Women Shift Digital Debate with Jenny Dearborn at the House of Commons

On Monday 6th July 2015 Women Shift Digital and SAP organised an exclusive Night of Debate at the House of Commons addressing the issue of gender diversity and equal pay in STEM. The night was hosted by Seema Malhotra, Labour MP for Feltham and Heston, with the participation of our Guest of Honour Jenny Dearborn, SAP Senior Vice President among many other special guests: Paola Cuneo (Sirius, UKTI), Andy Fawkes (Bohemia Interactive Simulations), Dinis Guarda and Kevin Montserrat (Ztudium, Intelligent HQ), Anne-Marie Imafidon (Stemettes, Deutsch Bank), Sarah Luxford (TLA Women, Nexec Leaders), Anjali Ramachandran (Ada’s List, PHD UK), Jinoos Shariati (UKTI), Janeth Thomas (Women in Finance and banking, Infinity Capital Partners Ltd).


The debate kicked off with Seema Malhotra’s opening remarks. Malhotra has always been keen on looking for new ideas in involving more women in economics and innovation, and also how to create roles and opportunities for women in technology. On that note she added that she is working on the sustaining of “equal pay” for men and women.

‘A gender transparency score card to observe pay equality’

In her speech, Jenny Dearborn mentioned that whilst her main role at SAP is about planning the education and training of the employees, she is also passionate about sustaining diversity and inclusion at the workplace. She said that in tech world, there are early signs of good news, especially in Silicon Valley. The debate around women participation in IT sector is quite common, however when compared to manufacturing or health sectors, diversity is still very low, and in finance sector, it is even at a lower rate. She added that pay equality is also a big issue and at the moment it is around 78%. In her article at the USA Today, Dearborn invited business leaders to prepare a gender transparency score card in which the pay equality at every level of a business can be clearly observed. Following that suggestion, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff pledged to scrutinise the pay gap between men and women and it will be ensured that everyone is paid equally at every level without an exception. That is an excellent example to be optimistic about the slow but steady change that is taking place as a result of raising these issues persistently.

‘There are still very few women circulating around high-level executive jobs in tech sector’

On the other hand, of course there is still bad news. As Dearborn put it, there are still very few women circulating around high-level executive jobs in tech sector. Despite talking about the lack of diversity repeatedly, the progress is not clear in the metrics. She added that at the SAP, the women employee ratio is 23% at the moment and that they target to have it raised to 25% by 2017. Moreover they aim to have 25% female leader at every level as she said that the gap widens at higher levels in the organisations. So for a real change, she is personally looking into the ways to create a pipeline for women to make it to the next level under the same conditions as men.

‘It is all talking but not much action’

Dearborn is also for the idea of having mandatory quotas for women inclusion in managerial boards. She said that it is definitely a right step and that a regular check by an authority is necessary; otherwise ‘it is all talking but not much action’. Having said that, she also added that because some women are involved in several boards across businesses, the numbers seem to be higher than the actual participation. Plus, having few big names around is in fact creating a wrong impression of women participation. Whilst being optimistic, Dearborn thinks there is a long way to go forward.

In response to Women Shift Digital Creative Director Ghislaine Boddington’s question as to why IT sector fails to be female friendly despite being a relatively recent sector, Dearborn said that there is a global talent crisis in general. So she has been particularly keen on supporting start-ups led by women in the Middle East. Although more than 50% of college graduates are female and there is a higher tendency to start in STEM sectors in early careers, she said that, they significantly drop out from technical roles throughout their careers. As they move forward, women usually prefer to pursue administrative or marketing type of roles. Leaving women out of the technical roles is in fact contributing to the deepening the shortage of skills worldwide.

One of the frequently raised issues in the debate was the important role of influencers; i.e. parents and teachers. It has been mentioned that the young people, regardless of male or female are generally savvy about new technologies but their teachers fall short to keep up with them. So kids at school do not receive strong guidance in being directed to STEM subjects. Moreover, Janet Thomas, President of Women in Banking and Finance mentioned the lack of solid technology education at schools and added that the government should make this a priority.
‘The success image of “nerdy young white guy” preferably a drop out of an Ivy League college is found to be prevalent in investment decisions’

Another important issue that was raised at the debate was the bias of investors and business angels. The success image of “nerdy young white guy” preferably a drop out of an Ivy League college is found to be prevalent in investment decisions. It was added that women usually have different patterns of entrepreneurship than men due to pregnancy etc so do not fit in the frame of myths around young nerds. Consequently that results in failing to attract investment for women.

‘Changing the work culture needs more collaboration between men and women’

Besides it has been argued that the work culture in the organisations is also a determining factor in women’s involvement. In a business environment where there is a strong “lad culture”, women are constantly discouraged to get involved in decision making. Often to the extent that, they feel intimidated should they express their views. So changing the work culture surely needs more collaboration between men and women since it has been added that not all men are happy to be a part of “lad culture” either.

Lastly, making technology accessible and putting it in a context in which young female students can relate to is another factor in encouraging girls to find a place for themselves in STEM subjects. In doing so the role models that they can identify with and the support from teachers and parents appeared to be amongst the crucial points.

As almost anyone at the debate agreed, there has been a progress in the last decades if at a slow pace. As this debate keeps on going at a wider participation, the progress will gain momentum and hopefully the change will be reflected in the numbers as well.