improve between high school and my Masters class. The fight to increase the number of women in tech begins with increasing the number of female students in tech. The effort needs to be focused and well-funded; the resources need to be readily available; the role models need visible platforms; and the outputs need to be closely monitored and controlled. We need more females to add their fresh perspectives to the world of tech.
—Mpho Zim, manager, Technology Strategy & Advisory
I learnt how to code share one computer with 150 others, in a classroom in Nigeria. My desire to nurture female role models kept me motivated through the times when I felt afraid of rejection. I rode the wave of fear, by constant learning, bagged a PhD in technology management and in the last 2 years, I have personally taught over 1,000 girls how to code. The continuous cycle of female mentors, continuous learning, and giving back will definitely reduce the gender gap in the tech industry. The cloud is ripe with opportunities for all now.
—Dr. Isi Idemudia, AWS solutions architect associate manager, Accenture-AWS Business Group
I love the technology industry and my clients. I am motivated because I believe that what I am doing is right for the world. Most importantly, I had a wonderful female role model who showed me how to lead the way, and now I think it's my turn to show the same attitude to my younger colleagues.
—Hisako Katayama, senior manager, High-Tech
Author: Diana Bersohn
Diana Bersohn is a managing director in Accenture Strategy - Technology. She is a leader in strategy and transformation, specializing in global IT operating models and large-scale business and technology transformations.