To mark #IWD2023, the theme of which is DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality, we asked our colleagues Elaine McVicar, Head of Product, Kaitlyn Herrera, Data Analyst, and Mairi MacDonald, Junior QA Engineer to share their experiences and career journeys as women working in tech, and their thoughts on the barriers to gender equality within the sector, some of which have been broken and some which still remain.
Tell us about your role at Recast and your career journey so far
Elaine: My role as Head of Product is to help translate the business needs into product strategy; supporting the Product Owners with delivery, improving our processes to ensure we are collaborating across the business, and staying focused on data and measurements to support our decisions and validate the success of what we’re developing.
My career journey has not followed a straight line. I graduated with an engineering degree but that definitely wasn’t right for me. My first job was as a designer – working in a print and sign shop. A few years (and a few terrible jobs) later I was working at a digital agency working on complex, large scale digital projects. That set me on a path from creative design, to user experience and strategy, to finally product.
Kaitlyn: As a Data Analyst, I organise and interpret data to identify trends and patterns. I help find ways to use data to solve problems and use key insights that I have learned to help support our fans and publishers.
Before joining Recast, I was in university studying a degree in astrophysics. I was also working for the student union and before that, a non profit fighting against AIDS and homelessness. Although I loved my degree, it was extremely abstract. I gravitated towards data analytics because it applied the most practical parts from my degree in a way that has tangible benefits to others.
Mairi: My remit as Junior QA involves checking any new features to ensure there are no breaking changes introduced onto the site. A typical day involves working with the developers and product team to make sure everything works as expected and can be released to production.
In my previous roles as a lexicographer (dictionary writer) and freelance editor I worked on several digital projects (mainly whiteboard tools and digital textbooks). Two years ago I completed a MSc in Web Technologies and got my first tech job here with Recast not long after. While at Recast I have gained an ISTQB (a software testing qualification) and I’m looking to learn more about automated testing frameworks. My immediate career goal is to drop the ‘Junior’ from my job title!
What needs to happen to drive real change to address gender imbalance within the tech industry?
Elaine: The first thing is for organisations to actually believe there is a problem. My experience over the years is that unless there is obvious toxic male leadership then most people believe everything is fine. But I’ve seen that casual bias and inconsiderate language create environments where women don’t feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions, don’t get promoted and don’t feel they are valued in the same way their male colleagues are. My own personal experience returning from maternity leave (in a previous job) highlighted how attitudes to mothers really impact women in the workplace. Although I found it easy to get flexibility in my working hours, it came along with an assumption that I had no interest in my career.
Kaitlyn: I believe that real change in the tech industry needs to start from as early as school. It needs to be shown early on that there is more to the tech industry than a computer science degree and a software developer job. There are many tech industry careers and those careers need to adapt to support women as well as non-binary people. There also needs to be more positive role models for women and it can’t just be on other women already in the industry to fill that role. Men and companies as a whole need to step up and show that they are inclusive enough to support women in more advanced roles and allow them to thrive by taking on more domestic tasks or having a work culture with more flexibility.
Mairi: I don’t feel there’s a gender imbalance in the workplace per se, but in other parts of life there is an assumption that I am the main carer for my three teenage children. One of the things that drew me to tech is that you are always learning – the industry is always changing and you have to be open to acquiring new skills. If non-working hours are taken up with being chief family administrator, it’s hard to do much professional development outside of work. If there is at least an appreciation of this additional load carried by some employees, the tech industry is more likely to see the value in setting aside more time for professional development within working hours.
The theme for this year’s IWD as set out by the UN is DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality – how do you think technology can contribute in securing gender equality?
Elaine: As the conversation around AI unfolds it’s not been surprising to hear that it’s exaggerating the existing gender (and racial) biases. Companies are starting to look to tools like ChatGPT to help solve their business problems and improve processes; and although this technology is still at it’s emerging stages, the more it gets used without consideration then the more disadvantages women will face. If we can shape AI towards diversity and inclusion then that could become a really powerful way to start improving equality.
Kaitlyn: I think technology has already done wonders to help secure gender equality. Most resumes and CVs are digital now and there are filters that exist that can remove details like names and other things that can lead to implicit gender bias. There are also many websites where people can anonymously share their salaries and responsibilities and it outputs the typical compensation for a certain role which helps close the gender pay gap. But I think technology can still do more by helping anonymise applications to jobs and universities and by diversifying and digitising teaching styles to reach people wherever they are.
Mairi: Technology already contributes in that it has made collaborative working possible without meeting face to face. There is no need to relocate and working hours can be adapted to suit family life. The more flexible a workplace can be, the more potential there is for inclusivity.
Historically tech has been a heavily male dominated sector, so the fact that it remains a sector with one of the largest gender pay gaps, despite some progress in recent years, isn’t hugely surprising. According to a 2022 Tech Nation report, nearly 3 million peopleare employed in the UK tech industry and women account for 26% of this workforce. Our own current gender split is 33% women to 67% male, which despite tracking ahead of the industry average, is not a figure we are happy with, nor are we complacent as to the work required to redress the gender imbalance in our workforce.
In order to do so, we are fully committed to taking proactive steps to close the gender gap. We have adopted a transparent salary banding policy for all advertised roles and offer a flexible hybrid working model to support work-life balance, with established core hours of 10am-3pm to allow flexibility for homelife responsibilities. We are also introducing unconscious bias training for all employees and regular company wide education sessions on wellbeing, specifically relating to gender equality.
To learn more about life at Recast, visit our careers page.