Levelling the playing field: how tech organisations can tackle the gender gap and promote workplace diversity
Where are all the women in tech? Research by PwC suggests just 15 per cent of current employees in STEM roles are women. Mary Hunter, winner of the IAMCP’s 2018 Women in Tech Leadership Award and the Nottingham Post’s Businesswoman of the Year, has led the UK division of global IT services provider Columbus Global for over 17 years and is deeply involved in empowering women in technology. Here she shares her experiences as a technology business leader, discusses the existing industry gender gap, and explores how businesses can best address the imbalance and encourage women to take up STEM roles.
At this time of year, with International Women’s Day now a prominent date in the diary, many businesses are keen to voice their support for women in technology and celebrate the success of their female employees. But this should be a constant, year-round mindset. To this day, women remain under-represented in technology roles in business and can face barriers when trying to break into the market. This is not just at the point of entry—recent surveys point out that over 60% of women in IT feel they’ve been held back because of their gender.
Tackling the industry obstacles of today
Certainly in my career, I’ve had experiences where I haven’t been given the same opportunities as my male colleagues and have had to work harder to prove my worth—often by taking the jobs no one wanted. I also haven’t been given the same title and recognition as my counterparts, for me this made me even more determined to succeed.
Businesses can and should do more to eliminate these barriers—unconscious or otherwise—and create opportunities for women in the tech sector. Businesses must drive sustained employee engagement and involvement in corporate initiatives to promote women in technology. But it needs to go beyond this. They should take the lead in local communities to encourage girls to learn technical skills from an early age.
Addressing the problem at source
Central to addressing the gender gap is the need to start nurturing an interest for STEM at an early age—an area I am passionately involved in. Girls are less likely to study STEM subjects at school, and far more likely to lose interest at an early age than boys. This is why it is particularly important for us to dispel the myth that STEM careers are just for boys and avoid discouraging girls from following these rewarding career paths.
At Columbus UK, we’ve explored several outreach programmes to encourage young girls to pursue an interest in STEM fields and develop technical skills. These include gifting a careers site to 10 schools where they can learn vital personal skills such as confidence building and leadership, as well as options for careers within the tech sector.
Donating laptops and other technology to support technical learning in schools, presenting at school assemblies, running workshops where children get hands on with tech and inviting classes to our UK headquarters to meet women in the tech sector and discuss their experiences, as well as encouraging ‘code clubs’ where girls can learn skills valued across the entire tech sector are all initiatives we have been doing.
It’s a Work in Progress
Can we, as an industry, take our efforts further? Absolutely. Rather than these initiatives being planned by top management and then simply announced to staff, businesses should encourage employees to be ambassadors and take on their own initiatives, to support ongoing challenges facing both women and diversity as a whole.
These areas can then be addressed by rolling out further initiatives such as mentorship schemes, where staff across a variety of roles can meet regularly with mentees to encourage and share experiences and support people to build confidence as they grow in their roles.
Ultimately, we all need a diverse team that bring different views to the table in order to deliver more innovative ideas and results. It is critical that we have women of all ages and cultures across the business to push boundaries and input new ideas. Indeed, as McKinsey has reported, businesses that embrace diversity are more competitive and more successful—those in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
Tackle the skills gap
Here’s another opportunity. As the world becomes increasingly digitised and connected, there is rising demand for a more technically skilled workforce. Many CEOs are claiming they are struggling to find suitably talented employees. This represents a huge chance for women to excel in an industry they might have traditionally avoided.
Businesses should be eager to tap into this talent pool by not only recruiting and promoting talented women in technology, but training and upskilling others that are keen to break into tech fields. There are numerous opportunities here, ranging from month-long ‘bootcamps’ to internal incentives for upskilling employees looking to change career path.
Most importantly, the technology sector provides women with unique, flexible opportunities to retrain, come back after children, or start a different career path. Smart, passionate women can and will succeed given the opportunity.
More work to be done – act now and reap the rewards
In the future, I fully expect to see equal representation for men, women and all cultures – genuine diversity across the business, particularly with greater female representation at board level and in leadership roles. With this in place, the technology space will have a more balanced, innovative perspective that supports the workforce, and drives change even faster and more effectively.
The author of this blog is Mary Hunter of Columbus Global