The tide is turning. Organisations are slowly starting to recognise the benefits of employing more women in the technology sector.
Only one-in-six of tech specialists in the UK are women, compared with 47% of the entire workforce, research from the Tech Partnership’s Women in IT scorecard reveals. Worse still, fewer than one-in-ten of these women are in leadership positions.
A lack of women in technology jobs is not just a problem for women, it’s a problem for the whole business sector, as Karen Price, CEO of The Tech Partnership Company, said in a recent post: “As someone with long experience of the tech sector, I’m starting to see real signs of a shift in attitudes to the ‘women problem’ – at least partly because it’s no longer framed as a women’s problem. There is genuine recognition within the sector that this is a business problem – something that has to be solved not just for abstract reasons of fairness or justice but because of practical, commercial concerns.”
For example, there has been a concerted effort by graduate employers to try and redress gender imbalance in their workforce, according to a survey by AGR. In male dominated professions, such as IT, the survey reported that women were more likely to be hired if they applied for this type of job. However, it also showed much fewer women are applying for these roles.
Dave Gibbs, STEM computing and technology specialist at the National STEM Learning Centre and Network, said: “This shift in attitude in employers is relatively new – but could be linked to high profile campaigns, such as National Women in Engineering Day, raising awareness of the benefit of having a diverse workforce to bring new perspectives and ideas. This is so important in the fast-moving world of technology.”
Studies have also shown that women make up 50% of social media users, and 50% of gamers – and yet so few women are working in these industries. Gibbs added: “If companies are serious about reaching these audiences and understanding their needs, it makes sense for the workforce to better reflect their customer bases.”
Matching an Increase in Demand
The lack of women in technology is a multifaceted problem. As Price said: “There’s no simple answer, no magic bullet, no easy win.”
There are many organisations out there pressing for greater recognition of the value of women in tech and the value of women to technical teams. Gillian Arnold, chair of BCSWomen, said: “We know that there is a big requirement to add diversity to all teams, since it brings additional revenues/profit, additional innovation, better client satisfaction and so on. Many companies want to benefit from these aspects of diversity.”
The National STEM Learning Centre and Network, BCSWomen, GirlGeeks, the WISE campaign, Cambridge AWISE, Women in HPC and TechUK Women are all other excellent information sources for women eager to understand and engage with the technology sector.
Another fantastic organisation is the #techmums initiative, which was set up to teach mums a range of tech skills and to take the mystery out of technology. Dr Sue Black, founder and CEO of the #techmums social enterprise, said: “Many mums don’t realise that they are sorely needed in the tech workforce. Project management, organisation, social and community skills and so much more are a large part of being a mum and also extremely valuable to organisations. Several of our mums have gone on to get jobs after completing the #techmums program.”
Dr Black added: “Many organisations don’t realise that mums make excellent employees, used to managing, delegating and working to deadlines. #techmums brings mums and organisations together.”
So, if we have such organisations working to address the tech gender inequality issue, and companies are starting to recognise the business need to get more women working in the IT sector – why do we still only see a one-in-six representation for female tech specialists in the UK?
Change takes time. It also requires women to engage with technology at every stage of their career and education. Gibbs said: “We need to start now to inspire young women to study computing and technology throughout their school careers, and then go on to apprenticeships and degrees in these subjects. Take up of the new computing GCSE has not been as high among girls as among boys, and we need to challenge young women to think about going into a career in tech – with all the rewards this could bring them.”
“Schemes such as STEM Clubs, or inviting a STEM Ambassador into schools can be a great way to empower the next generation to take the first step towards a career in IT,” Gibbs added.
The tide may be turning but we’re far from surfing the wave of gender equality in the technology sector.
There is one tiny silver lining for those women already working, or eager to work in IT.
A job in the technology sector does not just bring a range of benefits to female workers, it gives those women working in the IT sector the opportunity to inspire future female techies.
Arnold added: “We need to attract women into IT for the long term. They need something to make them stay, be that career progression or a fellow woman in a senior position to inspire them.”
Working in the tech sector is a win-win situation for female candidates – a great job and an opportunity to inspire future generations.
The drip, drip effect of a gradual increasing demand for women in IT will slowly turn into a tsunami of female candidates and better representation.
Grab your surfboard.
By Gemma Church