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Diversify or die: why should the tech industry be inclusive?

The COVID-19 crisis has proved that diversity and inclusion matter more than ever, according to the McKinsey Study 2020. Why is that so, especially for tech, differences in Ukraine and Sweden, what gender and other biases we have to overcome, and how business can benefit from welcoming diverse talents and including multiple perspectives — discussed by the participants at the 26th meeting of DEVCHATA project, organized by Beetroot Ukraine. Clara Bodin, a special guest, Global Lead Diversity & Inclusion at Telia Company, and the Chairwoman of the Beetroot and Beetroot Academy Board, shared her experience and knowledge. Read the most interesting parts of it here.

DEVCHATA is a series of online meetups aiming to become a creative space for people in tech to connect, share their experiences, and exchange ideas. While promoting women on stage is one of our main goals, DEVCHATA is open to everyone regardless of their gender or any other attribute. Since November 2020 more than 2K people have joined the community and discussed over 25 topics.

Women in tech be like

Clara Bodin has a colleague, Eugenia, a highly skilled IT architect and back-end developer who used to be a man, Eugene. She changed her gender because she has never really felt that she belongs to the one that she was born to. What happened to her career? Being a man, she has been hunted constantly, got promoted, and earned more. But when Eugene became Eugenia, everything changed, not only the photo and name on her social profiles and LinkedIn. She had the same fantastic CV and experiences, but the job offers stopped coming. The headhunters almost stopped calling, and when they did, their most common requests related to UX Design and Front-end due to the widespread stereotype of women's incompetence in more technical areas.

The gender divide limits the recruitment pool of qualified tech professionals, preventing the entire tech industry from keeping up with rising demand. Companies with low rates of diversity in their teams tend to have lower profits and long-term value. Besides, because of disparity, digital technologies risk being gender-biased.

Sweden vs. Ukraine: gender equality

According to the International Gender Gap Index Report 2020, Ukraine ranks 59th out of 153 countries, Sweden has long been a strong promoter of gender equality and ranks 4th.

However, there are some similarities between our countries. Thus, in Sweden and Ukraine, women have a higher share of the population with higher education. And when it comes to top managers, about 40% of them are women. In some spheres, the differences are more significant.  For instance, the percentage of women in the Ukrainian parliament is 20%, while the Swedish Parliament encompasses 46% of female members.

Let's have a look at paternity leave. The Swedish Government has been working for 30 years on having more fathers take paternity leave. It is 30% compared to 2% in Ukraine. What about the pay gap? The pay gap in Sweden is 9.8%, more than twice as low as in Ukraine (20%).

Coming back, in Sweden and in Ukraine women are predominantly found in the educational and health sector while men are found working in private business and tech, where the salaries are much higher.

Norms became new biases: the Big Seven

Norms are that things that have a very big influence on the decisions that we take in our lives at work, what we do, what and how we recruit, how we promote the products that we make etc. They become biases. The good news is that norms are not set in stone and can change over time. So what norms are we facing today?

1. White norm. The norm of whiteness is a big one, and it can be expressed in many ways. For example: what do we mean when we say something like a band-aid or a crayon is “skin colored”? Often, it’s a beige color. The whiteness norm can also be expressed in ideas of what job someone is applying for, or what job we think they might be fitting for.

2. Gender norms are social norms defining acceptable and appropriate actions for women and men in a given group or society. They play a role in shaping women and men's (often unequal) access to resources and freedoms, thus affecting their voice, power and sense of self. Images and languages are one way in which norms are being produced and inherited. Also, in clothes, expressions, body language. Is it possible to break these norms (man in a skirt, for example) and still be considered a good applicant.

3. Age norm. The age norm might be the most frequent discussed norm when it comes to recruiting and hiring new talents. There are norms of what is expected of people during a certain age. But wouldn't you agree with me if I say that it's possible to change career in your 40s? 50s? 60s? Does everything need to happen by a certain age? Can this be challenged and if so, what happens if this norm is challenged

4. Hetero norm. Everyone is expected to be heterosexual. A family with a man and a woman is just a” family”, whereas a family consisting of two people of the same gender then gets an added word “gay family”. However, adding a word like “gay” to family, can also be to make a statement; such as “women” engineer: we are actively showing who we are, and that we are breaking the norm and expectations.

5. Ability norm. is the norm that everyone is “supposed” to be “able-bodied”, and can for example use their legs, work in loud environments, understand figures of speech and so on. For example: “Let's stretch our legs”. What we really mean is, let’s take a break! And here, the point isn’t that we should look around and see if someone is in a wheelchair before we speak; we should be aware of these norms nonetheless. Because our words, and language, are how we keep these norms alive!

6. Religion Norm. What religion is valid for vacation days? This norm can also be expressed in diets, and an idea of “fitting in”, who is someone expected to be because of their religion? Example: A company that asked the employees to choose their holidays instead of the company choosing the typical ‘Christian holidays’ for them.

7. Cis norm. The cis norm means that everyone is expected to be cis. And what does cis mean? Cis: Latin for on the “same side”. Meaning, you remain on the same side of the gender you were initially identified as at birth. Trans: Latin for “different sides”. Meaning, you don’t identify with the gender assigned at birth.  

One good example of a company that has changed the "old" view on norms is the company Mattel, which produces Barbie dolls. Before 2014 Barbies looked the same; tall, blond, long-legged girls with big blue eyes. The male Barbie was often a tall-dark-and-handsome guy with a sports car. The dolls looked nothing like us or our friends. In 2012 Mattel's sales dropped and research showed that parents were hesitant to buy the doll since it did not represent the society. Children and parents were unable to identify with the ‘too perfect’ Barbie. By 2014 Mattel started developing Barbies that represent different norms, sections of society and professions. Since 2016, Mattel has seen an increase in sales after they changed their marketing strategy. Examples of new barbies in the market: scientist, game developer, president and a Barbie in a wheelchair.

Why is diversity & inclusion important for business?

Numbers speak better than words:

  • 15% higher possibility for profit in companies with the highest gender equality
  • 20% more female managers boost innovation revenues
  • 35% higher possibility for profit for companies that have higher ethnic diversity than the average company
  • 87% of the time, better business decisions are made by a diverse & inclusive team

What about gender equality in the Beetroot ecosystem?

The discussion appealed to the successful practices of the Beetroot ecosystem where gender equality is prioritized. Today, the Beetroot ecosystem comprises over 600 people and counting. Female consultants make up 42 % of our team. 54 % of our team coordinators are women, and so are 57 % of the Board. Moreover, the share of women among the Beetroot Academy graduates has grown from 41 % in 2020 to 57.7 % in 2021 (the number is expected to grow by the end of the year).

Beetroot was awarded a 2020 Top Employer prize by the Ukrainian Corporate Equality Index. In September 2021 Beetroot became a member of the Global Compact Network Ukraine, the official local platform of the United Nations Global Compact. Some significant sustainability challenges that Beetroot aligns with its strategic goals include providing more opportunities for women in tech, with a corresponding goal of reaching 50/50 gender parity in the Beetroot Ecosystem's team by 2030.

Beetroot Academy as part of the ecosystem has the same goals. Learn more about our values and gender equal approach in tech education — become a student at Beetroot Academy.

Daria Diadenko