Editor's note: This article originally appeared on the Zscaler blog.
International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month commemorate the progress women have made toward equality and raising awareness of the need for continued progress. We’ve achieved some fantastic milestones this past year and have a lot to celebrate.
Dina Boluarte was elected the first woman president of Peru, Ada Limón was named the first Latina Poet Laureate, and Janet Yellen is the first female Secretary of Treasury to have her signature on the U.S. dollar bill, just to name some highlights. These events served as much-needed examples of representation, helping other women and girls see themselves in leadership positions.
I also like to take this time each year to reflect on my own experience as a woman in technology. I’ve had incredible opportunities to advance my career and learn from outstanding peers, but it was never easy. Some challenges are unavoidable, but others we must tackle head-on for those who will come after us. As a mother, I work daily to ensure that my three daughters inherit a more equitable and just world than we live in today.
Examining where society falls short is critical to continued growth and progress. We must call out gaps in gender parity and opportunities for improvement wherever they exist. In 2022, I joined my Zscaler colleagues in calls to #BreakTheBias. In 2023, we ask the world to truly #EmbraceEquity.
Equity takes us a step further than equality
The International Women’s Day (IWD) community has chosen the theme of equity as a focus this year. The distinction is critical to understanding how to correct the current disparity.
“Equality is based on the belief that all people should have the same opportunities for a happy life,” it says. Equity is more holistic in that it “acknowledges that people don't begin life in the same place, and that circumstances can make it more difficult for people to achieve the same goals,” notes the IWD.
I firmly believe our differences should be recognized and respected for a more fair-minded society. Equity does just that. It “recognizes that each person has different circumstances, and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome,” as defined by the IWD.
Women technologists take the lead
My journey as a female technologist has been full of ups and downs. For the past five years, I’ve been fortunate to help lead a trailblazing tech organization, which puts me in a privileged position to reflect on the IWD theme related to my field.
Women’s advancements in our sector are trending in the right direction. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Report, the technology industry has tremendously increased the share of women hired into leadership roles since 2016. This means more and more women are not only identifying as technologists, but are also rising to the highest leadership positions.
As Zscaler’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion leader, I’ve focused on expanding our organization's diversity of thought, background, and experience. As an executive team, we are proud to note that in 2022 we increased the number of women new hires by 10% more than for men, and the overall number of women engineers by 68%. This is a momentous achievement for Zscaler and women in technology overall.
True equity demands greater consideration
Finding work-life synergy in technology can be challenging, especially for roles requiring heavy travel or non-standard hours. On top of their professional responsibilities, women are often the primary caregivers and running households. This can be an enormous burden on top of professional responsibilities.
The added stress must be recognized, and it gives me great hope that over the past few years, many organizations have begun offering flexible ways of working to help manage day-to-day obligations. Organizations must recognize that all employees have unique needs as individuals and support them in ways that help create a more equal playing field.
Technology has an important role to play
Gender equity will remain a struggle for years to come, but it cannot be achieved without continual efforts by leaders and individuals worldwide. The more gender diversity across our organizations, the greater the range of thought, experiences, ideas, and outputs. With diversity as a priority, execution, transformation, and innovation thrive.
Our sector is famous for disruption. It has changed our daily lives – at home and work – repeatedly. I challenge every leader to be the next disruptor by building a more equitable workplace in 2023. If we accelerate gender equity, we change the world for the better.
Hanna Hennig, chief information officer of Siemens AG, is a shining example of a leader aiming at the root of the problem. “According to UNESCO, women and girls are 25 percent less likely than men to know how to use digital technologies for basic purposes,” she points out. “Enabling women to gain extensive access to technology is a matter of equal rights. We’ve already had very positive experiences with our coding camps in Germany and other countries. I’m very enthusiastic about the plans for joining forces with UN Women to enable young women in Africa to acquire such vital knowledge. This partnership has the potential to develop transformative impact.”
Recommendations for leaders on advancing women in technology
The time for equity is now, and it’s everyone’s responsibility – from board members to first-line managers to entry-level hires. No matter your role, you can help make a positive difference on the road toward gender parity. The challenge has been issued, now it’s your turn to take it.
Here are six ways everyone can advance higher standards for diversity and inclusion:
- Serve as a mentor to women in technology – in your organization or externally
- Work with organizations that advance the number of young women interested in engineering and computing
- Create an organizational initiative to advance the recruitment of women into technology roles
- Identify women in your organization deserving of additional training and career advancement opportunities and provide that assistance
- Create an environment that is supportive and reflective of the diversity, equity, and inclusion mission of your organization
- Encourage your organization to review pay by gender to ensure fair and equal treatment for all
IWD truly belongs to everyone, everywhere. That means equity and inclusion are everyone’s responsibility. I’ll leave you with a final thought from Nicole Darden Ford, vice president, global information security, and chief information security officer at Rockwell Automation. She is a friend and CXO REvolutionary who hits the bullseye:
“I think it's really…self-love. When you love yourself, you build confidence. When you fail, you learn to try, and try again. This is so fundamental to who we are. It helped me to believe that I could do anything I wanted in the world.”
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