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It’s Time for a New Approach for Women in Tech

Why does this keep on happening?

That was the subject of e27 Daily Digest that was disseminated to our community in November 2021, right after we published our coverage of sexual harassment cases in the Southeast Asian tech startup ecosystem. The subject was chosen by the content team due to the fact that these issues seem to happen over and over again. Despite the fact that the mainstream media no longer pay great attention to the #MeToo movement anymore. Despite the fact that survivors keep on speaking up.

During that period, our friends in Tech In Asia also published a similar coverage on the issue, sending an even stronger message to the ecosystem that this is far from over.

We entered the 21st century with the hope that our society has progressed way beyond how it was hundreds of years ago. But we were appalled to discover that some things remain the same; despite progress here and there, the minorities continue to face barriers in developing their true potentials and achieving success. Issues such as sexual harassment and unequal pay continue to haunt the workplace, inside and outside the tech startup ecosystem.

Certainly, each issue is unique and requires its own unique approach. But when we look at how issues faced by women in tech is being narrated, we might suspect that perhaps we are going nowhere because we have been using the wrong approach so far.

The problem

Analytics Insight provides a handy list of challenges faced by women in tech today, and equal opportunities come out on top.

Also Read: A woman among women: 27 female-led startups in SEA that are going places

“Just like any other industry, gender biases are permeated in the technology sector as well. This is very obvious with how the tech world is referred to as male-dominated. The survey by JobsforHer observed that 82 per cent of the women working in tech feel unheard in their jobs. With already existing gender biases that women are fighting daily, this unconscious bias impedes females from enhancing their skills and experience,” the article writes.

When it comes to dealing with the problem of unequal opportunities, the narrative that has been going around the tech ecosystem –in SEA and other major hubs such as Silicon Valley– tend to put heavy emphasis on the individual’s contribution to this problem. For example, if a woman developer receives a lower salary than her male peers, despite having the exact same level of competency, then it must be because the woman does not negotiate for a better salary.

There is rarely an emphasis on the failure of the system that leads to this issue in the first place.

This narrative becomes even more popular with the publication of books such as Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead –perhaps one of the most popular works for the topic of women in business, including tech.

Personally, I have read the book and found merits in it. But I will not deny that there are also many points that are problematic in it, particularly its emphasis on women’s lack of ‘leaning in’ as the cause of their problems.

As women, we may have been conditioned to be polite and put other people first, and this may lead us to become reluctant to speak up for ourselves. But if we think that this is the only reason why women are not making progress in the workplace, then we are missing out on a very important point.

It is all about the framework

The International Labour Organization (ILO), together with the Australian Government and Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo), released a practical guideline for employers to promote equality and prevent discrimination at work in Indonesia. Despite the local context, I found that the steps detailed in the guideline can be relevant for other markets.

In promoting equality and preventing discrimination, the guideline puts emphasis on the active role that employers play. From the details, we can see that this is a process that goes from the top to the bottom; leaders need to take initiative to review how diversity and inclusion are being practised in their organisation and identify issues. Only then that they can figure out the best policy and implement it for their team members.

Also Read: Levelling the playing field: How to build a home for women in tech

As you can see here, we are moving beyond motivating the individuals to lean in here. Instead, we are doing creating an environment and a system that ensures equal opportunities.

We can keep on telling women to lean in, but if there is no legal framework to back what they are fighting for, everything will be pointless. You can send young women to workshops to teach them negotiation skills, but if there is no policy that supports equal pay for all sexes, then we are not going anywhere.

What this means for business

This means you have to do something. (Duh! What did I write these paragraphs for?)

It is easy to dismiss International Women’s Day as a ceremonial feat when we spend the whole month of March talking about women’s issues –writing about high-profile CEOs, providing discounts for women– but fail to implement concrete steps throughout the year to ensure equal opportunities. This means the event should be momentum for leaders to start reviewing how equal opportunities are provided in their organisation, see where they can make improvements, and set up the framework to make sure its implementation. This is never an easy process; in fact, it requires an investment of time and resources.

Sometimes –often– it would be easier to just focus our effort into a single momentum. Instead of investing time and resources to make slow but real, impactful changes.

Also Read: In March, we celebrated women in tech and returned to Myanmar

But let us go back to the opening paragraph of this op-ed and ask ourselves: how long do we want these things to keep on happening?

That way, hopefully, we will be inspired to choose between what is easy and what is right.

Image Credit: mkitina4

This article was first published on March 1, 2022.

The post Women in tech have leaned in enough. This is what we should do instead appeared first on e27.

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