The enforced move by many employers to flexible home working during the pandemic is challenging the culture of long hours in the office – and opening up new opportunities for women in tech
There are plenty of reasons why the tech sector does not have strong representation of women, and I will go over these later in this article. But before that, I want to say loud and proud: technology is a brilliant career for anyone, and that very much includes women.
Everything is becoming driven by technology. Supermarkets are now tech companies, even the statistical modelling required to combat Covid-19 is technology-driven. The world is full of problems to solve and the more diverse teams we have solving these, the better the outcome will be for business, governments – and humankind.
Although tech does not have its fair share of women, what I do see is how well the women that are in tech are doing. Our own research sees them just as content as men, and also just as likely to progress once their career has got under way. All across the sector, there are women making a genuine impact.
Tech continues to lag
But still, as International Women’s Day comes round again, gender diversity in tech is nowhere near where it should be. The latest Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO survey found that just 11% of tech leaders are women, and only about one-fifth of IT teams are female.
The recent revelation that women now make up one-third of board positions in the FTSE 350 underlines how much catching-up tech needs to do. It’s been a problem for decades and progress has been too slow.
Right now, we really need to grasp this nettle and solve the problem. It has become even more crucial that we attract enough women into tech because, in the wake of Covid-19 and Brexit, I believe the landscape of UK plc will change significantly as the “levelling-up” agenda takes centre stage.
Digital will be at the heart of the revolution, and tech will be more important than ever. The industry already suffers from skills shortages, struggling to fill many vacancies. If we can’t attract more women in, the problem will only grow even more acute and hold us all back as a nation.
Barriers – and opportunities
As a result of the pandemic, some things have changed that will help us. One of the biggest barriers for women has always been the long-hours-in-the-office culture in tech. That has all changed with the pandemic – everyone is working flexibly now, and with schools returning today across the UK, those men and women with young families will be in an even better position to capitalise on the new working-from-home/flexible model.
Some 95% of tech professionals in the UK – and a similar proportion globally – want to work more than two days a week from home after the pandemic. At the same time, our forthcoming Tech survey canvassing the views of more than 1,700 people shows that flexible working is seen to be the most effective way of helping to build more diverse teams, cited by 69% of respondents.
Another key barrier has been simply attracting women into the sector in the first place. Tech is still often perceived to be male-dominated, technical, nerdish – in short, not suited to women. We need to change this through positive, empowering messages and, as an industry, really promote the ways in which women can flourish.
Our survey findings back this up, with 42% of respondents saying the industry needs to create more apprenticeships/training opportunities that would appeal to young women, and the same percentage saying more engagement and outreach in schools and colleges is needed.
Towards a truly open culture
There are lots of factors that can make a difference, including having strong role models, mentoring programmes and diversity training – but there is no single answer. Indeed, I think there is a real danger in compartmentalising diversity into a set of initiatives and programmes.
Diversity must not be seen as a “project”. It has to be about a sustained cultural and mindset shift, where, quite simply, everyone is welcomed and opportunity is open to all, regardless of gender or any other factor. Change needs to be systemic and coordinated, not a set of initiatives.
The government has a key role to play in this – it can help set the agenda at so many levels, from shaping education and the curriculum to support for apprenticeships and training schemes, upskilling and reskilling, funding programmes, research and development incentives, and more.
Even if we haven’t seen as much progress as we’d like over recent years, I remain an optimist. In the new world created by the pandemic, we are on an irresistible path to a different kind of society.
Appreciation of the importance of inclusion is growing, and tech must reflect this. We don’t want to be having the same conversation about this every year – and I believe that, if every one of us plays a positive part, in the years to come, we won’t be.
This article first appeared on Computer Weekly.