A city region that Chooses to Challenge in 2021 This year’s International Women’s Day theme is poignant and significant, given the point at which the world sits. Whilst the day itself is a chance to celebrate female role models, examine representation and track progress, it is also a time to look inward and ask ourselves, as organisations and individuals, ‘how are we doing on the journey towards gender parity?’
2020 saw a record-breaking high of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, yet only 7.4% of companies on the list are run by women. And the fact that only 17% of the technology industry are made up of women and minority ethnic representation is even more disproportionate.
My career in the tech sector began at a video games publishing house at a time when digital innovation was disrupting the industry and the UK sector was thriving. I was one of two females in a company of 200 men. Whilst the world of video games and expansion to global markets was exciting, I witnessed the impact of the gender gap and inequalities which have long permeated the tech industry. At times I have questioned whether the industry was right for me, but it also made me driven to do well. I recognised the need to find my tribe and seek out strong role models so I could continue to be the change.
This year’s theme speaks beyond diversity to intersectionality and inclusion, it gives people the license and permission to challenge structures, the status quo and the part we play as individuals – which includes checking your own cognitive bias. We know it is not enough to say ‘I am not sexist or racist’. We have to be antisexist and antiracist in every part of our organisation. The challenge is key to that.
International Women’s Day is also an invitation for everyone to get involved in the challenge. The stark stats of female representation in technology speak for itself and in terms of female representation in senior leadership, conscious efforts are needed to address a balance in the boardroom. We’re often told the gender issue is fixed – it’s far from fixed. Research shows that bias contributes to women being passed over for jobs and promotions. So why are we still here? And who is accountable for what ‘good’ looks like

Making change possible

As an Aunty of a 5-year-old girl and 16-year-old boy growing up in a digital age with incredible possibilities yet concerning stats, it is crucial to challenge inequalities so the next generation of talent can flourish. Supporting organisations like InnovateHer fill me with hope. InnovateHer exists to equip girls in school with the self-belief, confidence and skills to pursue a career in technology.
As part of the Go Digital schools programme in Greater Manchester, InnovateHer has inspired over 2,000 young people across 50 schools to ignite a passion for STEM and introduce them to industries that need their brilliant minds. Co-founders Jo Morphee and Chelsea Slater recognise that empowering the next generation of innovators to claim their space goes hand-in-hand with ensuring businesses are examining their culture ready for girls.
As we move into building back fairer and economic recovery, it has never been a more significant time to be an intersectional woman at the table in the team leading the Digital Strategy for Greater Manchester bringing added meaning to Greater Manchester’s ambition as a world-leading digital city-region. We have a massive opportunity now to build a society in the way we want it to look. 2020 brought to the fore heightened inequalities, as well as systemic and socio-economic bias. We are on the cusp of a world we can’t afford to go back to and #Choosing to Challenge is our call to action.
So the question is ‘what do you choose to challenge?’

Three things you can do:

  1. We are all influencers. We are all teachers, parents, colleagues, friends, members of communities. The advancement of society and industry, and achieving gender equality is dependent on our ecosystem’s ability to challenge what is unfair and biased. Use your voice.
  2. Actively seek better representation and pay it forward. Make space for others at the table, open doors and pass on the baton. Representation matters.
  3. Look internally and choose to challenge. For companies, International Women’s Day can be externally facing, but most importantly, it is a time for reflection. Are you examining what is happening to women within the organisation to give them a platform so other women can see them? What does representation look like at the leadership level, on your boards? What does your gender pay gap look like? Where are decisions being made and who has not got a seat at the table?

Pioneering social change

Greater Manchester is known for its pioneering spirit and radical social change. Thinking about the generations of strong pioneering women that came before us, and those that are paving the way for others and future leaders, what is clear is that we stand on the shoulders of giants.
My niece believes she can change the world and proudly announces she wants to be an engineer like Kathryn Johnson when she grows up. I hope she will never lose that dream or self-belief, though I know there is work to be done to ensure the industry attracts her talent and her dream. As I write this in the city where the Suffragettes movement was born, the real power behind ‘choosing to challenge’ is reinforced. 
For many of us, there is no alternative.

About the author

Beena Puri is Innovation and Partnerships Lead in the Digital Policy team at Greater Manchester Combined Authority. She leads the Greater Manchester Cyber Advisory Group with over 41 global, national and regional organisations from industry, local and national UK government, academia and community convened with a vision to uplift and strengthen Greater Manchester’s world-class cyber cluster and the UK's digital security sector.


Recommended reading

  • International Women’s Day 2021: Choose to Challenge. Spotlighting the voices and perspectives of leaders from the UK public sector and BAE Systems about the importance of tackling gender bias and inequity
  • Smashing the status quo. The time for talking about diversity is over, says Mivy James. While progress has been made, we need to go faster and further – including those in leadership roles
  • Inspiring the next generation of Women in Tech. How can we persuade more women into the technology workforce? Jadesola Ghadebo and Shanaz Hannan chart out some potential next steps
  • Women in Tech: action stations. Bridging the gender gap in the tech industry remains unfinished business, says Mivy James. She explains how employers can talk into action
  • A dedication to diversity and inclusion. Sameena is not your average government employee – and that’s precisely the problem. Here, she talks to Victoria Knight about how to ensure her employer better reflects the ethnic make-up of modern Britain
  • Each for Equal: International Women’s Day 2020. As we mark International Women’s Day, women leaders from across BAE Systems suggest how to be #EachforEqual and help forge a gender-balanced world

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Beena Puri

Innovation and Partnerships Lead in the Digital Policy team at Greater Manchester Combined Authority