How can we help more women to access tech careers?
Fiona McDonnell, Director of Consumer Retail for Amazon, shares her view on why gender diversity in the workplace is important and how businesses can foster greater gender diversity.
It’s now well-established that diversity is a key ingredient for any successful business to innovate, grow and prosper. For Amazon, innovation is crucial to our success and a diverse workforce is key for innovation.
However, while businesses are increasingly aware of the importance of diversity, the under-representation of women in tech and innovation roles remains a key concern.
Research from Amazon and WISE found that a 10% increase of women working in STEM careers could lead to a £3bn boost for UK business. We also found that women in innovation could earn up to £11,000 per year more compared to other careers.
This highlights how a lack of gender diversity in the innovation industries represents a huge missed opportunity, both for individuals and the UK economy as whole.
With this challenge in mind, how can we help more women to access rewarding careers in tech?
Helping women to access STEM careers
Businesses, governments and the education sector have been busy creating new pathways for women to enter STEM-related study and careers. Those pathways include dedicated education programmes from primary schools to higher education, a renewed focus on teacher training and cross-industry campaigns like This Is Engineering. Getting young people engaged with STEM subjects can be a great way to inspire them to pursue that field. This, however, is a long-term process and we may not see an improvement in diversity for years.
In the short-term, opportunities for women to retrain in the technology and innovation industries should be more readily available. Programmes like Amazon Amplify help to raise awareness and understanding of STEM roles and encourage greater diversity to build a more inclusive working culture. Apprenticeships and bursaries, such as those through the Amazon Future Engineer Programme, will also help women from all backgrounds to make the career move.
Businesses should also create an environment where staff feel supported and are empowered to ask questions and grow. One way of doing this is by providing access to strong internal employee networks.
Building internal support networks
Internal support networks help employees to develop a space where they can network, ask questions and learn from like-minded individuals. At Amazon, we have various employee-led groups where female employees can learn and grow, such as the Women@Amazon network.
These support networks will help employees expand their personal and professional networks, develop new skills and reach personal goals.
In 2017, we also launched Amazon Early Insights, a community outreach programme to help young women build skills and networks within the technology sector. Helping to build and encourage these groups will not only build a sense of community, but also help retain great talent and further develop their skills. We understand our responsibility to help others build networks through community outreach and by illustrating the variety of career paths into tech.
While support networks within your place of work are important, the need for an external network should not be overlooked. They will help to expose you to ideas from other industries and other specialisms, allowing you to compare and contrast ways of working.
Choosing the right path
Whether you are changing company or changing industry, it can be difficult to know where to start, particularly if you’re coming from a non-technical background and may have little or no experience in the sector.
For anyone looking to take the plunge, there are several things that I would recommend:
- Find the right employer for you
Finding a supportive employer with a culture that fits you and your ambitions will be invaluable. They can help open doors and find opportunities that you might not have been aware of before. You will also be able to network and build relationships with different people from different teams which helps further your insight into different fields and refine what you want.
Amazon employees have access to Amazon Amplify, which includes our degree apprenticeship programme, the AWS Return to Work programme, in-work training and a new UK-wide interactive training programme which all help to build these skills.
- Never stop learning to future-proof your career
This is a huge challenge as it can be difficult to find the time to learn and bridge an experience gap while still working your full-time job!
Where possible, seek out opportunities and training courses to learn new skills. Beyond that, you should be prepared to learn lots on the job. You will not be the only one in this position, as technology is constantly evolving, everyone (regardless of seniority) will be learning and adapting on the job.
- Keep asking questions
It’s the best way to learn – but remember to ask the right questions! Seeking out conversations with the right people can keep you on track for your next career change. Make sure you are effectively communicating your interest, understand the company culture and take time to speak with specialists in those roles. This will help you to learn the bigger picture and speak the right language.
Retraining is not necessarily an easy process but seeking out the right people and asking the right questions will certainly help.
- Don’t forget what you already know
When looking to move industries it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking everything you have learned at your previous jobs is not relevant. This could not be further from the case.
Every role will teach you something different and will set you apart from other applicants. Do not view your experience in different industries as a set-back – instead, see it as your USP. Interpersonal skills, technical knowledge, problem-solving, professionalism and the ability to network are all invaluable skills that you can build from most careers. No matter which technical role you enter, your ability to manage, delegate, communicate and build relationships will always be essential.