As I walk the crowded hallways of HIMSS18 in Las Vegas today, it strikes me – on International Women’s Day – that the healthcare technology industry has more work to do to move the dial on gender diversity.

While there is a strong contingent of extremely successful and smart women in the industry, we seem to still be outnumbered. My question, is why? Interestingly, I’m completely aware that there is a gender gap and challenges for women in IT, but I’ve been very fortunate not to have experienced many of them personally.

The tech industry has experienced significant growth in recent years. However, there is a lot more potential for us to achieve even higher levels of innovation and success, by embracing true diversity on our teams, in our businesses, and throughout the health and education sector. In order to leverage the benefits of a diverse environment, it’s time to start casting a wider net and building a pipeline for the next generation of female software engineers and technology professionals. 

Diversity is a business decision and one that is tied to financial performance. Research by Morgan Stanley suggests companies that are highly gender-diverse have better financial returns, with these companies returning 5.4% more annually, than less gender-diverse companies. Gender diversity must occur at all levels of employment, especially management roles, for an organisation to leverage not only the financial benefits of diversity, but also increased productivity and innovation.

For women to want to be part of the tech industry, they need to push back on unconscious bias. A 2017 ISACA survey found 39% of women rated gender bias the biggest barrier for them in the workplace. One way of minimising gender bias is implementing a zero tolerance against discrimination and fostering a culture where women feel comfortable to bring their real-selves to work or school, each day.

Recent studies also suggest that women want to learn from other women in the technology sector. The ISACA survey identifies lack of mentors as the top barrier for 48% of women in tech, and 42% face a lack of female role models in the field. Women have a tendency to underestimate themselves, and ‘imposter syndrome’ is common, where women in male-dominated teams are hesitant to take initiative due to fears of feeling like a failure.

This is where managers should take note and coach. It is also where supportive sponsors can make a difference – people who gently nudge you into new roles or projects that you’d otherwise thought too big. These sponsors are different to mentors, they are people directly involved in your team or career. I have been fortunate to have sponsors who have supported my career development by encouraging me to follow my ideas instead of micro-managing the team. 

To truly change perceptions and encourage women to get involved in the tech industry, it is important to create programs and build a pipeline for girls at school and university to become interested in and inspired by tech. It is important to grow the size of the selection pool from entry level roles to provide enough women to promote into leadership roles. This won’t be fixed in the short term, it is a long term play.

Developing the careers of women in tech is to implement true meritocracy. It should be easily achieved, seeing as the people with the best skills and ideas should ultimately rise to the top based on merit. We still have a way to go, as only 23% of women believe they are paid the same as their male colleagues with equal skills and expertise (ISACA survey).

Equally, we shouldn’t need to promote women just to meet quotas. It is important that we succeed on the back of our own achievements and merit.