How a lack of women in tech is widening the industry’s skills gap

women tech skills gap

Ask a child what they want to be when they’re older and you’ll receive some pretty outlandish answers. A couple of generations ago, the response might have been a nurse, a train driver or, even more adventurously, an astronaut.

Times change. The children of today are more likely to have their sights on being a TikTok influencer or a successful singer in the Harry Styles mould. Some will also have the self-confidence to want to take a role in tech – but the number who feel this will almost certainly not be enough to fill the number of open jobs.

So many young people see a career in technology as being out of their reach. From my work in recruitment, I know that many view a lack of skills or a missing qualification means it’s impossible to break into the sector.

With the tech and digital skills gap widening, this is worrying. Our biggest challenge is reshaping perceptions and making tech futures inclusive and accessible for all. The lack of diversity and representation is deterring young people not just from a career in technology, but even from thinking about it.

Digging deeper into this trend, it’s even more concerning that more than 60% of people aged between 16 and 26 in the UK were interested in the idea of a tech job, but this interest was higher among young men or young people who have undertaken higher education studies.

More women can reduce tech skills gap

Undoubtedly, steps have been taken to close the gender gap in the sector, but we still have a long way to go. The next generation of talent must be inspired to want to get into the sector, but also to feel that they have a safe space within it once they get there.

I can understand this. My background was in recruitment, which was a predominantly male-led sector where you needed a degree to even get an interview. I didn’t complete my degree, I come from Wigan and I’m as northern as they come.

For years, I felt that I had to put on a ‘telephone voice’ after being told my accent was too harsh. I was once told by my boss that I needed elocution lessons and was even told that “clients from London won’t take to you”. Worse examples of working culture were never far away either and for a long time, the sector had a misogynistic, sexist, bullying undercurrent to it.

According to Tech Nation, nearly three million people are employed in the UK’s tech industry but just 26% of them are women. Nurturing, growing, and attracting talent is important, but if you can’t retain that talent, is it even worth bothering to make the initial effort?

Burnout, gendered biases, toxic aspects of ‘bro’ culture and a lack of work-life balance have all contributed to driving women out of the sector and driving down the retention rate of women in tech. And that’s before we’ve even touched on the salary disparity between the genders.

Only 3% of women say a career in technology is their first choice. Given that women make up half of the population, the tech industry is missing out on a huge pool of talent that could help reduce the industry’s skills gap.

So what can we do to change this?

Inspiring the next generation of tech talent

Without being in tech, you wouldn’t know what kind of roles even exist. Education and awareness of the many and varied positions are key to retaining talent and it needs to be reinforced from an early age.

Similarly, education around innovation and technology is also vital too. STEM subjects should be encouraged to all school pupils from an early age. The curriculum needs to include the likes of coding courses and in-depth understanding of the tech world and the jobs that are available as well as the ways to navigate career pathways to get to them.

If companies want to build diverse teams, they must put their money where their mouth is and get involved in their local communities, spreading the message of tech in schools, colleges, youth clubs and community groups. Mentoring is an important way to shape the future generation of talent and we want to hear from role models.

The Manchester Tech Festival is supporting Manchester City Council’s digital inclusion initiatives. We are looking for people from our community to donate time to talk about how they got into tech and their tech career to young people from local communities, schools and colleges. You can donate as little as one hour a year or as many hours as you can. Our thriving tech sector must support the talent pipeline of tomorrow.

Speaking to young people from primary school age about the industry and their story of how they entered it will inspire the next generation. There are many different entry points into the wonderful world of technology and having representation from current tech talent is so important for young people, to help them feel like a career in tech is within their reach.

Retention of women currently in tech is essential to stop the gap from widening even further. We need women in tech to be the representation to whom our future developers, UX designers, testers and founders look up.

It’s the tech world’s responsibility to help build the next generation of talent and form those future talent pipelines. Starting from now.

Ruby Mellin is the community engagement lead at Manchester Tech Festival.