For many years the tech industry has been largely male dominated, struggling to both attract and retain female talent. With an increased awareness of the importance and value of diversity within the workplace many employers are now making positive steps to increase the number of women within their tech divisions. We take a look at some of the difficulties faced with regards to both attracting and retaining women within the tech sector and how they can be overcome.
In order to significantly increase the number of women in technology the journey needs to start with girls in the classroom. Surveys suggested that many girls as young as 6 are already beginning to feel disengaged from STEM subjects. A significant problem here is ideas of old-fashioned gender stereotypes and that STEM-related education and careers are more suited to boys. This is often coupled with a lack of understanding around the huge breadth of careers that are encompassed within the tech field. Educating girls about the opportunities available and challenging perceptions is key here. This should also be extended to teachers and parents who often play a vital role in encouraging children and helping them to decide what educational choices they should make.
Even where women do successfully complete a tech-related degree, such as Computer Science, a significant number will go on to have careers within a non-tech sector. Technical degrees equip graduates with a host of transferrable skills meaning that women are not forced to remain in the sector. This puts additional pressure on employers who must not only promote and embrace diversity but must also compete with other sectors who may be viewed as more inclusive and attractive. By targeting female STEM graduates employers will have access to a huge potential pool of future tech talent. Again, the emphasis here should be on breaking down those tech stereotypes and emphasising all the exciting opportunities available within the sector.
Inclusive Work Culture
In a male dominated industry, the workplace may feel unaccommodating or even intimidating to women. Psychologically, people are drawn to others who they feel are like themselves so it is vital that businesses take steps such as putting together diverse interview panels to help appeal to female talent. Where a company culture is quite set and resistant to change, formal training may help highlight the benefits of diversity. It is also essential that cultural diversification has full buy-in from those in leadership roles to help instil the mind-set across the business from the top downwards.
Lack of career progression
Traditionally women have not been afforded the same opportunities for career growth and development within the tech sector as their male counterparts. The negative impact here is two fold. Firstly, the lack of diversity within senior roles can negatively impact creative output and decision-making within the business leading to the narrowing of perspective and approach. Secondly, if there is lack of women within these critical roles it can have a detrimental effect on future diversity too as women within more junior roles will not have role models to inspire and encourage them within their own careers.
In recent years the lack of women in business-critical roles has been recognised by many companies who have introduced inclusion and diversity initiatives to try and address the imbalance. This can include making changes to hiring/ promotion processes to make the organisation more attractive to female tech professionals and introducing mentorships and succession planning to champion, support, promote and retain women in technical roles.
Many people can identify with the difficulties of trying to juggle work and life commitments and flexible working should be promoted, where possible, to assist with this. Women returning from maternity leave, in particular, often struggle to re-enter the workplace and can experience a range of feelings including guilt and loss of confidence. Because of the fast-paced nature of the tech industry, in terms of innovation and advancement, women in tech can face the added difficulty of getting to grips with new developments and processes. It is essential that businesses recognise this and provide additional support, where necessary, to prevent the loss of talent.
With just 17% of UK tech jobs currently held by women it is clear that there is much to do. The good news is that more and more businesses are waking to the benefits of a diverse workforce and we are cautiously optimistic regarding the future of women in technology!