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Addressing tech’s gender diversity problem

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“We need the Spice Girls of tech,” quipped Harriet Wright, business innovation director at Decoded, during a Women in Tech roundtable hosted by Dice, the tech job website.

The discussion, moderated by Louise Proddow, managing director of Tweak UK, attempted to explore the issues being faced by women working in the sector and sought to find new ways to attract more females to industry roles.

Proddow began by asking attendees what needed to be done to empower women within the industry and questioned whether current efforts sufficed.

“If anything it’s getting worse,” said Fiona Capstick, business technology enablement leader at EY, highlighting the need for more drastic measures in order to reverse the UK’s tech gender gap.

Schooling

Part of the problem, the group agreed, was the failure to engage young girls with STEM subjects throughout their schooling.

In fact, Lucy Aspinall, recruitment advisor at the Government Digital Service, challenged the extent to which the national curriculum actively encourages youngsters to interact with technology.

The way in which IT is actually taught needs to change and a greater emphasis needs to be placed on things like coding and cybersecurity to pique interest in the subject, Aspinall argued.

According to Heidi Gates, business manager at Hays Technology, the challenge lies with IT’s “image problem”, and the fact that it’s not necessarily considered a cool subject to choose at school.

Making it creative, or selling it in a way that not only appeals to the archetypal male ‘computer geek’, could also mean more girls choose to study tech early on.

Wright expanded on this, suggesting different ways to label the subject – perhaps even calling it ‘creative tech’–  in order to attract a more diverse range of students. She went on to describe how the tech startup world is creative, young and less structured, and noted that despite this, many students don’t associate technology with this.

Portraying tech as something much more creative could therefore help to persuade young women towards a career in the sector at a much younger age.

Culture

Organisational culture was also highlighted as a challenge facing companies when it comes to recruiting women in the tech industry.

Starting at job description level, Rosie Warin, CEO of Kin & Co, suggested companies promoting a diverse and inclusive culture should do so early on in order to encourage more women to apply.

Gillian Arnold, director at Tectre and chair of the European Women in IT Taskforce, agreed, but stated that words did not suffice. “This actually needs to be reflected in the firm’s culture,” she added.

Warin went on to say it’s up to founders to establish a diverse culture within their organisation, as these do not arise organically.

Pipeline

Paulina Sygulska, founder of GrantTree, offered a startup perspective, claiming it takes three times longer to recruit a woman into a tech role than it does a man.

But despite some founders like Sygulska being “desperate” to attract more women into their business, finding the right female talent, and doing so quickly, is not always possible.

To combat this, Sygulska suggested that the recruitment process should be more dynamic. In her opinion, startups should encourage job applicants to come in for a discussion about the role and in turn, women should be more confident to do so.

Diversity

Despite there being clear benefits to hiring women – as these are more likely to remain in their positions for longer than their male counterparts – Arnold doesn’t think enough is being done to encourage women’s aspirations in the tech industry.

“The grant pot for women is tiny,” she said, adding that much more needs to be done to encourage greater diversity within organisations.

It’s not just about the female to male ratio, employers need to consider people from all different walks of life and not just focus on those with an IT or tech-related qualification.

“We need to open the industry’s eyes to people from all backgrounds,” Arnold said.

Helping women return to work from periods of absence should also be on recruiters’ agenda, concluded Capstick.

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