Since I started writing these posts, I’ve touched on some of the reasons that there aren’t more women in tech. One of the biggest is essentially self-perpetuating, namely, that there aren’t already many women in the industry. By definition, that means that there’s a dearth of female peers and mentors. The industry also hasn’t had a chance to get used to us. On one hand, that can have a dark side when it fosters exclusionary practices, but on the other, it can also mean that women in tech can side-step some of the habitual competitiveness that go along with networking in this industry (see my earlier post for more on that).
As time goes on and more women join the sector, presumably both these advantages and disadvantages will gradually reduce. Nevertheless, there are certain inherent advantages to women of working in tech, especially in these days of distributed offices and increased globalization. One key advantage can be summarized in just three words: flexible working arrangements.
Without beating around the bush, family commitments typically affect women’s workforce participation more than they do men’s. It’s no coincidence that there are more women working in situations in which they have the opportunity to job-share, work part-time, shift their working hours or even work remotely. Guess what? Tech is either potentially or already a leading industry in terms of these sorts of flexible working practices. On one level, advances in technology infrastructure have directly facilitated some of these measures. These advances mean that it has never been easier to collaborate with someone who is located in another state or country, or is working to a different schedule.
Even within tech, there are some roles that lend themselves especially well to this sort of work. In my experience working with developers, for example, I’ve come to realize that programming is often an essentially individual task, punctuated by periods of active collaboration and consultation. In many cases, this communication can even be asynchronous, which makes working complementary or partially overlapping schedules (for whatever reason) a breeze. In sales and technical support, there’s an expectation that you’ll have representatives available around-the-clock, which is a lot easier when you have a team that can work shifted hours, ideally from a variety of time zones. Indeed, for this reason, there are services like Quiip that specialize in out-of-hours monitoring of communication channels like social media.
As an employer, offering a range of possible work schedules means that you needn’t miss out on keeping or attracting the best staff just because they aren’t available to work to a standard 9-5, Monday-to-Friday working week. While this isn’t possible across all industries or roles, tech is at a distinct advantage. As a parent of young children myself, I have been able to personally benefit from this flexibility. The rise and rise of smartphones and spread of wireless data access means that I can work from wherever I find myself. This ease of access meant that I meant to take almost no time completely away from work, and have been in a position to hit the ground running as I increase my working hours. Maintaining good lines of communication with my team members and fellow executives means that everyone is always on the same page, and minimizes the impact of any unforeseen disruptions … like the inevitable seasonal school flu. Yes, working flexibly in tech can be very good indeed.