Fri, 8 Mar 2013, 15:13
Women in business – miles to go before we sleep?
Today is International Women’s Day (IWD) – a time for women from all over the world to collectively celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. The event has been running since the early 1900s, at a time when women were experiencing great cultural, political and social adjustments. As we look to celebrate in 2013, a hundred years on, it’s fair to say that there have been further monumental changes, a significant one being the role of women in business.
Moonfruit co-founder and CEO Wendy Tan White was invited to numerous events to celebrate IWD, including joining Nick Clegg and a number of other leading businesswomen to open trading on the London Stock Exchange for the Women Inspiration and Enterprise ‘Power Breakfast’, as well as a round-table talk at The Guardian newspaper for an enlightening debate on women in business and technology. Stories of success and struggle, the empowerment of learning to code and childcare economics were among the topics shared. So what’s it like to be a woman in the tech world?
In the past few years, there has been an increase in the number of women in high-profile, high-visibility roles with some of the world’s biggest technology companies - Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, Marissa Mayer at Yahoo and Tami Reller at Microsoft. This is an exciting and inspiring time for women in the tech business, but the fact remains that it is still a largely male-dominated industry. According to research published by eSkills UK in October 2011, women made up 59% of the UK labour force but accounted for just 17% of IT and telecom professionals.
So could 2013 be an ideal time for women to take the lead in the technology industry? Wendy points out in her London Loves Business November 2012 article: “The question in 2013 will be how many other tech businesses, particularly those with a large and agile female customer base, will see women business leaders coming through at C-suite level. The scene has been set in the VC business, with the rise in women-run funds, such as Starvest Partners, DBL Ventures, Women’s Venture Capital Fund, Belle ventures and Cynthia Padnos’s Illuminate Ventures. However let’s be clear, they are not opportunists and would not be investing in female founders and female-led markets unless there was a return to be made.”
Anna, one of Moonfruit’s female product managers comments: “It does still surprise me that there aren’t that many female developers and tech architects. However, I think this is a legacy from the education system and the subjects women have traditionally chosen.”
Moves to make science and technology subjects more appealing to girls at schools and universities could redress this imbalance. Wendy has long been involved in the ‘Silicon Valley Comes to the UK’ initiative, which has seen her speak at a number of schools to encourage girls to consider a career in these areas. Similarly, the ‘Entrepreneurial Night for the Girls Middle School’ in California, founded by tech entrepreneur Kathleen Bennett, encourages young girls to study entrepreneurship, science and technology.
One of the main issues facing women in all areas of business is balancing work, family and lifestyle commitments. Juli, a member of Moonfruit’s support team recalls, “I have been in a situation in a previous company where I was as qualified, as motivated and successful as a fellow internal candidate for a promotion. I was told in no uncertain terms, that I missed out on the promotion as my age, and relationship status made it probable that while in the role, I would at some point take maternity leave.”
Initiatives such as the recently proposed government changes to introduce shared parental leave in the UK could help to relieve this issue by giving parents flexibility and choice in sharing the care of a young child. Employers would also benefit by retaining the talented women at their companies.
Technological advances such as video-conferencing, along with the growing trend for working remotely, should provide further flexibility and opportunities for women to continue working when they have young children. However, some may argue that nothing compares to physically being in the office - Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer, for example, recently made the decision to ban working from home in order to increase efficiency in the company.
Geetha, one of our Moonfruit's quality engineers suggested that we title this post: “Miles to go before we sleep” - a variation on the final line from Robert Frost’s poem ‘Stopping by woods on a snowy evening’. Women over the world can probably relate to this line; some of you may even think of it literally, with the long days (and nights) that come with having children. But it can also be seen as a metaphor for our work around equality and freedom – we've come a long way since the 1900s: the gap between male and female wages is smaller than it has ever been - the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found that the average pay gap stands at £10,060, a drop from 2009, when the difference was £11,206. As we can see, the gap is slowly closing, but in reality there shouldn’t be a gap at all – many miles to go before we sleep.
Different cultures, further to go
In our western culture, we're moving towards a model under which men and women are increasingly collaborating, working in balanced partnerships, both at home and in the workplace. This cannot however be said for all countries and cultures. Geetha shares how in India, there are still equality hurdles that women face, namely that they are still expected to take sole responsibility for every aspect of home life.
Here she outlines a typical day for a working woman in a traditional family in India:
5:30am Get up and clean the home
6:00am Start cooking food for tea, breakfast (not cereal or toast) and lunch and pack the food.
7:00am Wake up the family (most husbands need coffee in bed).
7:30am Get the kids ready for school and husband to work.
8:00 am Feed the kids, serve food to family.
8:30am Drop the kids at school. (If she is working she will be running to work).
6:30pm Return from work.
6:45pm Make the kids to do their homework. (Indian schools give homework daily).
7:30pm Prepare the dinner for the family.
8:30pm Feed the kids, serve food to family.
9:30pm Eat own dinner.
9:45pm Clean the kitchen.
10:30pm Go to bed.
So it seems we still have miles to go before we reach equality for women worldwide, but it's something we all can strive to achieve.
One thought from Wendy: 'Be generous to the women around you. Our mothers and grandmothers fought for us to have the right to choose how we care for our children, choose how we work and also choose not to work. Let's celebrate all our choices. Take an action this week to support a woman in your life.'
What's your view? Does your experience differ from the experiences above? Let us know by commenting below.