Where Are The Women In Tech?

by Esra Bilgin

Women are still a minority in the tech industry. The number of working women in the UK tech industry is just 17 per cent, considerably lower than in most other work sectors. Many non-profit organisations and companies are working on getting more women into tech roles to fix the gender gap, but progress remains painfully slow.

One of the main reasons for the small percentage of women in the industry is a lack of role models within the sector. India Lucas, a Policy Manager for Skills, Talent and Diversity at TechUK cites a Microsoft survey which shows that the number of women interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) almost doubles (41 per cent) when they have role models.  She believes that if they had strong role models, more women would be tempted to start a career in tech.

India Lucas techUK copy
India Lucas, Policy Manager at TechUK

Another problem is career breaks and re-entry into the sector. Technology is a fast-moving industry that’s constantly changing.

“After taking a four or five year career break, women are intimidated about coming back to the workplace,” Lucas says.  “At TechUK, we run a Returners Hub on our website. Returning programmes are really good for women and business.

“These kinds of programmes ensure that women are coming back to senior positions instead of starting at the bottom again. We can get women into the boardroom quicker.”

Working conditions also impact the level of women in the tech industry, as many women feel their work environment isn’t female friendly. Dr Sue Black, a founder of #techmums, says women generally move out of the tech sector in their thirties and forties because they are not being promoted and do not have their desired work-life balance.  

Sheila Flavell, Chief Operating Officer and an Executive Board Director of FDM Group, emphasises that the biggest problem is a lack of confidence: “If there is a job on offer, women are not generally comfortable putting their hands up even when they fulfill nearly all of the skills required,” Flavell says.

“Technology is still dominated by men. But it has never been a better time for women in tech because organisations and governments are looking to create better balance in their workforces. It is a brilliant time for women to improve their prospects.”

Sheila Flavell, Chief Operating Officer of FDM Group

“I do not really see any barriers nowadays except the fact that women tend to have a lack of confidence. Women should feel confident enough to put their hands up and say ‘Yes, I can do this job.’”

Neta Tully, Head of Communications at HP Europe, Middle East and Africa, says if women are aware of the increased roles and opportunities that exist in the industry, the number of women working in tech could grow.

“You don’t have to be a technologist or an engineer to work in tech: pretty much every role exists within the tech industry, from marketing and legal to finance and communication. I am not a technologist and have had a long and rewarding career in tech, as have many of my peers.”

The importance of gender balance

Diversity helps to drive new business, fuel innovation and attract the best employees.  If you want to be a successful organisation, you need a balance of genders on your team.

Flavell believes you need diversity of thought and opinion: “Women represent half of the UK population but they do not represent half of the UK’s workplace. Just 17 per cent of the whole tech workforce in the UK are women. We are going to be short of a million skilled IT workers by 2020. If we want to close the skills gap we need those women.”

According to Lucas, diversity equals an innovative workplace. Without innovation, the tech industry has no products, and when women are not part of the team companies miss out on female perspectives.  

Remember the earliest versions of Apple’s HealthKit app? When it was first released in 2014 there was no option for users to track their menstrual cycles – a vital tool for helping women predict what their health will be like for that week or the rest of the month.

The HealthKit app is just one example of why gender balance is so important; not including women could (and will) negatively impact technological developments. Diversity in the workplace is essential if we are going to create products and services that fit everybody.

Featured Image : Dr. Sue Black,India Lucas, Neta Tully, and Sheila Flavell
Collage by Valentina Cipriani 

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