Why and How to Hire more Women in Tech

We appear to be in one of the most exciting, yet chaotic eras in Tech history where people are using revolutionary new products and services and ‘intelligent enterprise’ is using that information to connect on a deeper level with customers

Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and the Internet of Everything will bring unprecedented change to our lives in the very near future.  Robots will become members of the workforce who can read, see, listen, speak and record emotions. Healthcare technology will be able to upgrade humans to help with disease and disability. Frictionless business will occur at massive scale assisted by Edge Computing and the ability to decentralise storage. Smart cities with driverless cars where everything is connected to manage traffic, logistics and buildings will become commonplace

The pace of change is astounding, and companies who can’t keep up with new methods of engaging customers and innovation may well fall far behind and even cease to exist

If companies can’t hire the staff to make these rapid changes, then they are likely to be those who fall by the wayside

The current UK Tech Economy

The Tech industry is the UK’s shining light currently and contributes £184 billion to the UK economy and is growing 2.6 times faster than the overall economy.  This situation may quickly change, however, if Brexit and other political, regulatory or economic factors hurt the IT sector

We are already losing entrepreneurs and essential IT skills to other countries, especially those who are prepared to pay more and already SMEs are struggling to pay for quality data scientists

There is a wide gap in the demand and supply of IT workers already in the UK (and globally), and we urgently need a much broader pipeline of quality tech talent otherwise our future innovation is very likely to stagnate

We need a bigger talent pool right now

There are a number of pools of untapped talent that the IT Industry needs to look at seriously if the UK is to remain competitive.  Women being one of the most significant missed opportunities currently - but all areas of diversity and inclusion are just as important

I was lucky to have the chance to speak at the Computing Women in Tech Forum and CWJobs Women in IT Roundtable recently and had the opportunity to discuss the issue in depth and hear from some inspirational women who are leading the way in IT

Nb. The data used in this blog comes from research commissioned by CWJobs in September 2018 based on survey results from 300 key IT decision makers and senior professionals

What is the current Gender balance?

At the moment only 17% of IT workers are women (Engineering is much worse at 9%, and Science is thankfully 50%)

Why is Gender balance so important?

IT and computing have substantial roles to play in economic growth and societal impact (e.g. climate change).  Women and indeed all parts of society need a say in this, and a diverse workforce is critical for the success of the UK

If men alone develop products, then they are liable to miss the opportunity to innovate and sell those products to a more substantial proportion of the potential customer base (e.g. women) and will consequently lose out on profits and market share. More importantly, they will continue to perpetuate a world where we aren’t considering women’s wants and needs

Companies that are typically controlled by a large proportion of men are likely to be more volatile.  When a woman is on the Board, there is generally a 26% increase in performance and profits increase

Teams that have a balanced range of skills, experience, personalities, gender and backgrounds tend to perform better because of the variety of perspectives and synergy between them

And yes we need to increase the UK Technology skills and workforce capabilities

Why don’t women flock to IT as a career?

There is an urban myth that has perpetuated over the years that women are not suited to IT work and in particular programming.  This view is tenuous at best considering many of the first programmers in history were women - until men decided the work was too hard for them and took over.  There are also well-known examples such as the controversial Github research where women scored higher on approved code than men but only when their names were hidden (removing gender bias) and in Thailand where the tech workforce is fairly evenly split between the sexes

There are a wide range of barriers to women throughout IT with the key one being the overt male culture

However, many of the obstacles to working in IT occur even before women reach the workplace.  Junior school children are taught the basics of coding now, but there is still a lack of girls reaching GCSE stage or A-Level (less than 1% are female!).  Girls often don’t pursue Computing to A level despite good GCSE grades – possibly due to a lack of female role models who show that the work can be meaningful,  the range of exciting roles and examples of female success in the field

What can companies do to encourage women?

Speaking to women at the Women in IT Forum it was shocking to hear a range of interview and male-only culture horror stories, especially from those at a leadership level.  The main factor that stuck out in my mind was that many of these women were fearful of whether they were going to find a role that suited their needs, in a team where they could prosper and enjoy their work.  They were fed up of meeting bias at every stage and had often had the confidence knocked out of them

There was also much talk about whether women felt comfortable in celebrating their success and achievement and even though women know they need to do this to be seen and appreciated, many felt that they needed the support of a manager and team to do this and didn’t feel comfortable pushing themselves forward

What was most shocking however was that there were hardly any men at the event

Gender Imbalance cannot change if men aren’t involved!

There are two areas that need tackling simultaneously to provide enough talent for now and in the future:-

  1. Removing gender bias for the current workforce
  2. Providing a steady stream of female talent for the future

Removing Gender Bias in companies

There MUST be a cultural shift in companies starting with unconscious bias training at all levels and in all departments – not just IT.  It is essential to change current mindsets and break down the barriers that exist so that all staff can see their female peer’s work as valuable and essential

More specifically, there must be a focus on the following areas:

  1. Flexibility Employers need to understand that flexibility won’t harm their business (ideally with stats) and is essential to grow their workforce. Remote working at least to some degree can support more women returning to work, but flexibility should be offered to both parents, so the onus isn’t just on the woman helping the family -  even to the point where maternity and paternity leave is more equally balanced too
  2. Marketing Show women that your company supports diversity. Your website and job advertising, in particular, should display diversity statements, images of women in tech and leadership roles, wording that highlights the support and training offered and a distinct lack of aggressive and demanding language!.  Male IT stereotypes also need debunking and an inclusive, positive culture displayed (and supported)
  3. Assessment and Reward Take a deep dive into how your staff are assessed, rewarded and encouraged to progress in their careers. Monitor current practice, listen to employees, build business cases and take action to change processes to create a higher level of job satisfaction and recognition
  4. Consult your staff Find out what they want and need and which issues need tackling through surveys and interviews and then implement changes to help morale, job satisfaction and retention
  5. Gender pay gap The general pay gap is 25% and often worse than that. Evaluate your salaries, be transparent at all levels and make changes to close this gap down to ensure all treatment is   Ensure that women have the opportunity to step up from their current position and aren’t passed over for promotion (especially by a less qualified male)
  6. Support for women This is critical and relying on a support network is often the way women work best. Peer group support, learning opportunities (even mixed sex ones) and mentoring can be incredibly valuable.  Women shouldn’t be employed just because they are women, but they need every chance to improve their skills and to be seen
  7. Sign up for one of the Tech Charters Learn best inclusion practice from the community and tie your flag to the mast for all to see

Encouraging more girls into IT

The Government and industry are beginning to wake up to the idea that something must change, and now, but it is very much a slow burner and Computer Science education is very male-focused still

We need to be heavily marketing IT to girls.  It is an exciting career that can be meaningful and doesn’t just include programming.  There is a desperate need for high profile female role models and cool influencers to highlight the opportunities

Many girls don't see examples of how IT relates to real life, and we need to get them interested in areas such as AI and Robotics and show them how they can help the planet, make people’s lives better and create products that they enjoy

The education system will always be somewhat behind the times due to the fast pace of technology, so it is essential that the Tech community get involved by nurturing, coaching and mentoring the next generation and helping them to experience the work through projects in real life companies

There is a debate about whose responsibility this is, but surely it can only be tackled by a combination of education, government and business – we can’t afford to delay and small gestures are just not enough

Will equality arrive soon?

The Women In IT Survey shows that equality may come in 12.5 years but the World Economic Forum has calculated . . . 

. . . . that the overall gender pay gap will take until 2186 to close

We can’t wait that long – we can’t afford to wait any longer at all!

Some great communities are working to improve the situation such as:-

Tech London Advocates who are currently trying to increase funding for female-run businesses to grow ventures and inspire more to enter the sector. They also want to  provide all university students with one week's coding education

Tech Talent Charter who encourage all types of companies to sign up to support inclusive practices in their companies

TechSheCan Charter who help companies to share best practice and to promote and inspire females to pursue technology careers

UTCs and Digital Colleges are colleges that are designed to pave the way for young people into tech careers and who work very closely with the tech industry to provide realistic and exciting learning experiences

All of these initiatives are superb, but there is an urgent need for much greater momentum.  A tiny number of tech companies are signed up to these types of communities considering that most companies hire tech employees – we need the majority to be involved

Action must be combined across industry, education and government now to promote brilliant women's stories and meaningful and exciting careers in tech

All companies need to be involved in this if they want to survive!

Added 12-Dec-2018