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SEA’s women in tech face lockdown barriers to career progression

While lockdown life was earmarked as a possible accelerator towards equal gender opportunity in IT positions, lingering social biases have hindered this potential breakthrough period.

Almost half of women in Southeast Asia (SEA) working in technology believe the effects of COVID-19 have delayed their career progression, despite 64% of women believing that much needed gender equality is more likely to be achieved through remote working structures. While lockdown life was earmarked as a possible accelerator towards equal gender opportunity in IT positions, lingering social biases have hindered this potential breakthrough period.

Lockdown life was generally predicted to bring about a positive industry shift in the fight for gender equality. By levelling the playing fields from a social and family planning perspective, traditional stereotypes around availability and longevity when it comes to women’s careers would be removed. The impact of COVID meant that companies were accelerated or even forced into this new norm overnight, and to an extent, this prediction has yielded positive steps forward in terms of the overall industry mindset.

Kaspersky’s new Women in Tech report, Where are we now? Understanding the evolution of women in technology, found that almost a third of women (25%) from the region working in the tech industry do indeed prefer working at home to working in the office. A similar number report they work most efficiently when working from home, and as many as 28% revealed they have more autonomy when not working in an office, a tad lower than the global results at 33%.

However, more concerning statistics from this report highlight how the potential of remote working for women in tech isn’t quite being matched by social progression in this ‘working from home’ dynamic. Almost half of Southeast Asian women (46%) working in technology have struggled to juggle work and family life since March 2020. This trend is at its most prominent in North America, but is a consistent worldwide trend.

Delving deeper, and the reasons for this imbalance become clearer. When female respondents were asked about the day-to-day functions that are detracting from productivity or work progression, 66% said they had done the majority of cleaning in the home, 68% had been in charge of home schooling and 56% of women have had to adapt their working hours in order to look after the family. As a result, 48% of women believe that the effects of COVID-19 have actually delayed, rather than enhanced, their overall career progression.

“The effect of the pandemic broadly differed for women. Some appreciated the greater flexibility and lack of commute from working at home, whilst others shared that they were on the verge of burnout. It’s paramount that companies ensure their managers are aligned with their strategy to support employees with caregiving responsibilities.

“The other significant trend that the pandemic has accelerated is the co-existence of remote and hybrid employees within the same organization. This can be a challenge for women working remotely as they may experience less access to top management working from offices. This may decrease their chances to be considered for the kind of stretch assignments that lead to promotions. Employers need to be conscious of those disadvantages and plan accordingly to minimize them,” comments Dr Patricia Gestoso, Head of Scientific Customer Support at BIOVIA, 2020 Women in Software Changemakers winner, and prominent member of professional women’s network, Ada’s List.

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While these examples of social disparity aren’t tech specific, they do point towards a barrier that is preventing women from capitalising on the past year’s shift to remote working. As many as 46% of women in tech from SEA (compared to 39% of men) believe an equal working environment would be best for career progression, and 64% think that remote working is an optimum way to achieve that equality. The tech sector must now leverage its own encouraging momentum in the hope that social stereotypes enable this chain of events in the months and years to come.

Merici Vinton, Co-Founder and CEO at Ada’s List adds: “Companies need to signal, both through culture and policy, that they will give working parents of both genders the flexibility they need during COVID (and beyond). Companies need to understand that representation does matter and having women in leadership, majority-women teams and women in interviews demonstrates that there’s space for women in their company. Finally, we see lots of successful companies partner with external women’s organizations who can challenge you, push you forward, and also provide external inspiration for your employees.”

“If the tech realm takes the lead and ensures a more flexible and balanced environment for women, then it will become the norm more quickly, which is more likely to trigger a change in social dynamics too. As always, it won’t change overnight, but there are signs that women are feeling more empowered to rightly demand this way of working. Moving forward, we as an industry must build on this momentum, extract the positives from the past year’s transition to flexible working, and be a catalyst for wider social change as a result,” concludes Evgeniya Naumova, Vice President of the Global Sales Network at Kaspersky.

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