Who has responsibility to fix this?

Steve Westgarth
5 min readMar 8, 2024

I want to take some time today to reflect ahead of International Woman’s Day 2024 (8th March if it's not marked in your calendar).

Every year we celebrate international woman’s day and we talk about the importance of driving gender diversity in the workforce. Companies everywhere start tweeting about their commitment to equality and we all review stats about how bad the gender pay gap is (across the industry woman currently earn up to 28% less than their male colleagues in the same tech roles).

My question today is who has responsibility to fix this?

I would hope that we would all recognise that our progress is not good enough — today across the tech industry ~26% of tech roles are filled by woman with the percentage much smaller when you consider woman doing technical roles such as those working as engineers. Its all very well and good to say companies need to fix this but the hard truth is that globally only 3% of females say that a career in technology is their first choice.

I ask you Why?

Why is it that only 3% of woman actively want to work in our industry? Its pretty shameful really — imagine organising a party and then realising that only 3% of your friends were interested in attending — I suspect we would all be pretty devasted.

I won’t pretend to know all the answers but I will give my viewpoint which I think will provide some perspective.

In 2017 I had the privilege of attending Apples World Wide Developer Conference in San Jose. Michelle Obama participated in a keynote panel session at the event and spoke in front of the entire 5500 attendees.

Michelle was asked why she thought gender diversity was such a big issue in the tech community. She responded by asking everyone in the audience to stand up; she then asked all of the men to sit down.

Left standing in that huge auditorium were 127 strong, powerful, amazing female engineers. 127 out of 5500. She asked the men in the room if they walked into a room filled with 5,373 woman at a cookery convention how many of us would want to stay and bake a cake?

Now I fancy myself as a great cook. I have all of the skills needed to bake an amazing victoria sponge that Mary Berry would be proud of — but I also know faced with that crowd I would run a mile.

I therefore believe that the only way for us to make real progress creating true gender equality in tech is to go out and buy a mirror and look inwardly upon ourselves and ask what it is about the tech community that creates an environment that many woman don’t find appealing?

This goes way beyond woman by the way. It applies to every minority group; it applies to everyone who is somehow different or doesn’t conform to a stereotype. As a society we like to be able to put people into boxes and we make judgements subconsciously based upon what people look and sound like which inadvertently creates unconscious bias.

I’m gay — I know I don’t fit the stereotype; I’m not particularly camp, or flamboyant or any of the other stereotypes we might associate with the gay community. When I tell someone that I’m gay a surprisingly common response is “Really! I’d never have known.”

I’ve witnessed exactly the same thing happen to some amazingly talented female engineers. It might be subtle — perhaps the first time someone has met a female engineer and upon realising what they do there’s an expression of surprise “Really! I’d never have guessed”. I’ve also witnessed things far more overt where I’ve watched female engineers propose technical solutions and it has been completely overlooked or ignored — as if the viewpoint doesn’t matter or is somehow not relevant to the discussion.

The discrimination here isn’t deliberate; in many instances people don’t even know that they are doing it — its completely unconscious. I guess that’s the nature of unconscious bias.

Think of a famous scientist or inventor ….

I would put money on the vast majority of you immediately thinking of Albert Einstein. Now think of a female scientist or inventor. Takes longer doesn’t it? Florence Nightingale perhaps? Marie Curie? There are hundreds of others — unconsciously we succumb to our own bias’s and we are all guilty of it.

Try something harder — think of a female CTO? Did you know that in the FTSE100 only 15% of CTO’s are woman and only 2 companies have both a female CEO and CDTO (one of which is GSK by the way).

So returning to my point — what it is about the tech community that creates an environment that many woman do not want to work in? In my view its our lack of awareness about the need to actively create a welcoming and inclusive environment. This goes beyond just being aware of our own bias’s — it requires us to actively call unconscious bias out. For me we need to move to a position where not being racist isn’t good enough — we need to be actively-anti-racist. Not being homophobic isn’t good enough — we need to be actively anti-homophobic. It means not only not being sexist but being actively anti-sexist.

Sadly within tech the majority of roles today are currently filled by men and one of the reasons for that is that there is a huge amount of unconscious bias in our community. I’m not saying it is the only reason; but it is a contributing factor. Forbes reported in 2022 that of workers who reported experiencing workplace bias 33% were likely to feel alienated, 34% were likely to withhold ideas and 80% would not refer people to the employer.

Alarmingly in 2023 a UN report had concluded that 9 out of 10 woman had experienced unconscious bias in the work place.

So what can we do?

This international woman’s day I ask you join me in making a pledge to speak out. When I see unconscious bias I will call it out; I will pro-actively champion equality in the workplace and I will go out of my way to make my workplace somewhere that everyone feels comfortable being their true and authentic selves.

More than this — this international woman’s day I commit to proactively being an ally for all of the amazing woman working in tech at Haleon and I will actively seek ways to help build and drive our female tech community across the organisation and beyond.

To answer my question who has responsibility to fix this? The answer very simply is that WE DO — all of us who work in the Tech Industry! And especially those of us who make up the 74% of men who work in tech. This international woman’s day what are you going to do to help make a difference?



Steve Westgarth

Steve 🏳️‍🌈 is the Global Head of Engineering at Haleon where he heads up the Software Engineering function.