International Women’s Day: Gender diversity and tech should go hand in hand

Today is International Women’s Day. A day to celebrate the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women and yet, in the very words of the IWD campaign, ‘lets be aware progress has slowed in many places across the world and so urgent action is needed to accelerate gender parity’.

This couldn’t be more evident in the tech sector where there’s been a recurring question for a number of years – where are all the women? For many big companies struggling to fill roles with adequate talent, the employment skills gap in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Maths) roles is not only a worry but also a financial burden.

Women can code just as well as men, so why are they so woefully unrepresented in tech? Deloitte’s 2016 TMT Predictions reports that by the end of the year they’ll be fewer than 25% of roles within the tech sector taken up by females – and it’s forecast to get worse.

So what’s putting women off, and why aren’t they applying for more STEM related roles?

Tech has always had a problem relating to women. Whether it’s The Elephant in the Valley study detailing sexism in some of the richest businesses in the world, or EDF Energy’s misguided attempt at gender neutral PR (their campaign, originally aimed at girls, was called “Pretty Curious”), brands and businesses keep missing the mark when it comes to connecting with women on a level that doesn’t come across as patronising or stereotypical.

The team at Apadmi is based right at the heart of Manchester’s thriving digital scene and is proud to buck the general trend of the lack in women in tech. Currently 36% of our server development team is female as is 30% of our Executive leadership team.

And we’re endeavouring to do more to boost inclusion and grow the team. Despite this, 1 in 5 of digital start-ups in Northern England employ an all-male workforce. Almost every woman who has worked in the tech industry (even if that experience has been entirely positive) will be familiar to the sea of male faces surrounding her in the office.

It’s imperative to understand why there aren’t more women rocking tech roles throughout the UK, because last time we checked, working in tech was pretty great. There are lots of opportunities and as part of one of the most rapidly developing, well-paid sectors in the whole of the UK it’s essential that women be part of it.

Things have changed – just not a great deal. Some tech companies do have female CEOs, like Marissa Mayer from Yahoo and Susan Wojcicki from YouTube, however these female-fronted business are still seen much less frequently.

Yet, things can always get better. Gender imbalance still exists and we all have a part to play in fighting it – for the sake of a more inclusiveness and balanced workforce that will help us address the notable skills gap rife within the industry and organisation’s difficulty in finding great talent.

Delving into the statistics

It’s not as simple as saying, “27% of women work in tech”. At Microsoft, women may make up 29% of their overall workforce. Sounds OK? When investigating further into technical roles that number drops to 17%. Same story at Facebook, with just 15% of tech roles held by females.

At Twitter, non-technical jobs (such as marketing, HR and sales), attract a fairly even split of genders, yet just 10% are in technical jobs and only 21% are in leadership roles.

It’s not just women that are losing out with this deal. Experts say that the UK economy could improve by £2.6 billion in more women were recruited into IT, to fill the skills gap. The same report, commissioned by ISP Nominet, said that 65% of businesses lacked suitably skilled staff.

The UK has a problem. We need to significantly increase the number of people with STEM skills. A study published in 2015 estimated to annual shortfall of employees with the right engineering skills is 55,000+ – as a result two fifths of northern businesses are turning away an average of £50,000 of work each year.

The solution is simple – we need more UK based engineering students that graduate and want to work in tech.

Research carried out by Girls Who Code, states that 74% of US girls express an interest in STEM in middle school. Yet by the time it comes to choosing a degree, just 0.4% of high school girls select computer science. Deloitte has also reported that of only 18% of Computer Science degree students are female. And of those who graduate and go on to a career in the industry, they are faced with the issue of a gender pay gap – currently this stands at 19.1%, therefore women on average earn 20p less per £1 than men.

It starts in school

There’s a common theme running through this blog – tech is awesome, so why aren’t women jumping at the chance to be involved in such a fast developing and well paid industry?

A lot of experts believe it starts in with the education system. Schooling is key when it comes to attracting women to IT at a base level. Only a third of ICT A-level students and less than a tenth of Computer Studies are female.

It’s important that we change things how things are perceived at a young age. Research shows that if the same number of women studied computer science degrees, and these students entered UK businesses, the overall net benefit for our economy would be £103 million per year.

While it’s true that all of STEM roles need more proficient women, anyone can get involved in the technology industry – it doesn’t necessarily require a computer science degree like other disciplines may require. You can teach yourself – take Sarah Briscoe, our Junior Developer who studied Psychology and Mark Evans, our Senior Server Developer who studied Musical Instrument Making and Repair.

Women who fly the flag!

In addition to addressing how our education system encourages more women into the tech sector, it’s also the job of successful women who already exist within the industry to fly the flag and share their experiences. We’ve facilitated just that, asking 12 high profile tech industry figures what its like as a woman in tech and how we can we encourage more females to work in the industry.
Georgia Bottomley

“I’m incredibly proud to be a woman in tech, especially at such an exciting time. We are seeing a huge shift in how women are perceived in the workplace, and I can’t wait to see how this continues to evolve. If you are a woman wondering if the tech industry is right for you, I assure you it is. The people are hugely supportive and there is a fantastic community of women already here that can’t wait to meet you. See you soon!”

Georgia Bottomley, UX Designer and Co-founder of Ladies that UX

 

 

Claire Braithwaite

“I’ve worked in tech in various roles for 14 years. What has attracted me to each role has been the opportunity to do something purposeful and meaningful and to pursue career opportunities that are fulfilling and rewarding. Sometimes when we talk about tech as a career we can miss out parts of the narrative and the opportunity that could be most appealing to women. In the third sector, charities and social enterprises, you find many more women in traditionally male dominated areas such as finance or tech. If we start talking about tech as an enabler to solve problems in our society and our world, rather than an end to itself, then I think we would attract more women and talent into our industry.”

Claire Braithwaite, Tech Advisor at Manchester Growth Company

 

 

Hannah Pym

“It shouldn’t matter if you’re a male or female within any context and as a female within the industry I have never felt constrained by my gender or treated any differently. That being said, the statistics do speak for themselves and it is our duty as companies within the tech industry to encourage more inclusiveness from the ground up. More women within the industry means a deeper pool of talent; we’re seeing first hand the difficulty in finding great people. By encouraging more women into the industry should help to alleviate the digital skills gap and help companies grow and accelerate further. “

Hannah Pym, former Head of Marketing at Apadmi

 

Rebecca Jones

“The tech environment is becoming much more inclusive to women, from our experience as Liverpool Girl Geeks male owned developer studios and organisations that are male-heavy are dying to recruit more women. They recognise the benefit of having that balance of ideas and thinking and productivity in their teams.

The job there isn’t done by any stretch but the change is tangible. The bigger issue now is to ensure that women have access to training and retain the skills base to access the jobs that are available for them.

Liverpool Girl Geeks are working towards improving this by running a series of courses, from a basic starter in code called Get Your Head Around Code to a more specific analysis of particular coding languages such as Javascript and HTML. The uptake of these courses has been phenomenal, so we know the demand is out there. We’ve just to keep chipping away at those barriers.”

Rebecca Jones, Co-founder Liverpool Girl Geeks.

 

Sadie Sherran

“Technology is a fast evolving industry, you can master one element and within 6 months it is out of date, I feel due to this anyone wishing to be successful in the industry has to be open minded, quick to review and adaptable or they get left behind. In the past few years I have seen ‘working’ in the industry the sexist dinosaurs get left behind and forward thinking men and women thriving. Due to the nature of the industry I do feel that being a woman in industry would not hold you back, however it won’t get you a leg up either you have to work as hard as the men. Many women are adding value and perspective to the industry that we would be worse off without.

I have been in the industry for over 10 years and as such encountered a lot of sexist behaviour that I am thankful is dwindling out. The biggest issue I found was actually getting the support to go into the industry. I was discouraged from science and maths in schools even though I had top marks in those subjects. I fully believe this was gender bias that as a girl I would not be happy in a classroom full of boys or an even worse point of view is that I would struggle once I reached the higher levels.

This problem still occurs today, we have expectations of kids based on gender which means women and girls are still a minority in STEM subjects. As a business owner in the past 7 years I have only received 2 CVs from women, I don’t believe that the industry is necessarily stopping women from entering and achieving, it is their own reluctance to put themselves forward when they have a real talent for it.

Girls and boys need to see more role models in the industry, to normalise women in STEM and detract from the gender stereotypes. The problem with the lack of women in the industry is no longer due to how they are made to feel at work or in conferences (there is plenty of support and sexism is no longer tolerated) but a deeper problem of encouraging girls and women to pursue the skills in STEM that are needed to get into the industry to start.”

Sadie Sherran, Director of Falkon Digital

 

Helen Keegan

“Having worked across a number of industries and having clients and colleagues in different sectors, the gender issues faced seem to be universal and by no means restricted to the tech or mobile industries. I’ve heard the same conversations in broadcasting, marketing, construction and media. This means that we can learn from each other and encourage each other regardless of sector. 

In terms of encouraging more women to get involved in the industry, I’d like to see more women already in the industry stand up and be counted. There are already many of us working in the sector but too many of us shy away from public speaking, writing, attending conferences or networking events or doing talks in schools, colleges and universities. The more visible we are, the more normal it will be for other women to join us – whether that’s women crossing over from other industry sectors now or for other women coming up through the ranks from school and university.”  

Helen Keegan, Mobile Media Specialist and Founder at Heroes of the Mobile Fringe Festival and Hacklands Festival of Technology

Coral Grainger

 “Here in the North, and throughout the UK, there is a shortage of digital talent – and this is the key constraint on business growth and success. This shortage will bite harder still when it’s not just the digital sector recruiting for digital skill, but almost every business you can imagine.

So smart businesses are looking to the future. They are checking their habits and unconscious bias to ensure they can recruit and retain the best teams from the full potential of the talent pool. They recognise that a diverse team is a smart team, with better staff retention, better customer relations, and better bottom line. Recognising the real value of women in tech isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, and the key to business success.”

Coral Grainger, Principle and Owner of Capital Relations 

 

Naomi Timperley

“This morning I have a keynote speech at William Hulme Grammar School for National Careers Week for a STEM girls event. On the eve of International women’s day and the focus on parity, why are there not many women entering careers in the tech and digital industries?

There are many reasons – lack of careers education and a lack of inspiring role models in these industries. Together with information in these industries getting to young girls when they are picking their options. I have met several girls today but only one who has picked computing as an option for GCSE’s.”

Naomi Timperley, Founder Startup and Digital Consultant

 

Tash Willcocks

“I’m proud to work on a Digital Masters at Hyper island where the split is 50/50 in gender. It’s great to see confident, creative humans growing through the course and I hope to see them guiding others in the future. Digital can be very levelling, it enables us to pave our own paths, but the women who walk it need to make themselves more visual. As they say – you can’t be what you can’t see.

Sure we have Marrissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandburg, but they cannot be flagships for a whole gender-ation. Others climbing the mainstays need to mentor, lead, talk and take the stage (there’s space up there – go get it!) to show the way, so it’s not just one or two girls taking notice but a equal percentage to create and add to the diversity, that can only help nurture and grow the tech and digital ecosystem.

Tash Willcocks, Programme Leader Digital Media Management and Digital Experience Design at Hyper Island 

 

Judith Lewis

“I feel it is significantly better today in 2016 than it was in 1996 when I started working in tech. I also feel it is miles better than when I was in a computer lab in 1985. It is, however, also miles away from equality. I think that at my age now I have probably moved past the ability for anyone to make my life hell. I judge the UK, US and EU Search Awards and so it becomes risky to be an ass to me (although it does still happen). I still get sexually harassed at conferences – even in 2016 – but I can brush it off now more easily than I used to. I feel that I have earned the respect of my peers but that doesn’t mean I don’t also face discrimination. I hope it is easier for women these days but I worry it isn’t.

How can we encourage more females into tech? First of all, media needs to stop featuring geeks as male.  Second of all, schools have to offer more than just either hard core coding or how to use word. There needs to be a middle ground which balances coding with other practical skills but doesn’t expect kids to have been coding from year dot. There needs to be encouragement for girls to take up these skills with clear career paths. The encouragement has to be done young and there needs to be lots of good role models. By the time girls hit high school or university it is too late. Encourage them young and show them how amazing coding can be and don’t think a pink computer will make a difference.” 

Judith Lewis, Owner and Founder of DeCabbit 

Hilary Stephenson

“Overall, I’ve been quite fortunate as I’ve shaped a career in tech without any real barriers. Being a gay woman in charge of a digital agency, I’ve experienced a degree of intrigue and the odd amusing comment. However, I’ve never heard anything too offensive, or been restricted in terms of my career progression, due to my gender.

“Sadly, I know that’s not the case for many women, especially those in more technical roles. For web developers in particular, the industry and job opportunities can still be biased towards men, which can be limiting.

“While women in the UK do have more opportunities than most in terms of education and the career they choose – there is still a gender gap in a lot of industries. In the UK, the tech sector is particularly bad for a lack of female workers. So initiatives like #PledgeForParity and #RewritingTheCode really matter because of this issue.

“I will always support International Women’s Day until there is no longer a need to do so, and I will continue to urge my colleagues to do the same, whether they are female or male.”

Hilary Stephenson, MD at Sigma 

 

“As a person that has always worked in male dominated industries I am lucky to have worked with some great and highly inclusive teams but I have also had my share of how shall we say *slightly Jackie Holesexist* values including suggestive comments at conferences, it being assumed that I am the note taker at meetings and not the lead project manager, and a few instances of “Do you want to just pop the kettle on while we discuss this with X”.

However for me these have been rare incidents and actually a long time past, but they do exist for a lot of women in industry and in tech. It is easy to ignore gender bias because it has not happened to you but I do feel that things are changing with the next generation as they are much more accepting of each other and a lot more able to identify and speak out against any bias be it race, gender, age, ability etc which means that ‘in theory’ it should get a lot easier to encourage women in tech. However, there are still things we need to be doing.

Start at home! I didn’t actually experience anyone saying ‘no you can’t’ when I was younger so I guess the first step is to start at home. Youtube and gaming is now a viable career option, so if your child is showing signs of ‘computer love’ or mobile addiction – it can be encouraged in positive ways to achieve as opposed to just passing the time pointlessly blowing things up and snapchatting – although having said that, I have recently been encouraging teens to think about an app they would like to have created for them to try to get them to think about how they can contribute to their future space.

Go into schools earlier – when boys and girls have not yet reached the stage where they are noticing as many differences or before they are vulnerable paranoid teens (see ‘Run Like a Girl’) – perhaps even start a fund for kids in general to start in tech earlier.

Once you have hired though, it is important to retain people by ensuring the workplace has inclusive values. From approachable HR to tech recreation – which is still very much geared to lad culture with a room full of table football machines and nerf guns – not that it isn’t fun and not that women don’t play – but anything that ends up being shouty or rowdy is going to be off-putting (for me anyway and I’m a bit of a lad!)

This was supposed to be a short quote so is skirting over many more serious issues but for all women I guess one regular complaint is the fact that they do have babies and are discriminated against. Which is a shame as many of those children we may also want to encourage to go into tech. When we can work from anywhere (within reason), it should not matter if someone is at home or at the office if your collaboration tools and team communication is up to speed. Recent news suggests that women write better code (if their gender is not identifiable)  – imagine how much code one could get through whilst being up half the night.” 

Jackie Hole, Multi-Award Winning Independent Search Marketing Consultant

 

Dr Sue Black

“Technology is the future! So it’s the best area to work in.”

Dr Sue Black OBE,  Computer Scientist and Founder of Techmums