Written by Nathalie Hulbert, Head of Customer Content, CloudShift
As a sector, there’s no denying that we like to make some noise on International Women’s Day. CIOs take to LinkedIn to publicly praise their female employees. Articles listing “Top Women in Technology” flood our news feeds. And we are reminded of the early female trailblazers; from Ada Lovelace – who invented computer programming before we even had computers, to Katherine Johnson – the ground-breaking mathematician whose calculations enabled NASA’s early space expeditions.
But there will be a subtext to the noise, a reason why as an industry, we need to shout louder than anyone else on this day. The reason is the perennial under-representation of women in tech.
In the UK, only 17% of the tech sector are female, and even fewer make it to leadership level. To make matters worse, the UK is facing a widening technological skills gap amidst the relentless pace of Industry 4.0. The demand for people who can work with AI just isn’t matching supply, and businesses are grappling for the best talent.
Now I’m no Katherine Johnson, but if women make up near 50% of the workforce, but only 17% of them are working in tech – the problem and the solution seems obvious. So why aren’t more women joining the tech sector, more importantly, whose responsibility is it to change this?
Why aren’t more women joining the tech sector?
If you had asked me this question seven years ago, my answer would have been simple – it’s because we didn’t feel welcome. That’s not because our brains weren’t “technically wired”. And it’s not because we felt we were better suited to more “glamorous” sectors. It’s because we had been pigeonholed by these kinds of stereotypes.
But fast-forward seven years later and the landscape looks vastly different. Countless research has emerged proving that gender-balanced tech teams boost the bottom line and resolve growing skills gaps – jolting the industry into action. Giants like HP, Dell and Salesforce are setting the agenda with inclusive hiring, female mentors and appointed heads of Diversity and Inclusion, creating the trickle-down effect of smaller companies replicating best practice.
Personally speaking, I work for a Platinum Salesforce Partner and here at CloudShift, there are women making waves and driving innovation at every level. We have female grads joining us without any prior technical experience, only to get trained up by female techies with a wealth of knowledge under their belts. These techies, in turn, are being mentored and inspired by exec-level women within the Salesforce ecosystem. Next week, for instance, my colleagues are running a “Ladies Who Lead” networking breakfast, featuring talks and panel discussions with leading women from both CloudShift and Salesforce.
Yes, there’s work to be done before we reach true gender parity, and the industry shouldn’t rest on its laurels. But what about those years which shape us for the working world? Why don’t we hold these to account?
Where does the imbalance STEM from?
Whilst businesses have a part to play, there are deep-seated biases that deter women from pursuing a tech career before they even enter the workforce.
I remember being back at school and Computer Science GCSE and A-Level classes consisting of mostly boys. Like many awkward teenage girls, being the only female in these classes would have felt akin to walking into the boy’s changing rooms by accident!
I thought times might have changed since then. After all, pupils in the UK are being taught coding in schools and organisations such as “Apps for Good” and “Teentech” are collaborating with education to encourage more girls to pursue a tech career. And yet the latest figures show that female pupils are less confident in their abilities to thrive in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects.
Aware of the gender imbalance, one study assessed whether girls could be encouraged to pursue STEM A-Level subjects when offered financial grants. Nonetheless, the respondents were not incentivised, citing “male dominance”, “boys’ behaviour in the classroom” and a “lack of female role models” as their reasons for opting out.
Parental influence can often have a part to play as well. According to another study, 54% of teachers claimed they had seen girls drop STEM subjects in schools because of pressure and discouragement from a parent. I would hazard a guess that if a parent were from a generation that knew STEM to be a “boy’s club”, they may be giving their daughters well-intentioned yet outdated advice. If these parents were made aware of how open, inclusive and rewarding a STEM career can be for women, perhaps they would be less quick to discourage their daughters.
Unsurprisingly, only 7% of computer science A-Levels and 18% of computer science degrees are currently held by women, suggesting that the issue is a talent pipeline problem and that a change needs to be driven way before women enter the workforce.
Does that mean businesses are off the hook?
The short answer is no, not unless every single company within the tech industry abides by best practices. If Diversity and Inclusion training were as mandatory as having your businesses audited, then perhaps women might comprise more than 17% of tech employees. If every company allowed flexible working and offered fairer parental leave – we may see fewer women having to choose between family and career. And if every company hired for potential, training people on the necessary technical expertise, we would be able to rectify the inherent biases in education.
But until that day, the onus will remain on all of us; parents, educators, business leaders and individuals, to break down stereotypes, bridge the skills gaps and bring us closer to a more gender-balanced tech industry, once and for all.