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IWD gender diversity in tech

Let’s #BreakTheBias to Close the Digital Skills Gap

4 minute read

If there’s one thing that the tech industry does well, it’s leading the way in transforming the world – and now, with an ever-widening digital skills gap and a continuing gender disparity to navigate, we need that influence more than ever.

Despite its reputation as a fast-moving and ever-evolving industry, two topics of discussion persist within tech: the growing digital skills shortage, and the lack of gender diversity. At their core, these issues are very similar: they’re both about bolstering the industry by helping more people get qualified and get into suitable roles. With similarities in mind, it makes sense to approach these issues simultaneously; two birds, one stone.

The Root of the STEM Problem

Did you know that, despite the UK’s population having an almost equal number of men and women, the latter only make up 24% of the STEM workforce? That number shrinks even further when looking specifically at IT roles.

This statistic is even more shocking when we consider that the percentage of people who possess ‘above basic’ digital skills in the EU barely differs by gender, with 36% of men and 31% of women having the skills.

While it may be true that young girls seem to be less interested in STEM subjects, its dishonest to say that the gender disparity is due to there simply not being enough women with the correct skillset. When businesses are struggling to fill tech roles, for example, it’s strange that 70% of women with STEM qualifications aren’t working in compatible fields.

Where Are the Women?

So, why are there so few women in tech-related positions?

  • Culture: Preconceptions of hostile workplace cultures, the ‘tech-bro’ stereotype, and news stories of sexism and sexual assault in the workplace all add to portraying the industry as one that women will not want to be a part of – despite the varied community it encompasses.
  • Education: Often gaming, coding and other tech-related hobbies are marketed to young boys more than young girls, which could explain why girls made up less than a quarter of all those choosing to study computer science GCSE in 2020.
  • Representation: Seeing little diversity can cause women and other minorities to feel that they’re not welcome or won’t be appreciated in an organisation.
  • Pay and promotions: Despite the pay gap improving in recent years, in 2020 women were still on average offered 2.5% less than their male counterparts. Meanwhile, it’s still not uncommon for women to be passed up for promotions because of their gender and the expectations of motherhood and family care.
  • Childcare and maternity: Mothers are more likely than fathers to have to reduce their working hours due to childcare reasons. Coupled with possible time out of work for maternity leave, this could influence a recruiter’s decision and cause women to gravitate towards jobs with flexibility, rather than the standard 9-5.

How Can Gender Equality Change the Narrative?

It’s no secret at this point that gender equality in the workplace can lead to all sorts of positives, many of which will help to directly and indirectly increase the number of people working in tech roles.

While hiring more women to directly fill more roles is an obvious advantage, there’s also the tangible impact on culture brought about by greater gender diversity. As employee satisfaction and representation increase, organisations become more appealing to new hires, while being able to retain existing employees for longer.

Elsewhere, increases in productivity and innovation often result from diversity (companies with more than a third of female leadership see a 15% increase in profitability, for example), which in turn frees up time and resources to dedicate to upskilling the workforce.

What Role Can the Tech Industry Play?

As we’ve become an increasingly tech-first society, we’ve been able to learn a lot from start-ups, tech giants, and the inhabitants of Silicon Valley alike. Through exploring new methods of people management, encouraging new ways of working, and generating the technology to re-shape our world, the tech industry has proven itself a leader in the world of transformation and progressiveness.

Now, we need to turn those qualities more stringently towards encouraging gender diversity so that we might have the experience and expertise needed to keep an industry thriving.

The headline is this: if we can get more women into the industry and into leadership positions, the visible representation will in turn encourage more women and young girls to get involved. From here, we can directly address the digital skills gap, while also bracing for future gaps by training a new generation.

While the journey to a future of equal opportunities is a long one, there are some small steps we can all take to get going now:

  • Provide flexible, hybrid and remote working, and offer adequate support for current and prospective mothers
  • Evolve workplace culture to be more inclusive and welcoming, improving the industry’s public image
  • Lay out your organisation’s values and commitment to providing a comfortable, safe workplace for women
  • Evaluate recruitment, wages, and promotions to ensure everybody is receiving the same opportunities across the organisation
  • Get involved with the Microsoft Partner Pledge’s commitment to diversifying the tech industry and addressing skills shortages.

In short, there’s space for everybody in tech – and with the shortage in skilled workers growing more desperate every year, there’s no room to keep people out. By sharing these values and supporting one another to act upon them, we can ensure a bright future for tech – one we can all enjoy together.

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