Retraining could bring more women into the tech industry

Currently only 17% of the tech workforce is female, although this ranges depending on different disciplines.

However, according to new research commissioned by HP, nearly 70% of the women surveyed from across the UK said they would be interested in jobs in the tech sector.

Specialised technical roles could also see a significant increase in female recruits, with one third of the women willing to consider that kind of work.

The new poll suggests that an untapped pool of young women keen to explore possible tech careers have misconceptions around the opportunities and a perceived lack of access to them — these stereotypes continue to plague the industry and must be dispelled.

Some 45% of women expressed a willingness to retrain in a technical job, suggesting a huge opportunity to increase female representation through retraining and upskilling for those already starting careers.

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Barriers to women in the tech industry

At a roundtable discussion looking at the barriers to women entering tech, hosted by HP UK in partnership with the Fawcett Society and The Tech Talent Charter, young women from across the country and experts in the field came together to discuss what the industry, government and education can do to address this.

Vicky Ford MP, who sits on the House of Commons Select Committee for Science and Technology, said: “We are living in a digital revolution, technology is key to our future. Female employment is at a record high, but the percentage of women working in the tech sector remains low. There are many examples of great achievements by women in this sector. It is important to enable more young women to access these opportunities.”

Early engagement breeds future success

While 97% of women consider technology to be key to the future success of the UK economy, one in five women who didn’t choose to study STEM said it was because they ‘didn’t know anything about it’, suggesting negative associations or an initial lack of interest to the field starts early and persists into adulthood.

“Technology can play a crucial role in the delivery of STEM related skills, and in supporting schools and staff in driving STEM-based learning,” said George Brasher, managing director — UK and Ireland, vice president and general manager at HP.

Minister for Digital, Margot James, said: “Diversity makes good business sense and we risk losing a huge amount of potential talent if women are not applying for the fantastic opportunities in the tech industry.

“We recently announced a £1.2 million fund for people from underrepresented groups, including women, to get digital skills, and our funding for the Tech Talent Charter initiative has led more than 300 firms to commit to getting more women into tech jobs.”

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Highlighting that tech is accessible for all is a must

Results also highlight a lack of confidence and of being under-qualified as a key driver behind the shortfall of women in the sector: 25% of those women who didn’t study STEM said it was because they didn’t believe they could do it. In addition, 32% of women not in a specialist technical role believe they don’t have the right qualifications – leading them to disregard a career in tech.

“The UK’s tech sector will never lead the world if we only recruit from half the population. Women and girls have the capability but they don’t always see tech as being for them. We have to challenge these assumptions and change the stereotypes” — Sam Smethers, chief executive, Fawcett Society

“This research is encouraging as it shows there is the appetite to retrain and to reconsider tech with a greater understanding of where and how to start, and we all have a role to play to help make that happen,” continued Brasher. “At HP we believe diversity isn’t just the right thing to do but it makes business sense. A more diverse team fuels innovation and success. In the last year we have made concrete commitments to improve diversity including ensuring that at least 50% of the interns we hire each year are female; introducing a ‘Returners Programme’ to encourage women to re-enter the workforce after time away and bringing our reinvention mindset to life with unconscious bias training.”

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Emphasising the benefits that matter most

Many roles in tech can offer an answer to one of the top three priorities when choosing their career – work-life balance — however, greater awareness is needed as only 25% of women surveyed associate this with the tech sector.

Demonstrating flexibility and balance when advertising jobs can therefore help firms attract more women. In terms of other priorities, unsurprisingly, salary and job location are also listed in the top three.

“Clearly there is a lack of understanding of what a career in tech can offer women in terms of flexibility and the sheer range of job opportunities on offer. Women don’t yet understand the wide range of routes they can take into tech and underestimate their ability to take these up. They can’t see a way into tech for themselves. We are working with employers to change that narrative and help women see they are welcome and highly sought after in today’s tech industry,” according to Debbie Forster, CEO, Tech Talent Charter.

Brasher concludes: “Together we have the power to address an economic and moral imperative. Striving towards gender parity in the tech workforce will help bridge the country’s skills gap, fuel growth and secure the UK’s place as a global leader in digital innovation.”

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is the editor for Information Age. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and cyber security.