Why Does the Tech Industry have a Gender Problem?
The UK’s tech industry currently employs over one million people and, in 2018, was worth £184 billion to the UK. However, even though the technology sector is growing substantially, it’s still dealing with an age-old problem: a lack of gender diversity.
The UK ranks third in the world total for capital invested in tech companies, with it being predicted that investment will increase over the next decade. Additionally, the UK tech sector is growing 2.6 times faster than the overall UK economy.
However, women currently account for only 19% of those working in the industry. Women are also underrepresented at all levels, more so in senior management, where they make up just 12.6% of board members.
Along with this gender divide, the industry is faced with sector-specific skill gaps, with over 70% of tech employers having experienced skills shortages this year alone. Almost one-quarter of these expect the skills shortage to impact on their recruitment.
Grant Dove, IT Recruitment Lead at Forward Role, said:
“With the digital skills shortage and strong industry growth, it’s now more important than ever to address the industry’s gender imbalance if we want to continue to grow, innovate and evolve. We all have to work hard to encourage more diversity and grow our industry into one that we can be really proud of as it changes and evolves. There will be many barriers to overcome in the next few years, but the future looks bright for women in tech. Forward Role has taken a deep dive to find out the true extent of the gender divide in the technology sector and has spoken to a variety of women about their experience of the tech industry and ask the question “why does the tech industry have a gender problem?”
Education Level Disparity
Employment isn’t where the tech gender divide begins – it stems back to the education level which proves that there needs to be more done to encourage girls to take interest in tech subjects. Even though the split between girls and boys opting for apprenticeships is fairly even, girls typically lean more towards sectors like learning support, human resources and health and social care instead of more male-dominated industries such as computer science and technology.
To help tackle this issue, UnionLearn has suggested that apprenticeships should be promoted as an option for all by schools, challenging gender stereotyping from an early stage:
- There should be more targeted support and careers guidance for young women from school age upwards
- There should be more taster courses and work experience for young people before they decide on their chosen apprenticeship
- There should be more visits for young women to male-dominated workplaces
The issue doesn’t just lie with high school education: the odds are stacked against women in university as well, with computer science having 13,085 more male students than female.
This education divide often happens at an earlier age than university or even apprenticeship level – girls only make up 20% of those taking computer science at GCSE level.
Talent and Skills Manager at Manchester Digital, Emma Grant, heads up an initiative set up to inspire women and girls to explore the careers available in the tech sector, known as DigitalHer. She said:
“Diversity is good for business and good for the wider society. One of the ways we can help make a change in the tech industry is by inspiring and empowering more young women to consider careers in technology – which is the reason Manchester Digital created its Digital Her program. It’s essential we enable young women to make informed decisions about the subject choices and education pathways that could allow them to develop the skills and mindsets they need to succeed in our industry.”
The industry is currently taking steps to improve the representation of women. In fact, plans to increase women’s participation in the ICT sectors have been outlined by the European Commission to further increase representation.
However, there are still huge barriers facing women once they break into the industry. Men outnumber women by a minimum of three to one in 53% of tech organisations, and the gender pay gap has stagnated in recent years.
So why is this happening, and how can we take steps to improve?
Business conception and funding
AllBright recently conducted a survey that showed male investors overlook 22% of female tech founders. Co-Founder of hypnotherapy app Clementine, Annie Ridout, has experienced this first hand:
“We’ve built a community of 60,000 women, we were voted one of the ‘seven apps every woman should own’ by the Guardian, we have been ‘App of the Day’ in the App Store twice and have been featured in Forbes, Stylist, the Sun, and The Telegraph. But an issue we’re facing is securing investment. We’ve spoken to VC firms and angel investors. We’ve tried to join accelerator programmes. And we’re finding that the inflexibility of these programmes excludes us. As mothers, we don’t always work the conventional 9-5.
We work the same hours, but in less conventional time slots (evenings, mornings, weekends, nap-times), and there doesn’t seem to be space for this. We feel that we’re at a disadvantage as female founders. We know that women only receive 2% of all investment – and this means we’re starting out with lower hopes.”
This is an issue that many women in the tech industry face. This means fewer women in senior manager and ownership roles in digital and tech, which leads to less representation and leads to the industry becoming stuck in a vicious circle.
Rosie Bennett, Centre Director at SETsquared, a tech business incubator based in the University of Bath’s Innovation Centre, is helping to devise a strategy to attract more female candidates.
The incubator is working with organizations such as WISE and Girls Who Code, encouraging more gender-balanced management teams, and trying more targeted recruitment campaigns.
And, with a 6% increase in the number of applications from women in the last 12 months, the strategy is proving successful.
Psychologist & Business Coach, Katie Woodland, has extensive experience coaching women in tech and has noticed that there is a lack of representation:
“Across YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, business influencers are heavily weighted towards men. That is not to say there are no women, they’re just very underrepresented at the top.”
Industry-wide and panel events also don’t offer a representation of women in expert and leadership roles – but strides are being made to even this out.
Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, is actively trying to raise awareness on gender balanced panels and public events. She only participates in panels that include at least one other woman and has initiated the No Women No Panel Campaign.
During her time coaching, Katie has also noticed women dealing with particular societal values placed on them.
“From my own personal experience as a business owner and through my experience working with others, one of the key reasons for the gender difference is the traditional societal gender model. The men I helped would be able to carve out 16-17 hours in a day and fully dedicate their time to building a business, learning what they needed to and not worrying about fulfilling any other role within the home.
“The women, however, would try to carve time out in their days but still have to manage the kids to and from school, clean the house, make the dinner and spend time with their partners so that they didn’t feel neglected. This resulted in women having around 50% less time available to them [to develop their business] in the day.”
44% of Europeans believe women should focus on taking care of their homes and families, and this number jumps up to 70% in one-third of those countries. Many women have the difficult job of balancing family life with a career, a decision which men often don’t have to make. In many cases, this leads to women taking time out of work, less pressured roles, or part-time hours, leading to less representation.
This doesn’t mean that the world of work isn’t changing though; areas of technology are now helping to close the gender divide faster than ever before. Offering greater flexibility to work from home, having more control over their working hours, and having the chance to become an entrepreneur are all ways to encourage more women to be digitally fluent.
Doing this will have a huge impact on the workforce of the future.
What does the future look like?
Mariya Gabriel is actively encouraging more women to participate in the tech sector and has highlighted three areas that will increase the participation of women in the digital sector:
- Challenging stereotypes
- Promoting skills and education
- Advocating for more women entrepreneurs
More women in tech is great for everyone, which is why steps are being made to make the industry more inclusive for everyone. A Women in Digital Age study conducted by the European Union highlights that more women in tech would mean:
- An annual €16 billion GDP boost in the EU
- Improvements in the start-up environment (research shows that female-owned start-ups are more likely to be successful)
- Benefits to businesses – as it’s been proven that diversity at inception leads to better products and services
Mariya Gabriel said:
“Europe’s future will be digital and it is in our hands to make it inclusive. Women and girls cannot be left out of the digital transformation of our economy and our society.”
Jacqui Bland, a Software Engineering Manager from Broadstone Engage, also thinks that the future looks bright, thanks to the ongoing support of male members of the community.
“There’s no doubt that we need more women in tech. Getting into any male-dominated industry can be daunting for a woman, but the tech community is becoming increasingly aware of the gender gap. In my experience, there are more men than ever before that are choosing to be advocates for more women in tech.”
Undoubtedly, there are still a number of issues that need to be resolved within the tech industry. But, due to new initiatives and strong role models being put in place, progress has been made. Within the next few years, we should begin to see the gender divide reduce in the tech industries, leading to a better environment for all.
About the author. Emma Melling is a CRM and Marketing Recruitment Consultant at Forward Role. She has worked in Marketing Recruitment for the last two years. After university, she worked in Retail Management but with lack of weekends and social life, she decided to move on and started her career in recruitment! She’s still stuck to her roots and now focus on B2C Marketing roles and work with brilliant candidates from Graduate to Senior Management level.