Gender diversity in the tech industry has been an issue for years, with women continuing to be underrepresented, especially in senior leadership roles. Now, as a major shortage of tech skills threatens the digital transformation plans of companies all over the world, and flexible hybrid working becomes the norm, the gender gap could be starting to close.
The stats around women in tech, generally, paint a pessimistic picture. Research from cloud-based talent creation firm Revolent found that less than 5% of Fortune 500 tech companies’ CEOs are female, a decline of 14% decline between 2016 and 2021. The study also found that 73% of female tech professionals believe gender inequality exists in the industry, while 64% of female tech workers don’t believe their employer pays men and women equally.
The company identified barriers such as a lack of female role models, uncomfortable company culture, and tech’s reputation for poor work-life balance that deter women from pursuing a career in tech.
According to Anna Sutton, cofounder of business consultancy The Data Shed, there are also misconceptions about working in tech. “People seem to think that to be able to work in tech, you have to be able to code,” she says. “Tech has a language that gets wielded in an exclusive manner which can feel insurmountable. We need to bust these myths and remove these hurdles. Diversity is imperative. Tech serves us all and the industry needs to represent that.”
Now, with a huge demand for tech talent, and many companies adopting a hybrid working model, the tide may be about to turn. In the U.K., tech has been one of the sector leaders in terms of gender rebalancing, recruiting over 150,000 women over the last three years, according to ONS figures from November 2021. At the same time, the uplift in the number of women entering tech roles, an increase of 44%, has been almost three times higher than men, up 19% over the same period.
Bev White, CEO of IT recruitment firm Harvey Nash Group, says: “There are now over half a million women working in U.K. tech. This trend is set to continue as hybrid working delivers the level of flexibility that women with young families have needed for a long time. Companies of all sizes are also recognizing that investment in diversity programs has a clear commercial, as well as equality, case.”
Launched in 2018, investment platform Freetrade has created an inclusive culture that is welcoming and supportive of diverse talent. It has grown from 70 employees in 2019 to 350 employees today, with a gender split of 70% male and 30% female, compared to 80% male and 20% female at the end of 2019. Within tech functions specifically, the gender split is now 85% male and 15% female, compared to 95% male and 5% female at the end of 2019.
Head of people Amy Gilman says: “As we have grown, our gender balance has improved, and the actions we are taking, such as holding ourselves accountable to our gender diversity goal and setting the bar higher than the industry standard, relative to how far we can stretch ourselves as a smaller, scaling business, are making a difference.”
Other diversity and inclusion actions the company has taken include increasing awareness and prioritizing training for interviewers, focusing particularly on unconscious bias, and for managers and leaders, especially on how different genders behave and why. “This gives managers and leaders the skills and confidence they need to engage and retain a diverse workforce over time,” says Gilman.
But beyond the basics, she insists there is a need to challenge the lack of women joining existing talent pools for tech, finance and engineering roles, for example, by partnering with educational and government initiatives to drive inclusivity in tech, such as working with local schools.
Also critical to improving gender diversity is having a leadership team that takes an active role in championing DE&I projects and consistently challenges a lack of progress or positive impact. “Leaders must go beyond identifying the problem and leverage their influence to help find solutions,” adds Gilman.
Another encouraging trend is a rise in the number of young women applying for tech-related courses. Data released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) shows that IT courses at U.K. universities have seen a record number of women applicants, an increase of 82% over the last 10 years. Analyzing the most recent data, courses in AI have the highest number of women applying, although the figure is currently only just over one in five (21%).
“The surge in women entering the sector could well make a big difference over the next five to 10 years,” adds White. “I hope this trend continues; we could be on the cusp of real and sustained change in what has traditionally been a male-dominated sector.”