The technology industry is notorious for its poor record of gender diversity. According to recent study from e-skills UK, less than 17% of the industry is made up of women and the gender gap is worsening.
It’s easy to forget about or ignore these issues when the UK technology industry appears to be booming. However, I believe a gender imbalance means the industry is missing opportunities for even greater growth, innovation and success.
Women have the greatest buying power, according to a report from Deloitte Consulting, and account for $4.3 trillion of total US consumer spending of $5.9 trillion – making them the largest single economic force in the US.
Even in gaming technology, traditionally considered very male dominated, women are key consumers. TechUK says that in Britain around 46% of games are purchased and played by women.
With such a high proportion of technology being bought and used by women, it makes little economic or business sense for them not to be more involved in its creation. It seems obvious, with this in mind, that technology businesses can clearly benefit from the perspective and mindset of these important purchasers and users.
It is proven that more varied workgroups generate better ideas. Diversity of perspective outperforms even the most brilliant individual ability.
Not only do women bring fresh perspectives to the workplace, they are also proven to generally be very good problem solvers and communicators – both key skills for jobs in technology.
Research indicates that companies with women on the board make better risk assessment decisions as these women often provide balance to their more risk-ready male counterparts.
According to the book ‘Little Miss Geek’ by Belinda Parmar, tech companies with women on their management teams have a 34% higher return on investment.
Additionally the technology industry is facing a skills shortage. The EU predicts 900,000 IT-related job vacancies next year. By encouraging women to enter or return to the tech industry at all levels, we can help address that gap, making the industry more competitive and more innovative.
The recent introduction of programming to the national curriculum is a strong sign of the UK’s commitment to becoming a hub of IT talent and innovation.
By exposing all children to a foundation in computer science, I hope that it will result in the discovery of more girls with a natural aptitude for coding and kindle lifelong passions for technology in others.
What about women themselves?
I care about diversity on a personal level too. As well as being concerned about missing out on nearly half of the available talent in the workforce, I can’t help but feel that low female representation in our industry is bad for women in general.
The tech industry provides lucrative careers for the highly skilled, yet across the economy women generally work in lower-paid, less-skilled jobs than men. Women should be attaining more than 17% of these skilled job openings.
A report from the Kauffman Foundation revealed there are 23% more start-ups in the high-tech sector than other industries. This rings true for my experience at Salesforce.com.
In the UK we work with a high number of innovative tech start-ups, many of them mobile-app based. Under-representation of women in the tech industry means they are missing out on exciting opportunities in these organisations.
Having worked in the industry myself for over 20 years, I have found it to be a creative, challenging and fulfilling career, one that I think more women should be able to experience.
It offers a very wide range of opportunities – from being a programmer or a web-designer, to working in research, or sales – in highly successful organisations. Technology touches so many parts of our lives that it seems incredible that women are not more involved.
Through Salesforce.com, I am lucky enough to be involved in a mentoring programme, helping women in our business fulfill their potential. I have found mentoring to be an extremely rewarding experience and it has broadened my vision enormously.
I also believe that one of the most powerful ways we can support women in IT is by celebrating female role models so that more girls are encouraged to follow a career in IT and more women who have left the profession consider returning to it.
For example, in May this year the BCS ran a very successful campaign highlighting 30 female role models. Another great example is the Information Age Women in IT Awards, for which Salesforce.com is the headline sponsor.
Launching this year, the Awards aim to recognise the women who have been at the helm of innovation and success in the IT sector.
In nominating candidates for these Awards, we are not only celebrating outstanding professionals, but also drawing attention to the contribution women are already making to the technology sector.
A more diverse technology industry would improve and help to sustain the IT sector’s growth rate and long term success.
Increased awareness of the proven benefits of diversity for the bottom line, along with initiatives that instill a passion for technology in children and the public celebration of women already in the industry through awards and awareness campaigns, are starting to lead to a tipping point.
Women make up nearly half of the available workforce. I hope that during my working life, I will see us account for a similar percentage of the technology industry. It will only improve the sector’s innovation and success.