From education to employment

What can businesses do to increase gender diversity in tech, and how will this improve the sector?

The tech industry explores gender diversity

Ada Lovelace Day offered a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women in technology, and it’s never been more important to do so. According to recent ONS figures, women make up just 22% of the STEM workforce in the UK. With senior executives warning of a growing tech skills crisis, and one million open vacancies by next year, it’s clear that we need to encourage more women to enter the industry.

But what can businesses do to increase gender diversity in tech, and how will this improve the sector? We asked some of the industry’s leading women to share their thoughts:

What is it like to be a woman in tech?

The lack of diversity is clear to those working in the industry. According to Barbara Schretter, Team Lead Data Science, Celonis, “The tech industry as a whole is still male-dominated. When meeting people from other companies I am generally talking to men. I rarely see women in our clients’ IT departments, and even more rarely are those women my age or similar.”

Esther Mahr, Conversational Experience Designer, IPsoft echoes this sentiment. “When I look around at industry gatherings, among a sea of engineers, developers, programme managers, business analysts and service delivery heads, I still see too few female faces. And it’s not just lack of female representation – we are a rather homogeneous industry.”

And it’s not just representation that’s the issue. Lori MacVittie, Principal Threat Evangelist, F5 Networks, told us: “Most of us have likely run into one or two people who don’t take well to women in tech. It’s a sad scenario, but one that is slowly improving as more females take on STEM roles. But change isn’t going to happen overnight, and I think it’s the responsibility of businesses today to create and promote a working environment that is not only welcoming to both men and women, but also encouraging.”

Inspiring the next generation

The key lies in encouraging the next generation of girls to enter the industry, says Mahr. “While one day is a good start to creating awareness, more needs to be done to encourage girls to take up STEM subjects. As technology – and in particular AI – becomes an integral part of our world, we have to equip younger generations with the necessary skills they will need to be successful in their future working lives.”

According to Schretter, “It’s important to inspire more women of all ages, backgrounds and experience levels to consider working in technology. Hopefully by making them more visible, the next generation of female technology professionals can find role models and become excited about pursuing a career in technology.”

According to Lindsey Kneuven, Chief Impact Officer at Pluralsight and Executive Director of Pluralsight One, companies need to show that they are committed to achieving lasting change in the STEM industry within our lifetimes. “We must eliminate the barriers that prevent girls’ participation, radically disrupt our education systems and hiring practices to ensure true inclusion and inspire the next generation of talent to pursue their own promising STEM careers. It’s time for all leaders to evaluate how they can make a difference and move the industry forward with equal representation.”

A business necessity

And there are huge benefits to be reaped by those that are tackling the issue head-on. Schretter says. “More and more people will be needed in tech in the future. The sooner young people start with coding, the better it will be for their future careers. Even if they don’t programme on their own, to have a basic understanding of coding can’t do any harm. Having companies involved in such projects might also help them get excited about building their own scripts or solving various problems through scripting.”

Furthermore, having a diverse sea of voices in the industry often brings different ideas to the table. Pluralsight’s Kneuven tells us that “Equitable representation is critical and can’t wait. Diversity introduces unique thought, champions innovation and creativity, and improves performance. Organisations need a dynamic and representative workforce to properly meet the needs of the global communities they live and work in and innovate for.”

Joanne Warner, Head of Customer Service at Natterbox also agrees. “We need diversity to thrive and evolve, so it’s vital that business and education organisations continue to promote all opportunities as equal. Spending time and investment in understanding people’s motivations and strengths can produce the most innovative and loyal employees or students.”

This is even more pertinent when considering the algorithms and new technology being developed. Mahr believes that there’s no room for gender diversity to take a back seat here, “As AI-driven algorithms and their user-facing manifestations, such as applications, become a more pervasive feature of almost every aspect of our lives, it is absolutely critical that diverse groups develop, test and design the technologies that will transform our jobs, cities and services that we interact with. Diversity not only means equal representation of gender, but also of age, geographical and socio-economic background and beliefs.”

Words of wisdom

So as we celebrate the achievements of women and girls in technology on Ada Lovelace Day, what advice can our experts offer young girls?

Warner has encouraging words: “My advice to women looking to enter a STEM role is, don’t hesitate! There are so many rewarding roles and opportunities. Whether male or female, be comfortable with who you are and always aim for the blue sky, that is, wherever you want to end up.”

For any girls who might feel hesitant about entering the industry, getting a mentor can be one way to find support. “Make sure you find a mentor or friend who you can vent to, and a business or educational body that will provide the right support to help you be successful in your career. STEM industries have a reputation for women struggling to be successful. Don’t be put off – if we want change, we need to be the forerunners”, MacVittie says.

And even if you’re not sure if you want to end up in the tech industry, it doesn’t matter, advises Natacha Robert, Divisional Finance Director at Civica. “In my view, studying STEM gives you the best foundation for your future career. In my current job as Divisional Finance director, my STEM background and knowledge has no doubt informed many of my leadership decisions, resulting in more scientifically-grounded and logical decision-making.”

She continues, “I found that having a STEM background has given me a better understanding of my peers’ specialities, related to software development and system architecture. I firmly believe that studying STEM subjects equips you with problem-solving skills and teaches you how to apply knowledge and skills to real-world professional challenges, giving you the ability to maximise results.”

Final words

There’s no time to lose when it comes to ensuring greater gender representation in the tech industry. The business benefits are clear – from tackling the skills gap to creating new role models and even addressing diversity issues inherent within algorithms, encouraging more women into the STEM industry can bring financial advantages too. Let’s use this opportunity to highlight the wealth of talent that’s available and encourage more young girls to take advantage of the exciting opportunities offered by the technology industry.

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