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Empowerment alone will not move the dial for women

In order to achieve meaningful advancement we need individual and shared action

The collective actions of thousands across movements like #metoo and #TimesUp has shown the world that being rich, powerful, and male does not give you a free pass. We believe that Dr. Ford felt more able to act on her civic duty because of and through the support of these movements. Similarly, we believe that the 20,000 Google employees that participated in the recent Google Walkout for Real Change were fueled by the power of these movements. We’ve made progress. But clearly not enough. 

A recent  YouGov poll revealed that President Donald Trump’s supporters believe that men are discriminated against more than the LGBTQ+ community, women, and most  ethnic minorities. You would be tempted to laugh had the results of this poll not come out following the Senate confirming Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court, despite the allegations against him. Not to mention, Trump  having directly mocked Dr. Ford’s testimony against Kavanaugh.

Would a   nominee for Supreme Court Justice, whether liberal or conservative, have been confirmed  following Dr. Ford’s brave testimony if Hillary Clinton was President? Would  she have instructed the FBI differently? Would Google have handled Andy Rubin’s  sexual assault allegations with a $90M payout, if the senior leadership team and board were comprised of more women at the time? We are pretty sure there would have been different outcomes in both cases. We can already see the dangerous implications of not having enough women in leadership roles in  politics and government, and we all know this lack of representation of women,ethnic minorities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community spans many sectors,including in the tech sector. Which is the new economy. We believe that every part of our future will rely on technology in some form or another.  And yet it is a sector that maintains a jarring gender gap.

Overall  women hold about the same amount of undergraduate degrees as men, but only about 30% of them are graduating from STEM courses. In the US, just 18% of Computer Science degrees go to women. For women who’ve already made it through the door, almost a third plan to leave their STEM jobs within a year. Women accounted for less than a fifth of newly-appointed CEOs at US companies last year. And the numbers are even worse in the tech industry alone. We believe that this problem perpetuates itself. You can only be what you can see. And there simply have not been enough tech leader role models that are women. When we picture iconic female tech leaders, along the lines of people like Sheryl  Sandberg, there are not many examples.

We  need  more women at the top. Including at the design, leadership and board tables of tech companies. And this is an urgent problem. If our tech design and leadership tables don’t reflect the populations they serve (including women, and particularly women of colour) — which they currently don’t — our technology solutions will be biased. And as AI becomes increasingly more common, we fear we won’t be able to untrain the bias we ingrain into our technology solutions. Earlier this month, it was uncovered that Amazon scrapped its secret AI recruiting tool because it showed bias against women. The reason for the bias? Amazon’s computer models were trained to examine applicants by observing patterns in resumes submitted to the company over a period of 10 years when most applicants were men, reflecting the male dominance across the tech industry.

To ensure  that women are at the forefront of our new economy, which is vital, we need togo further than empowerment. While empowerment is critical, alone, it will not lead to advancement without individual and shared action.

What if we could collectively direct all of the energy we each put into monitoring our social feeds about the current state of the nation in the US towards  proactively helping at least one woman advance through one small act? The  simple gesture of bringing a junior woman colleague into an executive meeting so she can see how to run it, or bring her along to attend an event, or create a new network connection, or give her a stretch assignment –  can change  her career (and life). And what about providing coaching around achieving specific goals, what I call career “championing”, to enable and support her to actually advance, take the next step?

Right  at  this moment, you can actively make a decision to go out of your way for one woman, and you will play a huge part in moving the dial. These small acts can make big change towards  advancing the participation and leadership of women.Because we need more women at the top. To design solutions for all of us, to bring diversity of thought to making decisions like how to handle sexual  harassment allegations, and because it is almost 2019. Equality should be table stakes by now. Shouldn’t it?

Michele Romanow, Jodi Kovitz, Toronto Mayor John Tory, & Jay Rosenzweig at inaugural #movethedial Global Summit to elevate women in tech

 

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