‘Still a way to go’: UK tech takes stock of industry inequality on International Women’s Day

International Women's Day UK tech

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BreakTheBias, which women in tech are using as a platform to highlight the sector’s long-running and deep-rooted issues.

Female tech founders, entrepreneurs and executives have welcomed the strides made towards gender equality in the UK tech industry, but have cautioned on International Women’s Day that there’s much more that needs to be done.

Women working in UK tech told UKTN that improvements need to be made at every level – from funding to recruitment to leadership roles. They also shared some of the steps that need to be taken to improve gender equality in tech.

“Equality in any industry, but specifically tech, still has a way to go,” says Konstantia Barmpatsalou, security DevOps engineer at London-based cybersecurity company Obrela Security Industries.

“In most cases, this is a cultural issue, something that can only be fully eradicated from the bottom up… The tech industry must make more of an effort to cater to women, particularly, and promote the various opportunities that are available for all genders within the industry.”

Female founders are slowly getting more funding

Female founders have historically been overlooked for funding compared to male-founded startups. Experts have pointed to the lack of women in decision-making roles at investment firms, with a study from All Raise finding just 13.3% of VCs have women in positions to influence investing decisions.

However, data gathered by Tech Nation shows promising signs for female-founded tech firms. The report found that so far in 2022 there have been 18 funding rounds from female-founded tech firms, raising a total of $1.7bn.

That figure has already surpassed investment in female-founded tech firms for the entirety of 2019 and 2020.

If this trajectory continues, it is on course to surpass the record year of funding raised by female-founded tech firms in 2021.

“At last, we have tangible progress to celebrate on International Women’s Day in 2022!” says Sarah Wood, co-founder of Unruly and Tech Nation board member. “Female entrepreneurs have been overlooked and underestimated by venture capital providers for far too long. Unconscious biases and outdated stereotypes have made it incredibly hard for female entrepreneurs to secure funding for their tech startups.

“So it’s a big moment to be able to recognise that change is happening, access to finance is improving, and investment into female-founded tech firms is on track for a record year.”

Positive statistics such as these show signs of progress, but the bigger picture shows things are far from perfect.

A British Business Bank analysis of Beauhurst data showed that total VC investment levels in female founders remain at under 5%.

Improving pay and work-life balance

Investment is only part of the equation. The gender pay gap in the tech industry has been narrowing, but in 2020 women were on average offered 2.5% less salary than their male counterparts when they applied for the same job title at the same company in the technology industry.

Equality experts say that making salaries more transparent can help narrow the gender pay gap. However, just 24% of UK companies that are required to submit gender pay gap data to the Equality and Human Rights Commission by April 2022 have done so this year.

Beyond salary, there are steps that tech companies can take to make workplace environments more welcoming to women.

“There are systematic changes that need to be made in the industry to eliminate sexism in the workplace as well as making an active effort to attract and retain more female talent,” says Sophie Davies-Patrick, CTO of MPB.

Rachel McShane, CFO, digital wallets at London-based fintech firm Paysafe Group, says tech companies should “get better at enabling a work-life balance which allows you to be a parent AND have a seat at the table”.

She added: “If the pandemic has taught us one thing about flexible working, it is that it can be more productive and by no means you are doing any less of the job, if anything you are doing more.”

International Women’s Day: reducing hiring bias

For many, the clear issue that women face in tech is biased recruitment. Annette Evans, a VP at Global Processing Services, suggested that recruiters in tech should “ask themselves tough questions when it comes to thinking about bias”.

These questions could include “if there are not enough women in your team, why is that? If you do have women on your team, are they visible? Do you create an environment where women can progress as much as anybody else? Do we as a business do that too? If not, what can we do to change?”

According to Evans, asking questions like these is a vital early step towards supporting women in the industry.

Another suggestion to accelerate improvements for women in tech is to provide better mentorship and education opportunities to women at the early stages of their careers.

“I am personally a strong proponent of coaching and mentoring because I learnt a lot that way,” says Shruti Rai, co-founder and CGO of impact banking startup Novus.

“The confidence of quitting a stable job and taking a pay cut with a child and mortgage to pay wouldn’t have been possible without a strong mentor network.”