Rethinking The Technology Gender Gap
Few young women say they would consider a career in the tech sector, so how can we change their minds?
3 min read
Can you name a famous woman in tech? Marisa Meyer? Sheryl Sandberg? Martha Lane Fox? If you can name another, you probably work in tech already. And if so, there’s an 82 per cent chance you are a man.
Yes, everyone knows males dominate tech. And this is not changing. According to Deloitte, the percentage of women in UK digital jobs increased from 17 per cent to just 18 per cent between 2010 and 2015.
The big question is: so what? If girls don’t fancy a job in tech, let them do something else. After all, it’s not as if society locks out women in other areas. Two-thirds of practising solicitors under 35 are women, and most newly qualified UK doctors are female too.
For Sheridan Ash, Head of Women in Technology at PwC, the answer is clear: more diversity makes for better products. She says: “Tech is shaping everything we do, so it doesn’t make sense to have just a small percentage of the population developing it. We need to widen access to everyone or it’s just a waste of talent.”
Kirsty Styles, Talent and Skills Lead at Tech North, agrees – and puts a number on it. “This is not about being kind to women,” she says. “It's a business problem. Research from Telefonica found that UK digital businesses could need 750,000 more people by 2020. Encouraging women into the sector makes commercial sense.”
Beyond the commercial logic of needing more people to fill the jobs to meet the digital demand, it makes sense that if 50% of technology users are women, there should be this level of representation in the population that is developing this technology.
It’s easy to forget that at the end of every piece of technology is a human user, and that these human users have a variety of different needs and expectations. “Our digital capabilities cannot be designed from one perspective, with one type of user in mind” explains Phoebe Courtley, Digital Content Manger, Coutts, “and diversifying not just the gender but the backgrounds and experiences of those developing the digital ecosystem for our clients can only be a good thing”.
So what’s standing in the way of achiving this balance? Zoe Cunningham, Managing Director of software company Softwire, says: “There’s no difference in ability between male and female applicants. It’s just that 80 per cent of applicants are men. That ratio seems to apply at university and even A-level. So it’s obvious we need to get girls at 11 or 12 to make a difference.”
Could the issue be that women don’t want to work in technology, or is it more likely that there is a fundamental misunderstanding about what a career in digital actually involves? Phoebe Courtley believes the digital industry has some myth-busting to do regarding what’s needed to pursue a career in the technology space, “There is a prevailing misconception that all digital jobs require a technical degree and this is simply not the case”. But these assumptions are clearly alienating some young women at an early age.
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PwC stats bear this out. They show that only 27 per cent of female students would consider a career in technology, and only three per cent say it is their first choice. The company proposes a four-pronged solution:
- Educate female students about technology
- Create alternative routes into technology careers
- Highlight female technology role models
- Provide an inclusive working environment
And PwC has tried to set an example by hosting a recurring event at The Science Museum with 100 schoolgirls to ignite their interest in technology careers. It is also set to launch its own technology degree, fully funded from day one, and will seek out talented females for its intake.
Meanwhile, Tech North launched Northern Voices, a speaker-training programme that aims to help women in tech promote their presence in the sector and inspire younger women.
These programmes should chip away at the lingering assumption among schoolgirls that ‘tech is not for me’. However, changing the culture inside existing tech firms may be harder. Though blatant sexism is probably rare, the truth is that founders are human – and they instinctively hire people who look like them. That means male and white.
It takes a conscious effort to re-think this. Closing the gap isn’t just about getting more women into technical degree programmes but about changing perceptions. Alongside demystifying the assumption that ‘tech isn’t for me’, there needs to be a significant shift in the mind-sets of those already in the industry to create an environment that values diversity.
With far too few women in the technology sector, what can be done to ensure that the people shaping future technologies are just as diverse as those using them?
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