Women in Tech: Transforming challenges in Switzerland into opportunities
We, at Radar RP, are very excited to have attended on March 25 the launch of Women in Tech Switzerland. WIT is an international organization whose mission of promoting diversity in the tech industry we cherish, and the launch of their Swiss tentacle, or “chapter” as they call it, constitutes a major and necessary step in our field of work. We’ve heard some great statements and with their agreement we are glad to share these with you. Due to the peculiar circumstances, the baby shower had to take place online on the now unavoidable Zoom app. During this lecture, the moderator Bettina Bachmann alongside Safia Agueni and Ayumi Moore Aoki hosted four participants for a virtual roundtable during which they discussed the current state of women in science, as well as the topical issues and challenges surrounding their integration into this realm. So, what’s up?
The discussion panel consisted of three women and one man of diverse backgrounds and origins who shared life experiences and personal thoughts on women’s place in the science world. During their inspiring 90-minute discussion, Elizabeth Theophille, Transformation Officer at Novartis, Katrin Arnold, Site Head Pharma Research and Development at Roche Basel, Alisée de Tonnac, Co-founder and CEO of Seedstars World, and Olivier Bousquet, Head of Machine Learning Research at Google Europe, have raised many interesting questions and topics; we decided to compile what we deem were the most concrete and constructive proposals.
Gender inequality in parental leave
Wage equality: that’s the Holy Grail most Western countries are tracking down. “However, on our way, we’re heading the wrong direction” – that’s what Elizabeth Theophille says. For her, there might be a more coherent and cogent way to get there, but this one is about equity on all level, because why could only women take extended parental leave? That might be the core problem of it all, and hence why things don’t seem to move on that matter. As a matter of fact, paternity leave, when enacted, is still shorter and unequal in European countries compared to the number of postpartum weeks off women can take, with Switzerland being one of the rare western countries not offering paternity leave at all. This technicality has been digging inequality in wages ever since women have had access to positions once only occupied by men.
Better invested time for moms improves life quality for all
What can be understood from the talk is that history and patriarchy surely explain why men, who until a few decades ago used to be the only ones bringing money home, still lack a right as fundamental as raising their own infants, but the fact that so-called maternal instinct is still overestimated all the while men’s role within their households has been essentially neglected. And thankfully, things are changing. Slowly, but surely. Yet, in the minds of still too many managers, a young woman will as a matter of fact end up pregnant, she will eventually call upon a few months off work, and when she’ll be back, she will ultimately expect a reduction of her working hours, as much as she has expected her newborn – the outcome is that these managers tend to favor men in their recruiting. Thus, Theophille outlined that we will only be able to reach pay equity once men will get equity regarding parental leave, and as usual, Switzerland is lagging behind…
Flexibility is the key
In the end, women are continuously facing double binds: When at work, they’ve got to act as if they had no families, and when at home, as if they weren’t carrying out an occupational activity. Be a mom, and be a businesswoman, but never both at the same time. But always stay a tireless machine always in top shape – that could sum up some of the thoughts subsequently exchanged, with Alisée de Tonnac further pointing out that female executives are still far too often enjoined to “speak like men”, they shall “be straight[forward], be firm”. Might it not realistically be a bad paradigm? Do women necessarily have to ape men to lead a successful career? Female employees should be able to negotiate their working hours with their bosses, who should in return show support and understanding. They should realize that mothers can still manage their fulltime jobs differently and with less business hours, while keeping the same workload. They might not always be reachable on Wednesday afternoons, but they will stay flexible.
Number one priority: Make a woman love her workplace
When looked at in the light of Femtech, one directly notices that investments are almost exclusively made by men, who all too often can’t comprehend the value and interest of a product made by and for women, and in de Tonnac’s view, these female developers should learn how to show these men how their products can be beneficial to society as a whole. Olivier Bousquet then took up by adding that it’s not only about women, but also about how to retain them. Because once you’re there in the Femtech industry or the science world, as a woman, it’s the duty of the industry leaders to keep you, even if a zero tolerance policy regarding harassment against women, or anyone else, has to be established. Either way, women and minorities should feel welcome in order to stay. For we, as a society, are far from having solved this issue, as Katrin Arnold concludes.
No more loss of human forces
Globally, as Theophille stressed it, “We shall show empathy not only to women, but to everyone, we shall remind young girls (and boys) that questions are never stupid, we shall remind them that it’s ok to cry, that it’s ok to fail sometimes. It’s by stopping judging that we will change mentalities, and only then, cultural change can occur. The stake now is to not lose any more human forces.” We’ve lost too much time and opportunities. Gender diversity within science, technology, and overall is crucial, it might be the ultimate solution to gender inequality. That’s why WIT is promoting such a paradigmatic shift. And we, at Radar RP, absolutely agree with that mission.
“Women in Tech® is an international organization with a double mission: to close the gender gap and to help women embrace technology. The organization focuses on 4 primary areas that are a call for action: Education, Entrepreneurialism, Social Inclusion, Science & Innovation. The aim is to educate, equip and empower women and girls with the necessary skills and confidence to succeed in STEM career fields.
More than an organization, they are a global movement made up of members, partners and an ecosystem of networks that share our values and that have the same mission of striving for an Inclusive Tech industry. The issue of women empowerment in Tech is of major importance. They have to tackle it as a global community so as to drive sustainable change and create the necessary impact.
Our community is represented by persons of all abilities – regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, class, age or sexual orientation.
They have members in over 100 countries.”