With International Women’s Day fast approaching, it’s important to take stock and reflect upon the progress we’re making when it comes to women in technology.
In its latest report, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills revealed that just 26% of those working in the digital sector are women, which makes it abundantly clear that there’s still a lot of work to do to improve female representation in this exciting field.
Crucially, though, we can’t just leave it to the government and education systems to stand up for women in technology. Businesses also need to ensure that they’re holding their hands up and taking responsibility – especially if they want to enjoy the business benefits that accompany gender diversity.
The business case for women in technology is clear and compelling, with studies demonstrating that companies with women on their boards outperform those with all-male leadership in terms of a range of factors, including return on equity and average growth.
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Yet that’s not all, gender diversity also guarantees a workforce with a varied skillset, a workforce that can successfully engage with its diverse customer community, and a productive workforce too.
Beyond this, as technology companies are increasingly creating roles related to communication and collaboration – roles that play into typically female skills – it makes sense to encourage women into the industry.
And ultimately, it is these women that will become the positive role models that can inspire and nurture the next generation of women in technology.
Still, in 2016, one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to encouraging women into technology careers is a simple lack of education – both in terms of the industry and the opportunities it offers.
Unlike other sectors, technology isn’t highlighted as a target employer for women as they move into their early careers. This lack of awareness is only confounded by perceptions that the industry is filled with typically ‘tech’ roles, such as that of web developer or coder.
Of course, women should absolutely be encouraged to pursue these career paths, but they should also be made aware of the whole range of other vacancies within the tech sector – from marketing to consultancy and leadership to sales.
Another issue for women in technology is retention. It’s possible that the industry’s failure to hang on to its female employees is again an educational issue – with businesses not making women aware of the future career opportunities available to them – yet it seems that a lack of female networks and issues of confidence also have a part to play here.
So what can businesses do to fix these issues?
Mandatory quotas are often cited as a solution for women in technology, but I firmly believe that this quick-fix should be avoided. If you start enforcing mandatory quotas, you undermine the very fabric of what we’re trying to achieve: the right people, with the right skills, in the right jobs – whom can go onto develop their careers in exactly the way they want to.
You also risk hiring unskilled individuals and creating rifts within the workplace. Instead, companies should focus their efforts on educating people within their businesses on the benefits of diversity, and encouraging women into their organisations.
On the most basic level, businesses can begin to tackle the educational issues at play here by ensuring that they’re reaching out to schools, colleges and universities to highlight all different kinds of opportunities. It’s also important for businesses to ensure that their websites and marketing and employer materials represent diverse workplaces that women will be attracted to.
Businesses also need to be doing more to find and showcase female spokespeople from within their companies. Crucially, it’s not just about broadcasting the views of women at the top of the industry – these roles may not appeal or be realistic to every potential applicant. We need to start looking at how to showcase female spokespeople from every level within the business to truly demonstrate the variety of opportunities available in the industry for women to challenge themselves in different ways.
Similarly, technology companies need to take a more active role in creating wider communities of women across businesses, verticals and geographies. This will provide a support network of likeminded individuals and mentors, increasing retention by giving women the confidence and connections to strive for the next role that will really interest and challenge them.
What’s really clear is that businesses need to do all of this sooner rather than later if they are to recognise the benefits of women in technology, encouraging women right through from classroom to workplace and continuing this support throughout each of their careers.