Inspiring inclusion this International Women’s Day

Customisable business insurance
06 March 2024
5 minute read

The theme of this year's International Women's Day is inspiring inclusion. So we were inspired to bring together two top-class speakers for an intimate roundtable breakfast discussion on how founders can inspire inclusivity from the get-go through hiring policies and company culture.

We were honoured to host Gayle Thompson-Igwebike, Director at Next Tech Girls — a non-profit organisation inspiring today's girls in education to become tomorrow's women in tech. Also joining us was Rachael Oku, VP Brand and Communications at PensionBee — a fintech pension platform designed to support customers to take the first step towards financial freedom.

Both speakers shared what they see as the challenges in this space, as well as provided insights and building blocks for founders to implement their own inclusivity policies as their companies scale and grow.

A photo of Rachael Oku and Gayle Thompson-Igwebike

What are the challenges facing women in tech?

Women remain wholly underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) space. As of 2021, women accounted for a mere 24% of the UK STEM workforce. Additionally, only 8% of the STEM workforce are from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

As it stands today, women make up only 26% of the UK tech industry, which is why having representation from Next Tech Girls was so fitting for this event. Next Tech Girls is aiming to change this statistic through their work with over 275 UK-based secondary schools, encouraging young women to get into STEM subjects.

They run a work experience programme and a series of insight days and events for young women studying STEM subjects who are keen to progress into a career in tech. Over 4,300 girls have taken part so far with a 99% success rate. They also place young women in internships with companies like Lyst, Sky, NBC Universal and Google.

When it comes to women joining tech companies, they face further challenges, especially around confidence and restrictive hiring and working policies. So it was inspiring to hear from Rachael at PensionBee, a female-founded fintech with a strong track record of diversity and inclusion. Both the Board and Senior Leadership Team have gender parity, and inclusion is baked into the very foundations of the company.

Here are the key takeaways from the discussion.

A photo of the Superscript IWD breakfast event

First-hand information

Whether it’s genetic or it comes from a deeper systemic and societal problem of traditional gender roles being pushed upon children from an early age, women often don’t have the same innate confidence as men.

To allow young women to see what they can become, they must get first-hand information through internships, mentoring programmes and events. This can open their eyes to what their careers could become.

While some young women have role models in their family, not everyone is so lucky.

We rely on teachers and other influential figures to advise young people about the qualifications they need to get into certain industries. Often, however, teachers don’t know themselves, and believe you need to study maths or physics or that you have to go to university to have a career in tech.

Encouraging young women to join groups like Next Tech Girls is hugely important, and allows them to see what opportunities are available to them. Encouraging women in tech to become role models and mentors is also key because women, like everyone, need someone to aspire to.

Speaking the truth

Despite it being 2024, fertility — from periods through to parenthood, to menopause and beyond — can be one of the biggest barriers for women in the workplace.

Bodily functions — especially ones not experienced by 50% of the population — can be difficult to vocalise in a workplace setting. Next Tech Girls advocates for their members to be open and honest if their menstrual cycle affects their work.

They aim to build a generation of women who realise there is no shame in being honest about when they need a break or time to work from home. And the aim is that this will carry on throughout their work life, allowing for more honest conversations about fertility and eventually menopause.

“Women need to become disruptors,” said Gayle, “and it’s important they have the confidence to feel powerful enough to negotiate for themselves”.

The confidence gap

There is a huge confidence gap between women and men, which sees many women underselling themselves and their skills, as discussed on a recent PensionBee podcast.

Take, for example, the statistic that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications in an ad, whereas women only apply if they meet 100% of them.

In a world built for men — as told in the book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men — it’s no wonder women undersell themselves. So how do you boost confidence, and attract women to apply for roles at your company?

The confidence gap can often be mitigated through community. By joining a group that is a space specifically designed for women, women can support each other in building both confidence and a sense of ownership over their careers. It’s important to understand what you want out of joining a community and make sure you’re getting value at every stage.

To bridge the application gap, it’s about looking at the way you hire staff. At PensionBee, their job ads lead with benefits: flexible working, inclusive policies that ensure that women aren’t penalised for being a parent, as well as including salaries in the ads — something that is becoming more common for many companies.

If it takes less than three months to train someone to do a role, then PensionBee hires internally. They run internal MBA programmes, conduct blind hiring assessments and have inclusive hiring policies, ensuring every part of the process allows for the different needs of the candidates who apply, and allows for career progression.

The trickle-down effect

Everything starts at the top. As a founder, you are the one who shapes your company's culture, and at PensionBee, the fingerprint of founder and CEO Romi Savova is evident. Called a “rockstar” by Rachael, Romi has driven the culture of PensionBee and allowed it to trickle down to every leader, manager and employee.

At the core of their mission are their five values: Love, Honesty, Quality, Simplicity and Innovation. These values drive the PensionBee proposition forward and allow staff to bring their whole selves to work every day.

Their inclusive hiring policies are backed up by inclusive workplace policies, from flexible working, carer and disability leave policies to gender-inclusive parental leave policies. The latter leads to a 100% rate of return for women coming back from maternity leave.

A key to ensuring policies work for employees is the consultation process, said Rachael, “inclusion means asking what everyone thinks and then the willingness to do something about it”.

Policies help, managers are better

And while good policies help support women in the workplace, the real key is hiring and training great managers.

Great managers remind their staff of the policies and benefits available to them. They allow women a safe space to request flexible working patterns because of a painful period or a sick child.

Why is this important, especially in tech?

Without gender parity in the companies building big tech — just like with cars, furniture, technology and medicine — we’ll continue building non-diverse, exclusive tech thought about from just one side of the spectrum.

Women make up half of the world’s population, it’s time the tech we use reflects that.

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This content has been created for general information purposes and should not be taken as formal advice. Read our full disclaimer.

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