Breaking Boundaries: Women in Design and Tech Leadership
The discussion surrounding the disparity in numbers of women in design and technology leadership roles is not a new one. Over the past few years there have been a lot of strong articles and equally great events exploring the persistent gender gap in these sectors. These articles and events have begun to open up new dialogues designed to explore the problem, identify ways to build community/support, and how to identify next steps. All of which are needed, and all of which are helpful. But when we begin to discuss actually moving the needle, what does that entail?
The Catalysts of Change
If you look at most successful revolutions throughout history you can identify three key ingredients that coalesced into what you might call the perfect mix. Through well defined systems of advocacy, activism, and action these groups have enabled significant change, leading to the reshaping of the status quo. Yes, advocacy allows us (and others) to examine and understand the issue in depth, while activism builds and empowers a community through unification, and action uses the inertia gathered from the previous two systems to enforce much needed change. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself though.
A Lack of Diversity is Not Truly Representative
When we look at the landscape of the design and tech sectors it’s not difficult to identify a gender gap within its workforce. These sectors are largely male dominated and the gap only continues to widen, becoming more evident, as we climb the corporate tree. It is estimated that a mere 30% of the tech workforce is female, and of the top 100 tech companies only 23% of leadership roles are held by women. If you look at the c-suite, even those small numbers plummet to just 6% of chief executive roles being held by females. The design field fares no better. In a recent article, the AIGA brought out that more than 50% of their membership base is female, yet only 3% of creative directors in the ad industry were held by women. This follows suit for most all of the other creative fields.
Yet, we have entered a so called, “golden age of design and technology”. Now more than ever companies are understanding the need for a solid design chain in order to foster and support a good user experience. Technological innovation is driving much of what we do today and shapes how we plan and execute our lives. A lack of gender diversity in the companies and products that we surround ourselves with is not a good thing, especially when you consider that 49.6% of the Earth’s population are women. How effective can a user experience be when most major design/tech decisions come from a predominately male centric point of view that isn’t capable of understanding almost 50% of its audience?
As you can see, change is needed.
The Three A’s
As I mentioned earlier in this article, most revolutionary change can be boiled down to three composite factors: advocacy, activism, and action. When well defined and used in tandem, these three systems can move mountains (or get the vote for a non-represented group of individuals, or desegregate schools and public buildings, or simply change minds and shape attitudes). Let’s briefly look at each:
Advocacy is education. It’s the process of identifying an issue and then developing discussions around that issue to clearly elucidate the problem. Knowledge is the first step towards action, and the more clearly the problem is defined, the more effective that action can be.
When looking specifically at gender issues in leadership, much has already been said to help identify and clarify the problems. More discussion is needed, however. Thankfully, there are lots of panel discussions, events, and articles that are coming online each year that are helping to build advocacy, while educating women (and men) on how things can, and should, be changed.
Once that knowledge has coalesced, a community of like minded individuals starts to develop. These individuals are the ones who will eventually drive forward change, picking up new supporters as awareness of the issue begins to spread.
Many of the panel discussions and events surrounding issues of women in design and tech leadership can be considered points of activism. By being present, supporting these events, and taking part in the discussions that ensue, awareness continues to grow. These events also provide an opportunity for dialogue on the development of additional support systems or toolsets that can be used to further the support of the existing community and aid in continued outreach efforts.
The results of a strong system of advocacy and activism is action. Action pulls directly from the momentum built during the previous stages and empowers the catalysts of change.
The continued development of strong dialogue about gender issues in leadership roles; women organized, or women fueled events on the topic; and the development of rich toolsets to support the community are the actionable steps that can bring about some of the greatest change.
Remember, though, that individuals can also be the sum of these parts. Use the positive experiences from these events to be a catalyst for individual expression. More experiences, stories, and ideas are needed to further the discussion. A sector might be able to ignore a couple hundred voices, but what about a couple thousand…hundred thousand…million voices? Glass ceilings can only take so many cracks.
Moving the Needle
Great change has always been the sum total of many, small, definitive steps. The gender gap is no different. Action is needed. Small steps must be planned and executed. Yet, as more attention is brought to the issues surrounding women in design and tech leadership, the more resources that can be developed, the bigger the supporting community becomes, and that advocacy takes place not only on our shores, but to the ones in distant lands as well.
Sometimes, it takes a revolution to bring about change. Be that.
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