Why more women in tech will close the digital skills gap
Writes Arlene Bulfin, Director of People Development at UKFast.
What does it take to not only attract women in tech, but retain them?
It’s a question puzzling many tech companies as recruiting a diverse workforce becomes more challenging, if not downright impossible.
It’s easy to blame the education system, but according to Girls Who Code, nearly 3 in 4 young girls express interest in computer sciences at school level. Yet, when it comes to the number pursuing a career in tech at bachelor degree level, the number drops to just 18%. And, in the workplace, the divide is even bleaker, with women outnumbered in meetings 2:1 by men.
What these stats tell us is that there is no single, definite point that deters women from tech, but rather multiple moments culminating in a decision to study or pursue a different pathway.
And considering UK companies are facing a digital skills shortage crisis - where three million jobs will need to be filled by 2025 - it’s critical to start bridging this gender skills gap today.
The need to bust gender stereotypes must start from a young age
Biases can start as early as seven years old, and this includes the hugely incorrect bias that women are not technologically adept. Meaning, closing the gender gap must start in primary school with computer science initiatives, coding curriculums, age-appropriate resources, and immersive summer programmes at local tech companies.
But, breaking the mould also means teaching young girls that, even if they’re the only woman in a room, they belong there just as much as their male peers. By installing belief at a young age that there is no such thing as a ‘career better suited for men’, or a ‘career better suited for women’, we will see more women joining tech, STEM and digital careers,
Joining networks that break down these stereotypes at a young age, such as Girls Who Code and ShePlusPlus, are a good place to start; providing encouragement and motivation to think differently at every critical stage of a young woman’s development.
Creating a more inclusive working culture
The tech industry might be known for innovation, but it’s infamous for its “bro culture”. Male CEOs dominate the media, implicit bias towards women and minorities result in microaggressions, and there’s a stark shortage of female role models in senior positions
However, as a tech company it’s in your best interest to turn that culture around. Why? Because research shows companies with more than a third of female leadership see a 15% increase in profitability. And greater diversity of thought across management, mid-level and entry positions show, will help you solve problems faster.
To get there, tech companies must invest in the recruitment and retention of women. That means putting women on leadership tracks from the start of their careers, promoting female role models, encouraging women-only support networks, and enforcing flexible business practises that focus on an employee’s results, rather than hours spent working.
Taking steps forward
No matter how you look at it, having more women in tech is better for business – and the tech companies already actively working towards a more inclusive workforce are reaping the rewards.
By engaging girls at a younger age and creating a work culture that fosters inclusivity, tech companies can help get more women into tech. It’s a process that we all – schools and tech companies – must work together to achieve. By doing so, we not only set girls on the path to a brighter future, but our society comes out stronger and better for it too.
Laura is techUK’s Head of Programme for Technology and Innovation.
She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.
Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally in London, Singapore and across the United States as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.
Laura has a degree in History (BA Hons) from Durham University, focussing on regional social history. Outside of work she loves reading, travelling and supporting rugby team St. Helens, where she is from.
Nimmi Patel is the Policy Manager for Skills, Talent and Diversity at techUK.
She works on all things skills policy, focusing on upskilling and retrain. She is committed to embedding diversity in the UK tech pipeline from classroom to boardroom working with partners such as the Tech Talent Charter and the WISE Campaign. Nimmi also leads techUK’s immigration work, collaborating with techUK members and stakeholders to create an environment that attracts the best talent to the UK.
Prior to joining the team, she worked for the UK Labour Party and New Zealand Labour Party and holds a BA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Manchester and is currently studying MA Strategic Communications at King’s College London.