Women in tech; it’s an increasingly talked about topic not only in the tech industry but within the general population.
Whether it’s scandals about gender discrimination at Uber or Google that are making headlines or the mere fact that women only make up around 9% of global technical electronics / ICT roles, it’s clear that there is still a long way to go to equality.
This is despite the fact that women-led companies can be shown to consistently perform better than companies with a male CEO, and companies with diversity in their top management significantly outperform those without.
In our position as talent partner to technology companies across the world, IC Resources wanted to better understand the gender imbalance, so we could make it easier for candidates of all genders to access great opportunities, as well as providing a rounded pipeline to our clients. We conducted some primary research with our contacts, gleaning their opinion on gender issues as well as how diverse their organisations were.
Our results confirmed much of what other studies have found: a stark gender imbalance across European tech firms. The UK is one of the worst offenders, with just 16% of respondents reporting an equal proportion of men and women in technical roles. This is compared to 21% in France, Spain and Italy, and sits below the Europe-wide average of 17%. This is likely a cultural issue; One respondent to our survey argued: “This is about mentality and education. I am working for a Chinese company in the UK, and the percentage of women in technical areas is less than 10%. In China, the percentage of women is about 40- 50% in the same technical area.” Although our study didn’t focus on China, there seems to be some evidence to support the assertion; a third of AliBaba’s senior management are women, and according to some figures, women account for 55% of internet start-ups.
In terms of taking action, there were mixed opinions. Over three quarters of UK respondents to our survey (77%) believe that the industry isn’t doing enough to encourage women to join, and more than two-thirds (69%) believe that their organisation could do more. The figures were even higher amongst German respondents; 80% and 73% respectively. The UK was more likely to place responsibility with technology industries, parents and the government for encouraging more women into tech that their European counterparts.
So, what can be done? Increasing representation is seen as a key goal for achieving gender equality, but it can be a controversial one. Positive action (such as encouraging women to apply to roles) is less likely to happen in the UK than Europe according to our data, with 38% of organisations not doing this at all. Furthermore, 74% of UK respondents say that they don’t believe that preference should be given to female applicants when they share the same experience and skill set as male applicants, compared to a Europe-wide average of 69%.
Besides positive action, there are other strategies that can be deployed. According to Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and one of the most prominent woman in tech globally, the state of the industry won't change until there's a shift in education. “At the broadest level, we are not going to fix the numbers for under-representation in technology or any industry until we fix our education system and until we fix the stereotypes about women and minorities in math and science.” This was a view shared by Joanna Taylor and Mara Terente (UKESF Scholar of the Year winner and runner up) during our recent interviews with them: “Parents should never label what is for girls and what is for boys from that point of view and should encourage their daughters to consider these fields.” Some survey respondents also suggested that technical women should inspire younger generations by speaking to them through the media they use, such as Snapchat or Vlogs.
This brings us to role models. Many respondents to the IC Resources survey mentioned the importance of visible female role models, with an emphasis of ‘actions speaking louder than words’; i.e. companies needed to actively avoid a mentorship culture that favours people that resemble their mentors. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of Youtube, speaks about this, in particular, the importance of having powerful advocates for diversity within a company who drive the agenda from the top. Since she took over YouTube in 2014, the number of female employees increased from 24% to 30% (Google had a mere 1% rise in the same time period).
Kathryn Parsons, co-founder and co-CEO of Decoded, highlighted recently that people find mentors in different places, “My dad was a nerd who made me feel like I could do anything. We played video games, he gave me books on how to start a business and we watched sci-fi movies together. It’s worth remembering that not all female role models have to be female or famous. The best mentors empower you to go on your own learning journey”
To round off, here are a few brief points that we’ve gleaned from our research, as well as from speaking to women such as Joanna and Mara, that could be considered as policies to help the tech industry become more appealing to women.
Go Back to School – More outreach programs in schools to encourage girls that tech could be the career for them, ideally from young ‘real’ models (see ukesf.org.uk).
Increase the visibility of female leaders / role models / ‘real’ models and mentorship schemes - but the organisation needs to be driving this, not the burden placed on women.
Commit to eliminating bias in the workplace, using specialist training.
Leadership from the C suite on women in tech agenda.
Make the recruitment process fairer by anonymising CVs, writing job ads in less ‘masculine’ language, and introducing ‘collaborative hiring’ (having a more diverse interview panel)
Encourage more women to apply to vacancies; this could mean partnering with female-driven industry or university groups
Publish data on gender pay, and regularly review it to try and close the gap
Family-friendly policies can help retain working mothers (and fathers!) and widen the pool of talent.
For further reading, you can view our interviews with Joanna Taylor and Mara Terente, UKESF (UK Electronics Skills Foundation) Scholar of the Year winner and runner up. To read the results of our survey in more detail, please follow this link, if you would like a printable copy of the report, contact us here.