Two years, five months, and one week ago everything changed. A baby. A super cute, pudgy in all the right places, tiny baby bowled into our lives and everything changed. Lie-ins were now a thing of the past. Wearing white was a no go. Boxsets would forever be interrupted by the demands of a little person or the hold of sleep deprivation. And work… what would that look like now? I have a career in creative tech. I don’t really need to type male dominated for you to get the picture, do I? But, thankfully, before my daughter was even born, MOFILM had a good answer to what work could like as a new parent in tech.
The long interview process to my CD role 3 years ago was so thorough I’d gone from being a little bit pregnant to very pregnant by the time they offered me the job. It was a shame: here I was a digital specialist ready to take on a new challenge, and there they were a tech-enabled content crowdsourcing company looking for a CD. It was certainly the change I was looking for and felt like a match. If only for this not so little bump. I was apologetic telling them about my ‘situation’, holding my hands up, confessing all, offering them a free parachute to escape the offer they’d made.
“Congratulations!” That’s what the MD said. She congratulated me. She was happy for me. She cheered down the phone at me and I stopped holding my breath. She offered me ways we could make it work. She offered to take me on right away and wave me off on maternity leave with a job to come back to. She. Yes, A female MD. Was it the all-female board that made the difference? Maybe. But I don’t think so.
What made the difference was an innovative company with a forward-thinking culture of hiring; a company with a true understanding of the value of women in the workforce. And women in tech are hard to come by, right? So why look a gift horse in the mouth, even if the gift is with child.
Thinking back to my first role in digital 15 years ago, it must have been a pretty progressive place. There were senior women in every department: design, programming, UX, data. I wonder how many of those women have since had babies and how many came back to work afterwards only to struggle with inflexible hours, with the expectation that they’d be just the same person, and with fewer opportunities than the men in the same role? Once I left that company where I cut my teeth, the big wide world quickly let me know how few senior women I’d work with ever again.
Just 17% of people working in the tech industry are women. And of those, many will have children and find it difficult returning to work under inflexible terms and even less equality of opportunity than they had before. This is why there are so few female leaders in the tech industry; that and the 200-year head start we gave the fellas. It just doesn’t stack up: companies that give the same opportunities to women as they do men, companies that truly support returners after maternity leave, are more productive and profitable. Their employees are more content at work, too, which can only mean more efficiency and innovation – just what a tech company wants.
Tech is about problem solving and helping people. There’s no reason for this gender imbalance to exist, and a career break to bring children into the world is no excuse for employers to ignore the issue. To increase the numbers of women in tech, to bring more of the diversity, divergent thinking, and equality of opportunity that makes good business sense, girls and young women need to see it to be it. Girls at school and college need female role models to inspire them and pique their interest in STEM subjects, and to pursue a career in tech. The industry must do more to support, promote, and champion women in tech right through maternity leave and beyond, to the senior positions, in order to evolve industry behaviours and perceptions towards women.
A year and a half after returning to work, some of the things that have allowed me to be good at both my jobs – the one where I lead a team of problem solvers and the one where I moonlight as a mama – are:
Flexible working hours: we’re all grownups, we know how to manage our time, and technology makes it easy to stay in touch and on top of work even when you’re not in the office
Access to training: opportunities to get up to speed again and improve your skills give you the confidence to keep growing in a leadership role and show you that your company supports you
Peer to peer mentoring: having the support and open dialogue that mentoring allows is important to personal and professional growth
Career progression: getting help to balance opportunities to build on your career with the needs you have as a parent means more women will achieve and retain senior positions
If the tech industry is to attract and retain the best talent, it needs to find ways to be more inclusive in its hiring. As an employer in tech, identify the barriers for women returning to work, those who are often underutilised and overlooked. They have the skills and experience to allow them to seamlessly fit back into a senior role, they may have fresh perspectives and a new way of working, and, in my experience, with less time for distractions returners tend to reach a new level of productivity worth investing in.