Myth busting – women in Digital

25 Mar 2019

60+ Leaders came together at the PwC Experience Center to find solutions on how we can all “Bust the Myths” around women and Digital. The workshop style event was focused on identifying actions that each and everyone of us can implement to bust these everyday myths.

This is an outcome of our findings – it's time for action and accountability.

The stories we tell, personal dogmas, and societal narratives build the commonly known glass ceiling, that limits women. At the event, participants identified over 100 actions to share and inspire organisations to help accelerate action. These are the important results of our workshop “Myths of Gender Equality in the (digital) workplace”, which was co-hosted by PwC and Procter & Gamble, and supported by the LEAD Network and Advance:

  • Define where you want to be in the future, what will be the gender representation by level and by when
  • Clarify and communicate who is accountable for achieving this
  • Training of unconscious bias behaviour
  • Push female role models

Sixty leading men and women from the private and public sector, as well as academia came together on 27 February 2019, at the PwC Experience Center in Zurich to find solutions on how we can all “Bust the Myths” around women and digital and develop actions for a more diverse and inclusive future. 

Holger Greif, Partner & Leader Digital Transformation at PwC Switzerland opened the event with a keynote speech on digital disruption. Ralf Gehlen, Country Manager P&G Switzerland, gave insights how P&G is using the power of their brands to change the public discourse towards an equal world, free of bias.

The workshop participants then discussed six myths of gender equality in the (digital) workplace, e.g. “STEM is a man’s thing”, “Women need fixing”, and “Women do not want to climb the career ladder.”. The goal of the workshops was to “bust” these myths and develop tangible actions that can be put into practice.

This is an outcome of our findings – please share and act. We need to stop talking and start acting.

Myth 1: STEM is a man’s thing

Women do well in STEM. It’s gender bias that drives them away, said Helena Trachsel, Head of the Office for Gender Equality in the Canton of Zurich.

Stereotypes and prejudices that start at childhood (The technology construction kit for Christmas for the son, girls get crayons or a dollhouse), mean that by the time girls reach their teens, lack of role models, support, belief that they will not succeed results in one woman enrolling in a STEM University course for every five men, and this number is not improving.

What are the actions that we can take to bust this myth?

Image and Culture

  • Actively state in job ads, this job is open to women and men
  • Ensure all visual imagery of STEM, brochures, website, safety posters etc are 50/50
  • Employees to talk about STEM as ambassadors

Build the Pipeline

  • Coding for primary school children
  • Employees to “adopt a school/college” to allow boys and girls to explore the possibility of STEM careers
  • Scholarship/mentoring/sponsorship of high potential talent
  • Awake girls’ interest for STEM at an early age, e.g. provide different toys

Imagine the possible

  • Showcase female role models to talk about working in STEM
  • Start a social movement to shift the mindset
  • Change the story: women are strong in STEM!
  • Education for parents on gender stereotyping of children

Myth 2: You need an IT background to work in digital

Professor Gudrun Sander and Patricia Widmer from the University of St. Gallen argued that there is a belief that you need to be able to "code" and have a deep understanding of computers to work in Digital. The vast majority of IT graduates today are men - 90%+. Developing solutions in the Digital framework requires problem solving and communication skills to work with the programmers who will build the technical solution, the majority of the work can be carried out by individuals with no IT knowledge.

What are the actions that we can take to bust this myth?


  • Ensure interdisciplinary education – mainstream digital into other studies
  • Raise awareness to students on what “working in digital” actually means; e.g. psychology to AI as an opportunity
  • Move people out of “study boxes”, focus on transferable skills
  • Enable continuous learning

Image Re-wire

  • In job ads focus on competencies and skills
  • Descriptive job adverts focusing on tasks, e.g. problem solving, team working over technical know how
  • Educate hiring managers on their general assumptions
  • Help change the image of “IT women” in the public discourse

Overcome Risk Aversion

  • Nudge female talent to change roles
  • Support/mentor talent
  • Focus on “learning by doing” and candidate attitude/openness to learn
  • Change performance measurement to open up value-based fits
  • Stress the importance of diverse teams.

Myth 3: Women are not welcome to work in IT – it's for men only

When we talk about IT, we often picture male-dominated workplaces where women are the exception rather than the rule. More alarmingly, we extrapolate to assume that women do not enjoy working on technical topics, are missing crucial skills, or are simply not a good "cultural fit" in a tech environment. 

With the lack of critical mass in female tech employees (on average, women make out 10-20% of tech employees), it is no wonder that such misunderstandings of what it means to have an "IT job" prevail. Strong female tech role models are few and far between; it is too easy to overlook the women who not only work in IT, but actually thoroughly enjoy it and bring essential skills to the table, said Christiane Demgenski from the UBS Digital Factory.

What are the actions that we can take to bust this myth?

Inclusive culture

  • Unconscious bias training for all leaders – ensuring that we take down invisible barriers to female applicants and employees

Tech talent profile

  • Talent programs promoting job rotations in IT for key female talents, thus both highlighting the relevance of tech and actively encouraging the acquisition of technical skills

Increase visibility of women

  • Organise round tables, “Meet our Women” events to boost awareness of possible careers in IT 
  • Showcase female talent/ leaders who can share their experiences working in IT


Myth 4: Women need fixing

Society is finally getting to a tipping point on the analysis of gender imbalances in companies. After decades of pointing the finger at women and what they do, don’t do, or do too much, society finally believes that inequality is due to women’s choices, as the obvious solution is to “fix women”. Isabelle Borg, Project Leader and Senior Consultant at DOIT-smart, knows that these approaches are prevalent in workplace interventions, which seek to help women with extra assertiveness and negotiation training.

Indeed, trainings targeted at women tended to put the emphasis on skills development or assertiveness, but it seems that the issues women were facing in the workplace were nothing to do with lack of skills or even lack of confidence, and that there was a need to delve deeper to find what was really holding them back. Indeed, while organisations may train women to be assertive and to be strong negotiators, they do little to address the stereotypes that result in a strong backlash when they do so. Similarly, while flexible and part-time work options may be desirable for women (and indeed men), such working patterns rarely lead to promotions and pay raises.

Moreover, because such solutions focus on women’s choices, they downplay the continued existence of external barriers, such as gendered stereotypes. There is an expectation of men to be strong and competent and women to be warm, kind, and caring.

Interventions designed to fix women also leave the status quo untouched. They ask women to adjust to workplaces that are primarily designed by, and for, men.

What are the actions that we can take to bust this myth?

Fix the system, not the women

  • Inclusive job adverts – language and imagery
  • Make it possible to be a parent and to have a career, e.g. by flexible work arrangements
  • Make paternity leave for men mandatory
  • Question your current leadership criteria - are they male skewed?
  • Design organisations women want to belong to
  • Change processes, structures, behaviors to counter unconscious bias

Accountability for change

  • Measure inclusiveness of employees through a combination of quantitative and qualitative indicators
  • Foster a sponsorship culture
  • Establish a program to engage male leaders

Speak up Culture

  • An instant feedback mechanism as standard
  • Give a voice to all employees, for example ensure everyone in the meeting has a chance to view their opinion – even the introverts
  • Do stereotype flipping to challenge the status quo

Myth 5: Women do not want to climb the career ladder

Preliminary research suggests, that women opt-out because they don’t feel they fit in within their organisations, because they feel they won’t succeed, or because they feel their sacrifices will not be rewarded, said Eric Enselme, Product Supply Director at P&G.

But there are many external barriers faced by women throughout their careers – gendered stereotypes and expectations, the discrimination from those who make hiring and promotion decisions, and the division of labor perpetuated by maternity leave and childcare policies.

What are the actions that we can take to bust this myth?

Policies and Practices

  • Childcare support – on site nurseries, holiday or homework clubs
  • Career management guide – making it transparent what are the “rules of the game” how to get on

Enabling culture

  • Role model male working parents – discuss the challenges of juggling home and work
  • Parental support groups
  • Engage men in childcare – offer paternity leave
  • Create culture of “quality over quantity”
  • Challenge existing assumptions about leadership qualities


  • Ask - don’t assume, regarding if a woman would be interested in a role
  • Focus on the skills, deliverables and abilities, not on the percentage working hours
  • Actively sponsor women
  • Make women part of the “club”

Myth 6: There are not enough qualified women for the top jobs

Men and women work side by side, tackling the same business problems, sitting through the same meetings and walking the same hallways. But a new study on working women suggests that the common ground ends there. Men and women experience very different workplaces, ones in which the odds for advancement vary widely and corporate careers come in two flavors: his and hers.

It’s not news that women are much less likely to get hired for top jobs than men, even when the candidates have the exact same qualifications. According to the research paper When Gender Discrimination Is Not About Gender, Employers favor men not because they are prejudiced against women, but because they have the perception that men perform better on average at certain tasks.

Laurenz Uhl, Co-Founder of Includiv asked: “What are the right qualification criteria for top jobs? Are they male skewed?”

Change mindset

  • Have the courage & trust to promote female talent
  • Standardize/neutralize the interview or promotion process
  • Train employees on gender-neutral upbringing of kids
  • Engage men and encourage men to take care of the kids
  • Provide child support

Radical Transparency

  • Be radically transparent about success factors and salary
  • Measure percentages of women per job level into annual report
  • Quotas help to permeate the boy’s clubs
  • Exclude gender & age for CV screening

Role Modeling

  • Showcase female role models
  • Hire women for big roles



Miriam Melcher

Procter & Gamble, Citizenship Manager DACH, in partnership with P&O, PwC Switzerland

+41 79 565 73 81