Why does the tech industry have a gender problem?
The UK’s technology sector is growing substantially - it currently employs 1.1 million people and was worth £184 billion to the UK in 2018. However, despite its forward-looking attitude and contemporary image, the technology sector is dealing with an age-old problem: a lack of gender diversity.
The UK tech sector is currently growing 2.6 times faster than the overall UK economy. Currently, the UK ranks third in the world for total capital invested in tech companies, and investment is predicted to grow even further over the next decade.
However, it’s not without its problems. Currently, only 19% of those working in the industry are women. Women are underrepresented at all levels, but especially in senior management - they make up just 12.6% of board members in tech companies (compared to 30% female representation now achieved by FTSE 100 businesses).
The industry is faced with sector-specific skills gaps. Over 70% of technology employers have experienced skills shortages this year, and almost a quarter of these expect the shortage to greatly impact their recruitment.
Grant Dove, IT Recruitment Lead at Forward Role, said:
“With the digital skills shortage and strong industry growth, it’s now more important than ever to address the industry’s gender imbalance if we want to continue to grow, innovate and evolve.
“We all have to work hard to encourage more diversity and grow our industry into one that we can be really proud of as it changes and evolves. There will be many barriers to overcome in the next few years, but the future looks bright for women in tech.”
Forward Role has taken a look at the current state of play in the tech industry and spoken to a number of women about their current experience in the technology sector.
Education Level Disparity
The tech gender divide stems back further than just employment. It begins at an education level, and more needs to be done to encourage girls to find tech subjects appealing.
The split between boys and girls doing apprenticeships is fairly equal, but girls tend to gravitate more towards sectors like learning support, human resources and health and social care. And although there has been a shift in terms of young men being able to access traditionally female-dominated sectors, this hasn’t happened in those male-dominated industries, such as computer science, technology and digital.
To combat this, UnionLearn has recommended that schools should promote apprenticeships as an option for all and challenge traditional gender stereotyping from an early stage:
There should be more targeted support and careers guidance for young women from school age upwards
There should be more taster courses and work experience for young people before they decide on their chosen apprenticeship
There should be more visits for young women to male-dominated workplaces
When it comes to university education, the numbers are also stacked against women when it comes to tech - computer science has 13,085 more male students than female.
This education divide often happens at an earlier age than university or even apprenticeship level - girls only make up 20% of those taking computer science at GCSE level.
Emma Grant, Talent and Skills Manager at Manchester Digital who heads up DigitalHer - an initiative set up to inspire girls and women to explore the careers available in digital and tech, said:
“Diversity is good for business and good for the wider society. One of the ways we can help make a change in the tech industry is by inspiring and empowering more young women to consider careers in technology – which is the reason Manchester Digital created its Digital Her programme.
“It’s essential we enable young women to make informed decisions about the subject choices and education pathways that could allow them to develop the skills and mindsets they need to succeed in our industry.”
Currently, the industry is taking strides to improve representation and experience for women. This year, plans to increase women's participation in the information, communications and technology (ICT) sectors have been outlined by the European Commission, to help improve representation even further.
However, there are still huge barriers facing women once they break into the industry. In 53% of tech organisations, men outnumber women by at least three to one, and the gender pay gap has stagnated over the last few years.
So why is this happening, and how can we take steps to improve?
Business conception and funding
A recent survey by AllBright showed that 22% of female tech founders are overlooked by male investors. This is something that Co-Founder of hypnotherapy app Clementine, Annie Ridout, has felt first hand:
“We've built a community of 60,000 women, we were voted one of the 'seven apps every woman should own' by the Guardian, we have been 'App of the Day' in the App Store twice and have been featured in Forbes, Stylist, the Sun, and The Telegraph.
“But as issue we're facing is securing investment. We've spoken to VC firms and angel investors. We've tried to join accelerator programmes. And we're finding that the inflexibility of these programmes excludes us. As mothers, we don't always work the conventional 9-5. We work the same hours, but in less conventional time slots (evenings, mornings, weekends, nap-times), and there doesn't seem to be space for this.
“We feel that we're at a disadvantage as female founders. We know that women only receive 2% of all investment - and this means we're starting out with lower hopes.”
This is a common problem for women business owners in the tech industry. This leads to fewer women in senior manager and ownership positions in tech and digital, which then leads to less representation, which helps the industry get stuck in a vicious circle.
Rosie Bennett, Centre Director at SETsquared, a tech business incubator based in the University of Bath’s Innovation Centre, is helping to devise a strategy to attract more female candidates.
The incubator is choosing to work with organisations like Girls Who Code and WISE, trying out more targeted recruitment campaigns and encouraging more gender-balanced management teams with female mentors and advisors.
The strategy appears to be working, with an increase in the number of applications from women from 5% to 11% in the last 12 months, which is something the industry hopes to see on a whole when it comes to tech startups.
Psychologist & Business Coach, Katie Woodland, has extensive experience coaching women in tech and has noticed that there is a lack of representation: “Across YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, business influencers are heavily weighted towards men. That is not to say there are no women, they’re just very underrepresented at the top.”
There is also a marked lack of representation of women in expert and leadership roles in industry-wide events and panels.
Again, there are steps being taken to even out the balance. Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, has taken steps to raise awareness on gender balanced panels and public events. She has initiated the No Women No Panel Campaign and has committed to only participate in panels if there is at least one other woman panellist.
During her time coaching, Katie has also noticed women dealing with particular societal values placed on them.
“From my own personal experience as a business owner and through my experience working with others, one of the key reasons for the gender difference is the traditional societal gender model.
“The men I helped would be able to carve out 16-17 hours in a day and fully dedicate their time to building a business, learning what they needed to and not worrying about fulfilling any other role within the home.
“The women, however, would try to carve time out in their days but still have to manage the kids to and from school, clean the house, make the dinner and spend time with their partners so that they didn’t feel neglected. This resulted in women having around 50% less time available to them [to develop their business] in the day.”
This is a larger problem that affects many women who choose to work full time. On average, 44% of Europeans think that women should take care of their homes and families, and this number increases to 70% in a third of those countries.
Many women have the difficult job of balancing family life with a career, a decision which men often don’t have to make. In many cases, this leads to women taking time out of work, less pressured roles, or part-time hours, leading to less representation.
But the world of work is changing. There are now areas where technology is helping to close this gender divide, at a faster pace than ever before. Encouraging women to be digitally fluent is removing many of the traditional barriers that prevent women from working – offering greater flexibility to work from home, become an entrepreneur or have more control over their working hours.
Increasing digital fluency in women, in the UK and across the world, will have a huge impact on the workforce of the future.
What does the future look like?
Mariya Gabriel is taking real strides to encourage women's participation in the tech sector.
The three key areas she has highlighted, that will facilitate an increase in the participation of women in the digital sector, are:
Promoting skills and education
Advocating for more women entrepreneurs
There are steps being taken and improvements being made to make the industry more inclusive for all. And more women in tech is good for everyone - as this Women in Digital Age study from the European Union shows: more women in these roles would mean:
An annual €16 billion GDP boost in the EU
Improvements in the start-up environment (research shows that female-owned start-ups are more likely to be successful)
Benefits to businesses - as it’s been proven that diversity at inception leads to better products and services
Mariya Gabriel said:
"Europe’s future will be digital and it is in our hands to make it inclusive. Women and girls cannot be left out of the digital transformation of our economy and our society.”
Jacqui Bland, a Software Engineering Manager from Broadstone Engage, also thinks that the future looks bright, thanks to the ongoing support of male members of the community.
“There's no doubt that we need more women in tech. Getting into any male-dominated industry can be daunting for a woman, but the tech community is becoming increasingly aware of the gender gap. In my experience, there are more men than ever before that are choosing to be advocates for more women in tech.”
There are, undoubtedly, still issues that need to be resolved in the industry. However, we have seen progress being made with the above initiatives, encouragement, and strong role models for girls and young women in place. Over the next few years, we should begin to see the gender divide reduce in the tech and digital industries, leading to a better environment for all.