An opportunity is coming to drive up the number of women in tech

December 9, 2021
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Melanie Hayes, chief people officer at Harvey Nash Group, discusses the opportunity for the tech sector to drive up female representation. This article was written for Information Age and can be found here.

Much has been made of the potential of the more flexible, remote working models created by the pandemic to benefit levels of diversity and inclusion, particularly for women. However, this year’s Harvey Nash Group Digital Leadership Report, the world’s largest and longest-running survey of senior technology decision makers, finds that this is yet to show through.

The report reveals that the percentage of women in tech leadership is virtually unchanged (12%) while the proportion of women in technology teams as a whole is approximately the same too (24%). The figures have been at about this level for many years.

A number of other key findings continue the discouraging picture:

  • Nearly six in ten tech leaders (59%) say their organisation does not have an inclusion steering committee with genuine powers.
  • 42% have not created employee support networks and 36% have not carried out any inclusion training or communications.
  • Of those that have, opinion is split down the middle as to whether they have been successful.
  • The great majority have not tried mandatory quotas for candidates (75%) or hiring decisions (79%).

Where then does this leave us? Should we conclude that efforts are hopeless and let things run their natural course?

Post-pandemic opportunity?

Absolutely not. In fact, I believe that we are on the verge of real change – or could be, if leadership teams in conjunction with HR directors and hiring managers take effective approaches.

It’s certainly true that on the evidence to date, the shift to remote working has not yet moved the dial. But throughout the pandemic period, technology teams have been working at a time of incredible business demand and market competition for talent. Unsurprisingly, the overriding priority has simply been to secure the resource needed regardless of diversity characteristics.

However, as we move through the post-pandemic reset period, my hope is that the market will settle down and things will stabilise. At the same time, hybrid working models will become established and businesses will work out what the new normal looks like.

This will create the opportunity for greater flexibility in how and when people work, in a more predictable environment – which could greatly help women (and anyone with parental or caring responsibilities) to manage the balance between life and work.

Four key areas of focus

On its own, though, this won’t be enough to change the landscape. We need to see businesses pushing harder with measures for change. In my view, four things are essential:

  • Entry level hires – organisations must work hard at improving the diversity of their entry intakes. For example, by looking to build ties with universities and colleges that have more diverse student bases.
  • Experienced hires – if not having formal gender quotas, organisations should be asking their HR teams and external agencies to present them with balanced candidate lists wherever possible.
  • Internal development – businesses need to ‘grow their own’ diverse talent internally, for example by aiming for a 50-50 gender split on talent development programmes if their current make up is not at the level expected.
  • Mentoring programmes – these really help talented individuals to grow and develop their careers. Again, the aim should be for a 50-50 gender split.

Culture and reporting

Another key element is creating the right culture and environment for diversity to thrive. In a gender context, an important aspect here is male allyship. Men have a real role to play in supporting the ‘levelling up’ agenda. They need to see that increasing gender diversity and equity is not just an issue for women themselves – it’s for everyone. They can become active allies through their own behaviours and actions. This extends right up to board level and executive leadership. We need to continue to work to influence leader behaviour and build their understanding of people’s different styles. Instances of men talking over women in the boardroom or not listening to ideas are still all too common.

Reporting is also critical. You can’t change what you don’t measure. Collating diversity statistics and reporting them to the board and more widely around the business is an essential part of raising awareness and stimulating action. Transparent reporting was in fact seen as the most effective lever for improving diversity and inclusion in this year’s survey.

Moving the dial

There is absolutely no reason why we can’t move the dial and see more women working in tech on a long-term sustainable basis. In our technology business NashTech for example (based in Vietnam), 32% of our software developers are women.

Our experience is that women can be brilliantly suited to a career in technology. So many of the skills needed are things that women possess in abundance: creativity, communication, problem-solving ability. To a large degree, it’s about changing the way we talk about technology – from thinking about IT as a dry, technical discipline to one that’s dynamic, accessible and key to our everyday lives.

We can attract more women into technology; we can give women (and men) more flexible working patterns in the hybrid world; and through building an inclusive culture we can support career development.

There’s no reason at all why the number of women in tech can’t rise significantly in the coming years. I hope that the post-pandemic hybrid working era will be the time when this begins.

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