Why is there a gender gap in tech and how to solve it?
What is the current situation?
One of the many things that Sanderson’s Technology Insights report shows is that there is a wide disparity between the number of men and women in the tech industry. Whilst 47.1% of the total UK workforce is female, our report found that only 16% of Security Analysts and 17% of Data Engineers are female; and this trend is reflected throughout our tech roles research. This is supported by Tech Nation’s report on diversity and inclusion in UK tech showing that 26% percent of the UK technology industry being women and more “technical” roles such as the roles discussed in the report, having an even wider gender gap.
It is accepted that having a more diverse workforce leads to greater staff retention, increased creativity and an improved employer brand and most of our clients are actively trying to increase the percentage of women in their technology functions. Currently, many organisations efforts to build a more diverse in inclusive workforce has centred on HR and TA driven activities, such an such as offering flexible working patterns, targeting diverse candidate for new hires, blind resumes and job descriptions written using inclusive language. These activities are all important in addition to flexible working arrangements which are essential and help to keep women in the industry. However, for the UK tech industry to get anywhere close to having a representative gender proportion, we will need to address the elephant in the room that too few women are entering the tech industry.
Why do so few women enter the technology industry?
Regardless of the investment in initiatives companies run once people have entered the workforce, so long as there is a supply shortage of women entering the tech industry, there will always be an insurmountable gender gap. The main reason for this large gender disparity in tech occurs years before the first day on the job. If you take a look online for graduate STEM jobs, you will see that the majority of jobs will either have STEM degree as a pre-requisite or in the case of some entry level software role, have a good understanding of software development. However, only 19% of computer science, engineering and technology students are women, so how does the industry expect to improve if it continues to hound these same avenues.
Some of this cannot be the responsibility of business, as simply, not enough girls are studying the subjects in further education to lead them organically into STEM careers. In 2019, while 35% of boys took two or more STEM subjects at A-Level, only 22% of girls took two or more STEM A-Levels. Furthermore, boys studies in A-Level subjects that traditionally lead study a degree in computer science, engineering and technology at a significantly higher rate than girls. 37.2% boys studies vs 19.6% girls, 20.6% of boys studies Physics vs 4.9% girls and 6.9% of boys studied Computer Science vs 0.9% girls.
So how can businesses help reduce the gender workforce gap?
Companies with the resources should look to partner with charities that work with girls to increase STEM participation (such as Girl Geeks and Girls who Code Girls) or even better, encourage women to talk in schools and get involved in mentoring. A 2020 study by the Government Social Research Service concluded that relatable and non-stereotypical role models and messengers may help improve girls’ perceptions of STEM and in turn make it more likely for them to study STEM subjects at A level. A separate Spanish study published in 2020 found that having women STEM employees go into schools to talk to secondary ages girls had a significant and positive impact on girls aspirations to work in STEM and had a positive impact of girl belief that they could do well in STEM subjects.
Another thing that organisations can do is to move away from the degree requirement for their entry level tech jobs. A STEM degree doesn’t necessarily mean a successful tech career and as an industry we are missing out of a wealth of talent with the skillsets and traits to thrive in tech if we close ourselves off any only consider graduates. Data from the first wave of government sponsored tech bootcamps show that 48% of participants on the course were female and 78% of participants were over the age of 25. As there is a shortage of individuals coming from the traditional route, we cannot afford to not actively consider candidates with alternative backgrounds, Many CTO’s and CIO’s both male and female did not get STEM degrees and instead got their breaks into the tech industry though work placement or secondments.
It is clear that in order to close the gender gap in tech, we must not only focus of creating a diverse and inclusive workforce in our organisations. We must also do work with young people to show them that a career in Tech is possible and aligns with their values. Companies can play an important role by providing mentorship and role models, and looking at initiatives such as skills-based hiring can help build a more diverse team. However, more must be done to make girls aware of the opportunities a STEM career can bring. With more effort and investment in this area, a more diverse and inclusive workforce can be realized.
techUK is marching forward to close the tech gender gap in 2023. Throughout March, coinciding with International Women’s Day (IWD 2023) on 8 March, we are exploring how we embrace equitable workplaces. The UN’s theme for IWD 2023 focuses on Digital for All or DigitALL, and we are proud to support this.
For more information, please visit our Women in Tech hub.
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