Gender diversity in tech: let’s keep talking

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It is reported that the UK is maintaining its lead as one of the world’s premier centres for tech of all kinds, a recognised hotbed for tech talent, where the sector is reported to be growing at three times the rate of other industry sectors, contributing c.£200bn p.a. to the economy (Tech Nation 2021).

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Employment in the UK digital tech economy has increased by 40% (2017-29) and now employs over 2.9m people.  More locally, our region is seeing emerging tech clusters that include fintech, healthtech, AI and robotics.

The sector is booming with 24% of all jobs advertised in Bristol alone being in digital tech.  These facts and figures are positive news and clearly demonstrate the significant impact the UK has on a global stage; but what of diversity in tech, specifically gender diversity?  Are the stats comparative?

Tech Nation reports that despite an increasing awareness of the need to address gender diversity in tech, the proportion of females working in the tech sector remains disproportionately low at 19%. Research identifies that under 20% of women would consider a career in digital tech (vs 61% men responding to the same question), yet digital tech underpins the majority of everything we do, and 50% of tech users are, indeed, women!

Conversely, research also states that companies with a gender diverse workforce are happier places in which to work, performing better at all levels.  So, what’s causing the problem?

The gender gap starts early: How can we inspire women and girls to consider a career in technology?

The tech gender gap starts at school and continues thereafter for different, complex reasons.  Recent PwC research identifies that only 3% of school age girls stated they intended to pursue a career in tech, despite the fact that the proportion of girls engaging with STEM subjects at school is significantly higher.  Why is this?  A lack of positive encouragement from their immediate influencers?  A lack career advice and guidance, or positive, informed encouragement from parents or carers?  A lack of female role models?

Possibly all of the above; certainly, we need to address this.  But, let’s continue… what’ the landscape for those who do have the skills to add value to a workforce?

Accessing existing female digital tech talent

There are important factors to consider here to help businesses review their recruitment practices to ensure their strategies and processes are truly inclusive to attract the best talent, be it male or female.  Are the job advertisements inclusive, or the interview techniques appropriate to ensure everyone has a fair chance of success?  What are you missing by not getting this right?

Indeed, Nick Dean, Managing Director, AdLib Recruitment comments: “Businesses that outwardly demonstrate their commitment to building a truly inclusive environment will play a significant role in attracting female and non-binary talent who are actively seeking an employer where they are aligned from the outset.  Projects such The Motherboard Charter and the Women in Business charter (links below) specifically challenge businesses to pledge advancements within female leadership representation, reducing gender pay gap, improved maternity packages, flexible working, to name a few.’”There’s already a rich pool of female talent which is not represented in the workplace, ie. women who have taken time out to have a family, those who have the skills and competencies and would be valuable employees, or women who may need flexible working hours, or women who simply may need some upskilling to access opportunities that are out there.  And what of the attrition rate of females choosing to leave a business because the female/male work culture is just wrong?  A recent Women in Tech report identified that a key factor in women choosing to leave the sector is the lack of positive commitment to address gender diversity in the workplace – including issues of pay, career progression, and flexible working hours.  Data reflecting these issues can be found in research undertaken by numerous organisations (including Tech Nation; Women in Tech; Diversity in Tech).

This is a complex and deep-rooted area to explore, regardless of industry sector, business size or location.  Change and solutions won’t occur overnight, but as our dependence on technology in every aspect of our lives increases, and will increase more as a result of Covid, we need to keep talking about the lack of gender diversity in the digital tech sector so that we can encourage more females into the workforce, as well as retain the talent that’s already there, to satisfy skills demand.

https://www.adlib-recruitment.co.uk/blog/launching-the-motherboard-charter/  https://www.bristolwomeninbusinesscharter.org/

At a local level, how can we make positive steps together, to help address gender inequality in the digital tech workplace?

Weston College is reviewing its own practices.  Where we can make positive changes that will impact both our potential, future employees and our students, we are committed to address and improve our own activities.  We’re currently reviewing our student recruitment activities, including initiatives such as gaming competitions.  We have committed to showcase females working across our own organisation, be they in Computing & IT; Library and Digital Learning Services; Marketing or MIS services.  Both internally and externally, we will be showcasing their journeys into their current roles, to demonstrate the breadth of opportunities that exist for females working in tech.

We already work with significant numbers of employers across the region, helping them to advertise and recruit new apprentices, or upskill existing employees, and we can discuss ways in which a recruitment drive could attract more women, or signpost talented, trained females to your vacancies.  Indeed, as lead partner of the West of England Institute of Technology (WEIoT), we’re committed to work with employers to help businesses make positive changes that will attract a gender diverse talent pool to fill vacancies.

As digital skills are fundamental to economic growth and recovery, Weston College will continue to engage and listen to employers to ensure we understand the support businesses need to thrive, whether it’s upskilling the existing workforce, accessing future talent, or upskilling returners to the sector.  We’re reaching out to employers and membership organisations to explore how, together, we can continue to shine attention on these issues at a regional level, making introductions across our own networks, providing a platform for discussion and debate amongst our own network of employers and stakeholders, hoping that we can, together, be part of a positive change for good.

We’d really welcome conversations to explore how we can help you provide industry placements, or access and recruit newly trained, or recently upskilled, individuals to help you create a more diverse workplace.  To make it easier for employers to understand and access the wealth of learning opportunities and expertise available, we’ve developed and streamlined our website.  Discover the newly created TECH WESTON web page to see the range of bespoke training, online courses, skill-specific bootcamps, apprenticeship programmes to industry placements, that are available.

Discover more: www.weston.ac.uk/techwest-on

Click here for more content from our special Tech Month, brought you by Weston College.

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