International Women’s Day 2023 – Tackling the underrepresentation of women in tech
Despite the important contributions of women throughout history in the field of technology, tech remains a male dominated industry with women heavily underrepresented. In fact, according to a report by Tech Nation, almost three million people (9% of the UK workforce) are employed in the UK tech industry but just 26% are women and only 9% of the C-Suite in tech companies are female.
One reason for this underrepresentation is the lack of visible role models for girls and women to aspire to be like in the tech industry. The likes of Musk, Gates, Jobs, Bazos, Berners-Lee and Turing are universally recognised and dominate top tech innovator lists, but how many of us could name the achievements of Ada Lovelace (known as the first computer programmer), Radia Perlman (Mother of the Internet), and Hedy Lamarr (co-developer of the earliest form of WiFi)?
Their accomplishments demonstrate that women have always played a critical role in the development of technology to shape our lives and the way we work, but they aren’t as celebrated or well known as their male counterparts. To address this, we need to actively promote the achievements of women in technology – and it needs to start with education in primary schools, when children begin to form a passion for learning.
Watch this short video from the Empowering People Group in celebration of International Women’s Day that discusses some of the issues impacting equity in the tech sector.
Women are more influenced by role models than men
When girls and women see successful women in tech, they are more likely to believe that they too can succeed in this field. Without visible role models, girls and women can be discouraged from pursuing careers in the field. In fact, research suggests that girls and women are more influenced by role models than men, so it is vitally important for the education system, industries and thought leaders to help raise the profile of female role models in tech and change the narrative that the tech industry is a boys club.
However, it’s not enough to simply have a few prominent women as role models. The tech industry needs a diverse range of role models, representing different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. By highlighting the achievements of a wide range of women in tech, we can inspire more girls and women to pursue tech careers and create a more diverse and inclusive tech industry that benefits everyone.
10 tips to overcome barriers to inclusion
The lack of role models is an important factor affecting the lack of female representation in tech, but there are many other barriers that decision makers in education and business need to address to drive the significant change required to make the tech industry more equitable for women. Here are my top 10 tips for proactively breaking down these barriers.
1. Understand the issues
It may seem obvious, but making assumptions about why there is an underrepresentation of women in tech within your business may exacerbate issues. It’s key to find out from those inside the function and those outside what there perceptions are and what barriers they may consider exist. This could be done via a survey or working groups with diverse representation to help draw out barriers that need to be overcome.
2. Use data insights to identify trends and root causes
Analysing the right people data is another fundamental tool in understanding where and helping to identify why, there is underrepresentation within your teams. For example, there may be higher instances of poor management or toxic environment grievances within particular teams that could expose the root cause of an issue which is exacerbating inequality. By harnessing the right people data and ensuring issues are being properly reported, inequality can be more proactively surfaced and addressed.
3. Educate managers and employees about unconscious bias
Unconscious bias can lead to underrepresented groups being overlooked for opportunities and promotions. To combat this, companies should invest in unconscious bias training and identify practical ways to establish diverse hiring panels.
4. Tackle unconscious bias in recruitment
Job descriptions for tech roles could inadvertently include language that introduces a gender bias that could deter women from applying. For example, focusing on traits such as ‘assertive’ or ‘independent’, rather than terms like ‘passionate’ or ‘collaborative’, may be off putting for women.
In a technology company I’ve worked with, the tech team were referred to as ‘ninjas’ and this was mentioned in job descriptions. The company struggled to recruit women, and this was identified via feedback that the term ninja did not appeal to women because of the aggressive undertones it conveys.
5. Provide mentorship
Research shows that women benefit greatly from mentorship from more experienced colleagues in the tech industry. Organisations should invest time and resource into establishing formal mentorship and sponsorship programmes to support women in their career development.
6. Promote work-life balance
The tech industry is notorious for its demanding work culture, which can make it difficult for women with caregiving responsibilities to succeed. Some IT roles require physical access to servers and other hardware, so may need to be office-based, reducing the ability to offer flexibility. But with the ever-increasing use of cloud computing, the need for physical servers is decreasing, and many IT tasks can now be performed remotely. In fact, since the pandemic, many companies have shifted to flexible working models in IT roles. This can provide employees with greater work-life balance, which is fundamental in attracting and retaining female talent in the industry.
7. Increase pay transparency
Women in tech have faced unequal pay and are underrepresented in leadership roles. To address this, companies need to increase transparency around pay and promotion and establish pay equity policies to ensure this is not a barrier to entry for women.
8. Build diverse and inclusive teams
Diversity and inclusion are essential for creating a supportive and equitable working environment. Companies can establish diversity and inclusion initiatives, provide ED&I training, and prioritise diversity in their hiring and promotion practices. This will all help to identify and drive change that will improve equality.
9. Offer professional development
Offering training and development opportunities to enable employees to develop the skills and knowledge necessary for career advancement in the tech industry could help to attract a more diverse representation in general and unlock untapped talent within the organisation.
10. Take a data driven approach to equity
Establishing metrics to measure progress towards equity goals and hold leaders accountable for meeting these targets in vital in driving rapid change. The world of work is ever evolving, so continuously evaluating and adjusting equity initiatives to ensure that they are effective and sustainable over time is also essential.
The role female leaders can play in building a culture of equity
Female leaders in tech serve as role models for other women demonstrating that there are opportunities for women within these male dominated roles.
Even in female-dominated professions, like HR, there are still forms of gender inequality and tech roles are predominantly filled by men, especially senior roles. Increasing the representation of women in leadership roles in technology businesses will help address these issues.
Female leaders can use their positions of influence to advocate for policies and practices that promote equity and fairness in the workplace, fostering a culture of inclusion where all employees feel valued, supported, and empowered to succeed. They can also serve as mentors for other women, providing guidance and support and helping to identify transferrable skills that may help to make tech roles more appealing to women within the workforce who are looking to upskill.
It’s essential that there is accountability for driving change. Female leaders can hold themselves and others accountable for promoting equity and fairness in the workplace, and taking action when inequities arise.
By taking these steps, companies can help to overcome the barriers to equity for women in tech, and create a more inclusive and supportive working environment for all employees. Ultimately, this benefits not only women in tech but the industry as a whole, as a more diverse and inclusive workforce leads to greater innovation and success.
There is a growing body of research that supports the concept that diversity is key to building the most efficient and successful teams. A Gartner study revealed that a highly diverse environment can improve team performance by up to 30%, and diversity can also lead to better decision-making and higher profitability. In fact, according to McKinsey & Company, the most diverse companies outperform their less diverse peers by 36% in profitability.
Equality isn’t enough – we need to #EmbraceEquity and change role profiles, cultures and working practises in order to ensure roles in tech appeal to more women.