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Women In Comms

COVID amplifies challenges for women in tech

Along with all the other harms it has caused, COVID-19 has hampered the drive for a more diverse workforce in European tech circles.

So posits Dr. Andrea Huber, managing director of ANGA, an association representing the interests of the German broadband cable industry. Chatting with Diane Christman, president and CEO of The Cable Center, during Light Reading's recent Cable Next-Gen Europe digital symposium, Huber said that the pandemic has hurt more European women in tech roles than men because women tend to have greater dual responsibilities at work and home.

Citing studies that have been conducted over the past couple of years, Huber said surveys show that 30% of European women overall are more dissatisfied with their jobs than they were before the pandemic began. Plus, she noted that 24% of European working mothers reported reducing their work hours during the pandemic, as opposed to only 16% of working fathers.

"So, these numbers speak a very clear language," she said.

Christman cited a recent study of 5,000 women across ten countries conducted by Deloitte, which found that 53% of women said their stress levels have risen during the pandemic, and nearly half said they feel burnt out.

'Still a challenge'

Even without the pandemic, Huber said, it's "still a challenge getting women into tech jobs." In Germany, for instance, just 15% of tech jobs are held by women. "It's a major challenge for us," she noted.

Things are starting to improve a bit, though. Huber noted that women now make up about 30% of the tech students in Germany. "So, things do change but they change slowly," she said.

Although women have gained greater flexibility to work at home on their own schedules during the pandemic, Huber argued that this could be a double-edged sword. Working remotely can lead to women being excluded from company meetings and decision-making, she explained. This can hurt their careers and foster feelings of burnout and depression, especially if women are still saddled with most of the household and family chores.

"It's not a clear-cut issue," Huber said. While European tech companies are showing more flexibility about working hours and locations than before, the results are not always as favorable as might be expected.

Diversity starts with hiring

Discussing possible solutions, Huber and Christman agreed that changes must start at the top of companies and other organizations. While changing an organization's corporate culture is much easier said than done, they argued that senior executives must make a serious commitment to diversify their workforces and recalibrate their hiring practices and policies.

"Diversity starts with the hiring process," Huber said. "If you get off track with a one-dimensional hiring process, you'll never get anywhere … Give diverse people a chance even if they maybe don't fit the mold right off the bat."

Christman observed that younger women expect a much different workplace environment than she and other older female executives did when they started out decades ago. So, she argued, companies need to adapt accordingly.

"There's a very large gap in expectations," she said.

Agreeing with that assessment, Huber said things may not change until tech companies hire "a critical mass" of women.

"In the end, it's a numbers game," she said. "The more women there are in the tech sector, the more likely others are to follow."

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— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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