Today is International Women’s Day - a day to recognise and celebrate the power and achievements of women around the world. However, it also gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect on the issue of women’s equality and how we as individuals and companies can work to improve gender parity within the technology sector.
Last year, just 20 per cent of people working in tech were women – that’s just one of many statistics that highlight the huge gender gap within the industry. Women are being left behind in an area that holds the future of economic growth, and this is worrying.
Diversity within companies encourages creativity and innovation and drives profit. Yet in the UK in 2017 only 5 per cent of senior leadership positions in tech were held by women, leaving just 3 per cent to consider a career in tech as their first choice.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world of work forever, and by 2025 it’s estimated that 70 per cent of workers will be working remotely at least five days a month. This increased flexibility will be particularly beneficial for women, who continue to shoulder the majority of childcare and household work globally.
However, in order to bridge the gap further there needs to be a cultural shift and a change in thinking. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is Choose to Challenge, and it’s by challenging the status quo that companies and employees can elevate women and champion gender equality.
Here are some possible strategies tech companies can use to reduce gender disparity in the sector:
1. Provide tech support and networking opportunities
The demand for IT and programming skills in the workplace will grow by as much as 90 per cent over the next 15 years. Women will be disproportionately affected by this period of digital transformation, so it’s crucial that they are given the opportunity to upskill digitally. Organisations can target their reskilling of female workers, which has the potential to massively improve gender diversity within the tech sector.
According to one estimate, between 40 million and 160 million women will need to transition across occupations and skills sets by 2030 to stay employed. Tech companies can offer support for women from a grassroots level, providing digital access and knowledge through training schemes and mentorship programmes. This support can extend to those still in education - supplying devices to lower income girls in schools and colleges, for example, can help encourage them to consider a career in tech.
The opportunity to network with other women within the tech industry is also hugely beneficial. Networking events in tech are typically male-dominated, so it’s helpful for companies to host women-only events. These give women the chance to share their goals and career experiences, enabling them to build connections with their peers and those in senior leadership roles. These events can produce mentorship opportunities, build partnerships and generate business growth.
2. Encourage female applicants
Employers are in a unique position to drive real, lasting change and diversity within their industry, and the way in which they recruit for roles can have a huge impact on the number of women applying. Recruiters can encourage female applicants through job descriptions that discuss role flexibility and detail growth and training opportunities within the company, while being transparent about salary and expected working hours.
When it comes to the interview process, companies can use skills-based assessments rather than face to face interviewing. This allows recruiters to focus on the data behind a person and avoid underlying gender bias that can lead to men being chosen over women during the hiring process.
3. Offer flexible working
The 2019 Women in Tech Survey found that flexible working was the number one benefit that would attract more women into the sector. Remote working has, of course, become the norm due to the pandemic and companies can continue to encourage this into the future. This, as well as advertising full-time roles as part-time job shares, can be beneficial to both men and women, giving them the opportunity to balance work and family life more equally and strive for more senior roles and higher salaries.
In the UK, employees can also apply for Shared Parental Leave and Pay, which allows working parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them until their child is a year old. Companies can encourage and promote this scheme to their employees, demonstrating their commitment to flexibility within their organisation.
Research has revealed that 56 per cent of women leave their jobs mid-career, a phenomenon that has been termed the ‘motherhood penalty.’ Employers can encourage these ‘returners’ back into the world of work by supporting them through the recruitment process and, again, emphasising the flexibility of an advertised role.
The popularity of ‘returnships’ is also rising. The term, coined by Goldman Sachs in 2008, refers to professional internships designed specifically for those returning to work after an extended career break. These short-term positions allow the employee to draw on existing skills, build confidence and gain recent CV experience, while deciding whether they want to return to the corporate world. They are also beneficial for the employer as a low-risk way of assessing the returner’s skills and considering them as a longer-term employee.
4. Elevate women into senior roles and amplify their voices
There’s no doubt that the lack of senior female role models within tech has a huge impact on the number of girls and women aspiring to work in the sector. In 2017, PwC found that only 5 per cent of leadership positions in the tech industry in the UK were held by women. Although this figure may have improved slightly in the last few years, it’s clear that more women need to be recognised for their accomplishments and elevated into senior roles.
Equal opportunities within the tech sector must be provided – not just in terms of career progression, but so that every voice is heard and listened to. All employees can advocate for a diverse company culture, championing women in the workplace by amplifying their voices in meetings and the boardroom.
The 2019 Women in Tech Survey revealed that half of the women surveyed had experienced gender bias or discrimination in the workplace. It’s a stark statistic that emphasises the need for unconscious bias awareness and training. Underlying gender bias can lead to men being promoted over women in leadership roles and women missing out on further opportunities. Tech companies can choose to appoint a diversity manager in order to reduce biased decision making and demonstrate their commitment to equality within the workplace.
5. Support women-led startups and companies
2019 was a historic year for women-led companies, with more than 20 earning valuations of $1 billion or more - the highest-ever in a one year period. Despite this, there is still a huge disparity between the amount of funding raised by female-only founded companies and those that are male-only founded. In 2019, male founded companies raised $195 billion, while female founded companies raised just $6 billion.
Men continue to invest at a much higher rate than women, and while female-focused venture capitalist firms and advocacy platforms are making an effort to increase representation in this space, there is still a long way to go. More women led start-ups need to be given resources - whether financial or otherwise - and tech companies can provide this assistance as incubators and accelerators.
It’s clear, then, that far more needs to be done to close the gender gap within the tech sector. In all economies, women have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, yet there is a huge opportunity to reskill the female workforce and transform the face of tech going forward. Companies and employees can work together - not just on International Women’s Day, but every day - to ensure women are supported, elevated and advocated for, leading to a better future for women in tech and the industry as a whole.
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