The Tech Talent Charter’s recent ‘Doing it Anyway’ campaign aims to raise awareness of a deep-rooted cyber issue: that women are still highly underrepresented in the industry. Currently, women make up just 16% of IT professionals in the UK. At the same time, the UK is also facing a huge digital skills gap — in 2018 there were a reported 600,000 vacancies in digital technology positions — suggesting that the industry desperately needs to attract new talent. Despite the low number of women in the industry, a recent study found that 45% of women not currently working in a tech position reported that they would be interested in retraining. Attracting and retaining those from this underutilised group could be one answer to the digital skills gap issue.
So, what are some of the barriers that women face, and how can we solve them?
Research has shown that women tend to underestimate while men overestimate their own abilities. For example, women with up to eight years of programming experience report the same confidence levels as men with zero to one year of the same experience. The consequences of this are that women are less likely to pursue work and educational opportunities that they are qualified for.
It’s important that both organisations and individuals recognise that confidence, and not competence, holds women back. Positive role models are one excellent way of increasing confidence in women, which is why efforts such as the ‘Doing it Anyway’ campaign, which featured successful women in tech from a variety of backgrounds, are so important. However, it’s essential this happens within organisations too — women in tech often carry out ‘less visible’ work — so they may be less likely to be seen as role models than their male counterparts.
Networking and Mentorship
Networking is key to career advancement, but many women find it difficult to acquire a professional network due to the inherent ‘boys club’ culture in the industry. From an organisational point of view, it’s of course vital to organise activities where women feel included and safe. However, women can also join the growing number of networks (e.g. Girls Who Code and Girls in Tech) which provide not only a female-focused network but a support group to help navigate the challenges of being under-represented in the workplace.
Mentorship can be invaluable. A good mentor can provide you with access to knowledge, skills, contacts and resources to support your tech career. Furthermore, a female mentor may provide personal advice on the challenges women face in a male-dominated environment, and help you learn how to advocate for yourself.
Non-inclusive workplace cultures regularly discourage women from applying — 74% of surveyed female STEM students reported that diversity initiatives were extremely or very important when researching potential employers. While many organisations attribute their lack of gender diversity on recruitment difficulties, they also fail to retain female employees. Half of young women in tech leave the industry by age 35, citing non-inclusive company culture as the primary reason.
Policies such as maternity support and flexible working patterns can help both attract and retain female talent. Implementing practices such as gender-neutral language across company communications and including women in key decision making and hiring processes can help create a more inclusive workplace for women.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the barriers facing women in the tech industry. Campaigns such as the ‘Doing it anyway’ example are a fantastic way to highlight positive female role models, but they are also a reminder of how far the industry still needs to go to make it clear that women are welcome.