A look at the declining number of women in tech and exploring new ways to attract and keep more of us in IT.
One thing isn’t up for debate: we need more women (and diversity) in IT- period.
The statistics don’t lie.
The number of women currently in IT do not suggest that we are wanted or that our contribution is valued. After all, shouldn’t companies seek candidates that are talented and enthusiastic regardless of gender to be contributors to their cause? In reality only 17% of the technology workforce in the UK is comprised of women. Research shows that only one out of six tech specialists in the UK are women, and even worse only one out of ten are IT leaders. To top this off, ‘a fifth of companies within London’s tech community employ no women at board level’. How should statistics like this be interpreted?
I’ll tell you. It shouts, “Boys only please”.
It isn’t much better in the States either, where only 25% of computing and IT jobs are held by women in 2019. What’s also interesting is the fact that the turnover rate is twice as high for women than it is for men. Let’s face it, this is a man’s world, and that won’t change for now (if ever), but must the discrepancy be so vast?
While some predict that we are on the path to change — the cynic in me can’t seem to let go of the fact that only 7% of students that take computer science at A-Level are female and then just half of those girls go on to a career in IT in the UK. Whatever side of the pond you reside, the problem is the same — there is a sluggish increase of women in technology.
The Edge Foundation — an independent education charity — warn of the estimated ‘600,000 tech job vacancies costing the UK economy £63 billion a year’ (according to a report published in August 2018). There is another report that suggests the UK economy alone would see an extra £2.6 billion each year if the employment of women was used as a strategy to help solve the IT skills shortage. With Brexit in our midst, the skills shortage is set to worsen if nothing is done to seriously start tapping into our female home-grown talent. Tech London Advocates takes it further by saying ‘A talent shortage is consistently cited as the industry’s greatest threat’.
According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) companies are ‘missing out on highly qualified candidates, key contributors to innovation and increased productivity and profit’. Companies like Nominet also report on similar findings.
Putting statistics aside for a minute, I’d like to draw upon my own experiences. During my time working for large industry leading IT organisations, not once have I worked with a female solutions architect. In fact, I only recall personally working with three female support engineers in the 9 years that I have worked in IT. Whilst we don’t want to just fill positions ‘for the sake of it’ — a typical concern held by some — at the same time companies need to see that the numbers are low and honestly ask themselves why.
Barriers that prevent women getting into IT.
It starts at childhood. One of the reasons we have fewer women in IT is because of a clear pipeline problem. Girls are not being ‘scouted’ for in their youth. Careers in IT are not positioned as an option to many teenage girls. New and upcoming talent is sought after as the main strategy to get boys into football, and other well-known sports. There is nothing wrong with this so why not do the same for getting more girls interested in IT at a young age. Teachers and parents alike need to do their bit too. For example, if a female student displays excellence in Maths, then a career in computer science or a technical specialism should be positioned to her as a great career option for her to explore — but by and large this is not happening. Ellen Kerr from TLA Education Group believes ‘One of the greatest challenges that we face is the lack of awareness held by teachers, parents and career advisers’. [Tech London Advocates (2016), Diversity in Tech: A Manifesto for London, p.33, website]
Once we get more women in the pipeline — other barriers present themselves that can potentially undo any good work that has resulted in more female candidates in the IT job market. Women are being turned off applying for jobs they qualify for. We are attracted to different things. The way in which roles are marketed and advertised for could be one of the reasons why IT is such a male dominated industry. When attracting talent for engineering roles, words like strong, dominant are often used, and while there is nothing wrong with this and many women do satisfy this pre-requisite, by and large women will not be overly attracted to masculine sounding job roles, which in turn lowers the candidate pool.
Another barrier presents itself before the application process for a lot of women. According to a Forbes article, women are self-selecting themselves out of roles and research shows that we are overly concerned about ticking all the boxes, whereas men are more confident and apply for jobs based on satisfying just 60% of the criteria.
For those of us who override the apparent ‘confidence gap’, let’s say you’ve applied, had the interview, then what? Another obstacle becomes apparent: it seems that ‘men are hired based on potential and women hired based on proof’ according to a Harvard Business Review article. If women are having to unnecessarily prove themselves from the outset, then it almost gives a sneak peek into the environment they will be committing themselves to. Truth is, if you are qualified enough to have gained an interview then you should have the confidence in an interview to convey your worth and potential. Any candidate applying for a role shouldn’t necessarily be a finished product, but instead display enough potential to fulfil the rest with the help of the company he/she is hoping to work for.
Congratulations — you got the job — but now you have to deal with the perception of women in the workplace especially if you’ve taken a technical role such as Software Engineer, DevOps Consultant or Coder. In male dominated industries and workplaces, it is often the experience that contribution and feedback from a woman is not appreciated as many of us are talked over and undermined. While this experience is not specific to IT or even technical oriented roles, this nonetheless is a contributing factor to a woman’s longevity at a company.
How can we fix this?
The ‘we’ I refer to above is the collective we. Schools, parents, men and women need to club together to make impactful change. Let’s now take a look at some of the many ways in which we can make the workplace a more diverse one and start reaping the benefits that eradicating a monoculture can bring.
Anneke Jong wrote a great article where she looks at how we solve the pipeline problem and get more women into tech. To summarise, she stresses the importance of educating young girls about the possibilities of a career in technology. She writes, ‘Let’s include computer scientist protagonists in children’s books and create toys that allow kids to “play programmer” as easily as they “play doctor.”’ We teach girls how to be mother by having dolls, we also teach them how to run a kitchen, lets expose them to play-time options that can inspire their future careers.
The words of Amali De Alwis, CEO of Code First: Girls provide food for thought:
“The perceptions of parents and young people around technology careers still deter women from learning to code. Nothing is more damaging than the idea that coding isn’t a ‘girly’ activity. The truth is London’s tech companies will only continue to compete on the world stage by harnessing the female coding talent that’s out there” [Tech London Advocates (2016), Diversity in Tech: A Manifesto for London, p.34, website]
Let’s not leave it to down to schools and teachers. Parents encourage our children and expose them to the possibilities of a career in technology. After all tech is the future, no company on this planet can survive without it. It is a relevant and lucrative industry, which is also proving itself to be timeless as it is at the centre of transforming so many lives and businesses. This is a great industry to be a part of — expose your daughters to it as one of the many paths she can take.
Companies. Re-evaluate the way you advertise for engineering roles. Wording can attract or repel potential female candidates. ERE Recruiting Intelligence explored this in an article posted on their website that references research that has found that women view jobs with masculine wording ‘less appealing’:
“The research results were obvious: women job seekers were more interested in male-dominated jobs when advertisements were unbiased, making reference to both men and women as candidates. In other words, women and men, for example, may equally like and desire an engineering job, but highly masculine wording used in the job posting reduces women’s appeal of the job because it signals that women do not fit or belong in that job.”
Listen to women, hold conferences and forums cater to us. Managers, show that you value the voice of all your staff but at the same time, you probably have fewer women on your team to begin with so do what you can to encourage and promote them within the company. Network with them and put them in touch with talented people you know that can mentor and enable growth.
Ladies, some of this is on us. Believe in your capabilities and your skill set. Apply for jobs that will promote you. You don’t have to tick all the boxes — just go for it. If you don’t fulfil all of the job criteria, then have a plan in your back pocket that shows you are en-route to becoming the best you that you can be, but also how the company you are applying to can help you get there.
Talk up in meetings. Have confidence in your ideas and what you bring to the table. Voice how a company can improve and use statistics, facts and customer experiences to back your cause. Additionally — network, network, and network some more. Build friendships in places that can get you noticed so you can get ahead — and don’t apologise or feel bad for it. Men do this all the time, and so should we. You are more likely to thrive at a company where your network is strong, and you have other colleagues ‘on-side’. This doesn’t have to be solely with other women but seek out men who respect women for who they are and value your contribution. A couple of ways you can do this is by maximising on coffee breaks with other clever people you want to bounce ideas off of or join industry related social groups set up by your place of work and beyond to really broaden your reach.
Marian Wright Edelman said, “You cannot be what you cannot see”. It is vital for the presence of women to be felt in all roles across the IT space and not just sales or customer service roles. As much as a presence of talented women in those sorts of roles are needed, wouldn’t it be refreshing to see more women at the top of their game in technical oriented roles. After all, women with a technical background are more likely to progress to senior management positions which in turn produces higher performing companies according to a Women in Tech article.
The career of Yasmeen Ahmad is an excellent example. With a Hons Bsc in Applied Computing and a PhD in Life Science her level of intelligence is unquestionable. She describes herself as ‘a strategic business leader in the area of data and analytics consulting’ and rightfully boasts of being ‘named as one of the top 50 data leaders and influencers in 2017 by Information Age and Data Scientist of the Year 2017 by Computing magazine’. Ahmad went from being a Software Developer to Data Scientist to Customer Excellence & Commercial Director at Teradata. Now she is Chief of Staff to the CEO. As an ‘experienced leader and innovator’ who has successfully built ‘a data and analytics consulting practice spanning Central Europe, UK&I and Russia’ her track record speaks for itself. Ahmad is just one of many women who have proven that we can climb the ranks and be successful in spaces predominantly held by men.
To conclude, ladies you have a place in this industry and your contribution is needed in order to keep Britain as a leading digital nation. There has never a better time where the rise of organisations and groups whose sole mission it is to get more women and diversity into IT. Organisations like Ada National College for Digital Skills is just one of them. Their CIO — Joysy John — says “Showing individuals that they can be rewarded for aligning their passion with a purpose is crucial to increasing participation in the tech sector.” [Tech London Advocates (2016), Diversity in Tech: A Manifesto for London, p.35, website]
Let’s continue to support one another and encourage more women — your friends, daughters, nieces into this industry. Ghilaine Boddington, Founder of Body>Data>Space rightfully says in the TLA Manifesto that “Being a ‘woman in tech’ does not mean you need to know how to code” and it’s great if that isn’t your thing, but there are a wealth of roles out there that can help you grow professionally and reach your career goals. The opportunities are endless within tech, there is no future without it, and without your participation ladies it will be impossible to close the skills shortage gap. Your country needs you- literally.
Christina Dinham, Founder of Uniquely Write Ltd
A copywriting business for the IT & Technology industry. Winning content for your technology.