Come this Sunday, it’s International Women’s Day. On that occasion, we thought we’d offer something a little different (and hopefully more substantial) than a bouquet of flowers.
We asked the women in our company, of whom there are many but not enough, to share their experience, and offer some advice.
Walking between two worlds
Being both in Iceland and the tech industry, Men&Mice often experiences a strange dichotomy when it comes to gender equality. On the one hand, Iceland has again and again been recognized as the world leader in closing the gender gap. On the other, our industry is notoriously one of the most gender imbalanced.
Teach them well, teach them young
On the latter, the message is unequivocal: we need more women in tech. “There were 250 people in my class in HR [Reykjavik University], but only about 25-30 women,” says Unnur Lára Halldórsdottir. She’s a computer scientist, working at Men&Mice as a web developer on our web-based management interface. “Also, I only had one teacher throughout the education who was female. I’d wish for access to more women in the field, both classmates and teachers/professionals.“
I’d wish for access to more women in the field, both classmates and teachers/professionals.
The lack of role models and encouragement, especially at an early age, is a proven barrier for girls to get interested in STEM. As Jessica Poteet, a business development expert on the sales team who holds an MBA and degrees in geology and astrophysics, explains: “ There’s always a push for sports and arts for all kids, but I don’t see as much for parents to encourage girls to join technology or science clubs. These interests start early, so encourage it early.“
Unnur adds: “It could benefit many people, especially girls if technology was introduced in elementary school. If, for example, basic programming was taught, girls could explore their skills and potentially develop an interest in the field earlier. This way more and more women would end up in the technology field!“
Men&Mice has been founded and is headquartered in Iceland, which gives us a certain “street cred” for gender equality. But while the country has closed 88% of the gender gap, there’s still 12% to go, and the process is still uneven.
As Sigyn Jónsdottir, Head of Professional Services at Men&Mice, says, “we have yet to bridge the gender gap at the executive level. There are no women presidents in companies registered in the Icelandic stock exchange – and that needs to change dramatically.“
There are no women presidents in companies registered in the Icelandic stock exchange – and that needs to change dramatically.
Helga Dögg Björgvinsdóttir, Men&Mice’s Customer Success Manager concurs: “Only 13% of management positions in companies with 50 employees or more are held by women. Coming first in general gender equality is not good enough when we come 63rd in the field of business. In tech, the picture is even bleaker. The general gender ratio in the tech industry in Iceland is 70/30, males being dominant. Only 23% of IT students are women.“
Helga is also Vice-Chair on the board of the Icelandic Womans Rights Association (Kvenréttindafélag Íslands), an organization working on “women’s rights and the equal status of all genders in all areas of society.” It “emphasizes human rights and works against all kinds of discrimination.”
Iceland has come a long way. And we’re proud of our journey, even if it’s a bittersweet pride as we look at the challenges for women in other countries. “It’s the nation’s strength and thirst for knowledge, and I think we are also very flexible and open-minded,” says Amanda Hasan. She’s a Finance and Professional Services expert at Men&Mice. “But if the glass ceiling is still a barrier for women, it should be broken down. Then everybody should be valued for their abilities and efforts and not by their gender, race, religion, or other status,” she adds.
Equality is good business
Even if there was nothing else, it’s a simple fact that women, making up more than 50% of both the potential workforce and customers, can be a significant benefit for businesses.
“Being aware of this is the first step. We should also look at how we talk about and present ourselves and our product. If this is done only from a male perspective we are unlikely to attract women, either as potential co-workers or as customers. Keeping the gender glasses on all the way through will help us get there,” says Helga. “This leads to decisions and development in the field being made with unconscious bias, with the norm always being the male perspective. This is not something we want to offer our children!“
What to do on Women’s Day 2020?
Championing equality is a noble effort, but without action, the message is ephemeral. “I know the country is currently undergoing reviews of all companies, and making sure if all people who hold the same job title are making roughly the same money. That’s action. Like actual government action,” says Jessica. Governments in all countries should take action and an honest good look at themselves.
But governments are, or supposed to be, not only for the people but by the people. Which means there’s a lot that we can do ourselves. And we must, so that equality is, as it should be, a force of society.
Although we can dust ourselves off and continue, it is an effort that is unnecessary.
Women don’t need men to “save” them, but they do need men to stop actively putting obstacles in their way.
Unnur recalls her experience: “I feel that general attitude towards women in business and technology, especially technology, could be improved. When asked what I do or previously what I was studying I often get the feeling some people find it strange for a woman to be in the technology field. I was once even asked if I hadn’t thought of going to nursing school, which was apparently much more appropriate for me according to that person.“
“As women in business or any industry we face gender bias way too much. And although we can dust ourselves off and continue, it is an effort that is unnecessary,” adds Gyða Jónsdottir, CFO of Men&Mice.
As Sigyn explains: “ For diversity to thrive in the work environment we must not only hire more diverse people, we must create a work environment that is inclusive and open for everyone. Workplace culture plays a huge role in acquiring and keeping great talent.” As Board Member at the Icelandic Technology Development Fund, and former Chairman of Young Professional Women (an organization advocating for gender equality and encouraging aspiring young female leaders) she’s definitely an authority.
Workplace culture plays a huge role in acquiring and keeping great talent.
“A whole cultural paradigm shift is needed,” offers Jessica. Amanda agrees: “The educational system should be more focused on the tech/IT opportunities at an earlier stage. Women did not have enough enticements to open this field to them before.“
“We need to be mindful of how we hire, and eliminate all biases from the process giving girls a better chance to break through,” adds Gyða.
And so come this Women’s Day, we’d like to ask men to do something different.
Instead of dinner (or during! It’s an excellent opportunity to have this conversation.) ask your wife or partner about the challenges of being a woman in their field. Ask how they’d change things. Ask what they wish they had when they were growing up, and work to make it available to your children. And include them in the conversation, too. Enabling young girls to pursue their interests and develop their talents is crucial in closing the gender gap.