The technology industry has long had a gender problem. While work has been ongoing in recent years to improve the representation of women in the sector - and indeed improve diversity on a broader scale - the fact remains that technology is still very much a male-dominated space. In fact, the proportion of men and women being appointed as directors of UK tech companies has remained the same since 2000, with just 22% of director positions being taken up by women. But why does this market have such a pronounced problem with gender equality, and what can be done to improve diversity within the sector?
The current state of the UK technology industry
The UK’s technology workforce is heavily male-dominated at every level, not just in the most senior positions. Just 19% of technology workers in this country are female, according to Tech Nation’s in-depth research, while only 10% of tech leaders are women. Worryingly, the gender gap starts much earlier than executive-level. PwC research highlights this, saying that just 3% of women point to a career in technology as their first choice, and 27% of them would consider a career in technology at all, compared to 61% of men. Once women do enter the tech industry, they are more likely to leave it, according to Women in Tech. The quit rate for women is alarmingly high at 47%, while for men it’s 17%. Then there’s the issue of the gender pay gap, which is now much more transparent thanks to mandatory reporting of pay gap figures made law by changes to the Equality Act. With the tech industry growing three times faster than the whole economy, contributing £200 billion a year to the nation’s bottom line, the time to address the gender gap is well and truly upon us.
Why are diversity and inclusion so important in the workplace?
A lack of women at the top level is a problem felt throughout almost every industry in the UK. It wasn’t until 2019 that we saw a woman CEO appointed to one of the UK’s top four banks, while within fintech women make up just 29% of the entire employee base and just 17% of executive roles. But why is gender diversity so important in today’s working world?
At its most basic level, we must look at users of technology - half of whom are women. In order to create products and services that appeal to and represent this enormous section of the consumer base, women must be involved at every stage. This has countless business benefits: organisations with women in at least 30% of leadership positions have been shown to have improved profits compared to teams with fewer or no female representation, while diversity can also drive innovation, improve global success and promote creativity. This innovation point is critical for tech companies of all sizes. A BCG survey suggests that companies with above-average diversity report innovation revenue 19 percentage points higher than companies with below-average diversity. In the rapidly expanding, intensely competitive tech world, an edge in innovation can be the difference between thriving and downsizing.
Finally, inclusive and diverse workplaces have been found to be more appealing to candidates. This is particularly true of millennials, who will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. For half of those who make up this generation, a culture of diversity and inclusion is a major consideration when job hunting. What’s more, companies that promote diversity and inclusion are likely to have lower turnover rates than organisations that do not prioritise is. For employers, it should be obvious that closing the gender gap has benefits at every level - but how can we achieve it?
What can be done to improve the representation of women in technology?
When it comes to promoting gender diversity within the technology industry, everyone has a role to play. This begins at the earliest stages of education. Fewer girls study STEM subjects at A-level and higher education than boys, with girls making up just 35% of STEM students at higher level in 2017/2018. Research has shown that, despite gender stereotypes, there is little to distinguish between boys’ and girls’ abilities in STEM subjects at school-level, yet girls are less likely to have technology and other STEM careers suggested to them than boys. Teachers, education staff and parents must do more to tackle misconceptions around ability and opportunities at this level, encouraging girls to pursue STEM subjects and consider the myriad careers available within technology.
More must also be made of role modelling and mentoring. Only 22% of women can name a famous female working in technology, while 66% can name a famous male tech worker, and 83% say it’s impossible to name a role model who inspires them to pursue a tech career. It’s immediately apparent that more needs to be done to highlight those women who do work in this space, as well as establishing more mentoring and networking programmes to help develop relationships and increase exposure. Mentoring programmes can be run within organisations or externally. This Tech Republic guide is a good place to start when you’re considering establishing a mentoring programme in your business.
Much has been done to encourage more women and girls to get into coding in recent years, with several high-profile programming courses set up specifically for female learners. Organisations can partner with industry groups and promote these courses, working together to help impove gender diversity in tech. Take a look at Girls Can Code, Tech Talent Charter, WISE and Women in Tech to get started.
Those tech companies which are truly committed to gender diversity will proactively make it part of their company culture. This includes everything from reworking job descriptions and reviewing parental leave policies to updating training and development programmes and assessing the demographic makeup of C-suite and executive-level team members. While change won’t happen overnight, it will happen - and it will ultimately benefit your business.
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