This year, the theme for International Women’s Day (IDW23) is, ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’, with the event set to explore the impact of the digital gender gap on widening economic and social inequalities. It is also aiming to put a spotlight on the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls in digital spaces by addressing online and ICT-facilitated gender-based violence.
According to the United Nations, bringing women and other marginalised groups into technology results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet women’s needs and promote gender equality. Their lack of inclusion, by contrast, comes with massive costs: as per the ‘UN Women’s Gender Snapshot 2022 report‘, women’s exclusion from the digital world has shaved $1 trillion from the gross domestic product of low- and middle-income countries in the last decade – a loss that will grow to $1.5 trillion by 2025 without action. Reversing this trend will require tackling the problem of online violence, which a study of 51 countries revealed 38 per cent of women had personally experienced.
A gender-responsive approach to innovation, technology and digital education can increase the awareness of women and girls regarding their rights and civic engagement. Advancements in digital technology offer immense opportunities to address development and humanitarian challenges, and to achieve the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals. Unfortunately, the opportunities of the digital revolution also present a risk of perpetuating existing patterns of gender inequality. Growing inequalities are becoming increasingly evident in the context of digital skills and access to technologies, with women being left behind as the result of this digital gender divide. The need for inclusive and transformative technology and digital education is therefore crucial for a sustainable future.
Elena Christodoulou, UK country manager at CTS, one of the largest Google Cloud dedicated partners in Europe, is responsible for the UK commercial organisation which includes sales, marketing and alliances, and has previously worked with organisations such as BT, Capgemini and EPAM where she was responsible for running various cloud partnerships. She is passionate about helping customers achieve their business objectives and creating positive change in the industry.
Here, Elena answers a number of questions about what it means for her to be a pioneering woman in the tech industry:
Q: The International Women’s Day 2023 theme is DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality – what does this mean to you?
A: I think it is important to start by talking about the difference between gender equality and gender equity. Whilst equality is about making sure you give everybody exactly the same type of help, equity focuses on tailoring the type of help you give people, based on their individual needs, so that they have the same access to opportunity.
CTS is striving for gender equity and we are using innovation, partnerships and technology to help us do this. Some examples include better use of data within the business to make gender informed pay rise decisions and our groundbreaking ‘Introduction to Google Cloud’ initiative. This course aims to improve diversity within the industry by removing the barriers to entry for underrepresented groups and empowers people, no matter their background, to pursue a career in technology.
Q: Which women inspire you the most?
A: I am always inspired most by the people that I know. I am incredibly grateful for the learning and advice from previous managers and women I have worked with. I also have the privilege of working with some amazing women at CTS today and I am forever inspired by the self driven initiatives that are championed across the business. In my own life, my mother is a big source of inspiration. She was ahead of her time and as a result, growing up, I watched her make huge strides in her career early on and lead by example.
Q: What do you think is the biggest issue women in tech/business are facing today?
A: The issue of imposter syndrome is the most common concern that I hear when talking to women about growing their careers. This doubt in our skills/talent and a belief that we do not deserve our success can manifest in scenarios such as working long hours to prove yourself and reluctance to ask for help when you need it. Research also shows that we are more likely to feel this way if we don’t see many examples of people who look like us or share our background who are clearly succeeding in our field.
Q: Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them?
A: Of course, like many women I have encountered these barriers. Ultimately I made a promise to myself that I would not settle for a workplace culture that tolerated inequality and soon found myself at CTS! As a proud B Corp certified organisation our mission is to build a business that we can be proud of. The CTS team is constantly championing women within our workplace and industry and it is a privilege to be part of that journey.
Q: In light of this, what kind of influence do you strive to have on your female colleagues around you and the wider business?
A: Being visible and making sure that there is a precedent for women at various levels of leadership within the organisation. A big part of leadership is the ability to hire talented people and set them up for success; creating an environment which will allow folks to flourish and providing advocacy, support and guidance along the way. This is the type of influence I strive to have on my colleagues and as someone who is committed to increasing the number of women in technology, anything I can do to support this will be of great importance to me.
Q: What message do you think is the most important to young women thinking about their careers in tech/business?
A: Surround yourself with smart, supportive people that you can learn from. There is a tendency for people to become obsessed with role titles and defined career paths. I believe that by prioritising your growth and learning first and foremost, everything else will follow.
Q: What are you/CTS doing in honour of IWD, both today and all year round?
A: We are celebrating women throughout CTS this year by interviewing our colleagues on the topic of gender equity and creating a short video to raise awareness. Additionally, we have an internal community of Women in Technology with whom we meet regularly to share experiences, build our networks, and strengthen our team.
Q: What are your hopes for the future of gender diversity within the workplace?
A: I would love to see the technology industry make strides forward on gender diversity. Up until now and despite massive advancements in other areas of the industry, the statistics surrounding women in leadership roles and gender pay gap within tech have remained painfully static, so I would love to see that change in a meaningful way.