Let’s make things clear. There has never been a better time to talk about talent in the UK tech industry. Recent stats show a record year of investment in the sector and monumental generational changes to workforces with the rise of the so-called “great resignation”.
It’s not surprising many tech leaders are now mindful of age-old problems such as the gender gap and the lack of women in the tech talent pipeline. According to government-funded growth network Tech Nation, nearly three million people, or 9% of the UK workforce, are employed in the UK tech industry. Just 26% of those in the tech workforce are women.
More worryingly, women are driven out of the tech sector due to burnout, gendered biases, toxic aspects of “bro-culture” and a lack of work-life balance. All these things together are ultimately driving down the retention rate of women in tech.
So what can we do to not only attract but also retain top women in tech? This is a topic that has always been a priority to Makers and has been accelerated by our Women in Software initiative, which aims to bring together and amplify the voices working towards a more inclusive tech industry.
Our recent whitepaper, ‘Re-coding Tech: Outlining Solutions for Gender Equality in the Tech Industry’ draws from existing research as well as insights from the UK’s women in software community. It offers a deep dive into some of the pertinent issues facing women across tech and how to address the gender talent gap in tech. Drawing from our recommendations, the paper outlines a number of achievable measures which can ensure there is greater gender equality in the tech space.
Tech gender gap: Starting from the beginning
Right from an early age, the perception of ‘tech’ as an industry has been subject to gendered biases. Figures from the WISE campaign suggest that only 9% of female graduates studied a core STEM subject in 2018. A recent PwC study also indicates only 3% of women say a career in technology is their first choice career.
Awareness and investment in the early part of the talent pipeline should be a priority to encourage women to consider tech as a viable career option. More should be done to look at encouraging STEM at the secondary school level, either through including coding courses within the core curriculum or extensive career advice that explores the diversity of roles within the tech industry. This can also be achieved through academic partnerships and more interaction from tech firms in the education sector.
This exposure could be a crucial stepping stone in dismantling old assumptions that tech isn’t a career for girls. It can also help build the narrative that tech is a viable option when looking at industries that can help change the world for the better.
Investing in mentorship
Mentoring programmes, combined with exposure to senior figures, is an effective tool in highlighting the success stories of women in technology.
Schemes such as Coding Black Females and InnovateHer provide crucial resources to ensure girls from diverse backgrounds explore opportunities in tech. More crucially, this provides mentors with the much-needed confidence boost to reflect on their own careers and understand the next steps they need to take to progress higher up in the career ladder.
Mentoring programmes also work for women who are already in the technology industry. A recent study by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations has shown such programmes have the potential to lead to a 15% to 38% increase in promotion and retention rates for underrepresented groups and women when compared with experiences of non-mentored employees.
Focusing on retention
The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated underlying issues women have experienced in the workplace such as redundancies, penalisation for taking on more domestic tasks and burnout culture. A recent study by Deloitte suggests that 51% of women are less optimistic about their career prospects than before the pandemic.
More worrying, statistics from Accenture and Girls Who Code found that half of young women who go into tech leave their positions by age 35, citing “non-inclusive company culture”.
Retention of talent is a crucial building block in ensuring that women are there to shape the technology of tomorrow and to act as role models for those who are at the start of their careers.
Cultural shifts due to the pandemic mean employers should take action to implement alternative workstyles that incorporate flexible working, investment in training and safe opportunities for feedback. This increase in autonomy is not only beneficial for women in the workplace but also provides a positive cultural shift for the wellbeing of the organisation as a whole.
We have the ingredients to ensure tech works for everyone. Studies show that increasing the number of women working in IT could bring an added £2.6bn a year for the UK’s economy. An inclusive workplace environment combined with an honest reflection about archaic practices will iron out inherent biases that build barriers for those looking to enter the tech workforce.
Building a diverse talent pipeline is not impossible. Investing in educating girls and women about the possibilities within technology will drive positive change in the industry.
These changes require time, commitment and long-term investment, one that has the potential to provide a blueprint for many other industries at the pinnacle of growth.
Claudia Harris MBE is the CEO of Makers, a software bootcamp that’s creating a new generation of tech talent who are skilled and ready for the changing world of work.
In partnership with UKTN, social impact media firm Ecology Media is running a special editorial series called A Better View, which explores the ethical and diversity challenges that exist in the world of innovation and the ways they can be fixed.