From education to employment

Mind the gap – why the tech industry should value women returners

Beckie Taylor

Mind the gap – it’s a term that we hear frequently. Yet, while we are all acutely aware of the need to reduce the gender pay gap and increase female representation in the tech sector, there exists another gap which has been overlooked and which we must confront if we are to address the industry’s profound structural shortcomings.

This is the gap that penalises women who take career breaks, often to have children, or learn new skills and start a business. These women have a wealth of experience and diversity of thought. They are a precious resource that should be valued.

Mind The Gap

We hear it a lot these days, especially when International Women’s Day rolls around. In the build-up to IWD there are well-intentioned calls for the pay gap between the sexes to be closed; for more women in the boardroom; to get more young women into specific industries.

Nowhere are these demands more urgent than in the tech sector. Our world today is undeniably digital. Technology pervades all aspects of our lives, from social media and GPS systems to emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and digital twins. Women make up 80% of buying power, and yet they remain massively underrepresented within this sector, with just 2% of women building tech products and a meagre 5% in leadership positions. Without bridging the gap and introducing diversity of thought we are committing ourselves to an endless cycle of producing the same products that fail to meet women’s needs.

But there is another gap, one that people don’t talk about nearly enough, which we must confront if these profound structural shortcomings are to be truly addressed.

I’m talking about the gap that penalises women who take career breaks, often to have children or to care for a relative, or perhaps just to take time out to learn new skills and start their own businesses.

Gaps on their CV means that today many women are discarded as potential employees almost before their application has landed in an HR department’s in-tray.

I’m astonished how short-sighted this approach is – for employees, companies, and the future of tech.

Today, most of the initiatives to improve diversity in the tech sector focus on graduate and junior-level support.

But findings show that 56% of women leave the industry at mid-to-senior level, resulting in what I call the ‘leaky bucket’ effect.  

Yes, we can get more women into tech at the junior level but then they just leave later on, often to have children, unable to return.

It was frustration with this squandering of potential that saw me co-found Tech Returners, a purpose-focused business that helps people to return to tech after taking a career break.

Our first two pilot projects were overwhelmed with demand. These days we’re now part of Northcoders Group Plc, one of the country’s leading providers of coding bootcamps, and we partner with a raft of organisations, from the BBC, Rolls Royce, BAE Systems, the Guardian, and When they need tech talent – Tech Returners finds them and supports those people to refresh their skills and instil new confidence.

Many of those we help place are Returners referred from those we have helped before.

They are people like Sinead, who took a break between jobs to spend more time with her two young children and home-school them during the Covid-19 pandemic. After year out of work, she went via us to, and was their first-ever female external hire tech lead. She has now moved to Money Supermarket as an Engineering Manager. We’ve worked with domestic abuse victims, empowering them to create new opportunities and we’re now proud to be working with Ukrainian refugees.

Our main goal is to change society’s perception of someone wanting to return to work after taking a break. Rather than it being a cause for concern, we emphasise the experience and transferable skills that they acquire. If you’ve spent three years looking after a toddler you’ve got some fantastic time management skills, impeccable patience, not to mention a radically different perspective when it comes to negotiation techniques.

I speak from experience. I had my first child (Ethan) a decade ago and took a career break. I’d been working in People / HR  / Talent in the Tech space and when I came back to work in the sector, I realised how lonely it could be. There wasn’t much of a network to talk to other women in my situation and as technology progressed at a vast rate, I felt left behind.

So, I did something about it.

I Co-founded Women In Tech North, an open environment where women discuss the challenges they face when returning to the workplace. Today it is the world’s third largest women in tech community and focuses on providing real skills such as how to navigate equal pay.  

This also led to establishing ReframeWIT the North’s largest non for profit community conference with free childcare, which is looking to welcome over 750 people on the 30th and 31st March with guest speaker Dame Stephanie Shirley, information technology pioneer, business women and philanthropist.

To some extent the pandemic’s legacy is now changing the perception of this community. The switch to remote working and learning has been a turning point, improving the ability of Returners to access jobs, training and raise their profile.  

But too few companies really see their potential.

So, on International Women’s Day – in fact, every day – I’m going to be urging employers to mine the gap.

Women who’ve taken time out and want to return to work are a precious resource. Value them.

By Beckie Taylor, CEO and Co-founder of Tech Returners, part of Northcoders Group Plc.

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