If International Women’s Day reminded us of anything this year, it’s that the issue of women in technology is still of huge importance. In fact, recent statistics from WISE show that still women only make up 14.4 per cent of all those working in STEM in the UK. This number may be rising, but there’s clearly still more we can do to increase the amount of women working within STEM careers.
Connecting with women through education
Education has a huge part to play when it comes to the lack of female representation within the tech sector. It seems that despite efforts from schools, career advisors and businesses alike young women are still disconnected from the vast array of opportunities available within the industry, meaning they simply do not view technology as an enticing or viable career path. Indeed, it’s important to remember that working in tech doesn’t have to mean developing or coding, and opportunities also exist in a range of fields from marketing and sales to leadership. In other words, there are a huge variety of roles within technology of which women simply aren’t being made aware.
Yet the issues aren’t limited to encouraging women into tech: we’re also struggling to keep them within the industry in the long term. A major reason for this is a lack of coaching and mentoring, which is crucial when women make up a small percentage of the workforce within the tech sector.
While it might be easier for companies to sit back and wait for the education system and the government to figure out how to encourage more women into technology, organisations should be making this a top priority and playing an active role. For one thing, we’re currently experiencing an IT skills shortage in the UK, so it makes perfect business sense to ensure that we’re maximising all of our available skills and people when considering the jobs and talent we need for the future.
Introducing more women and diversity into the workplace will also broaden skillsets within the industry, encouraging new ideas and approaches. It will also enable businesses to reflect, and more successfully engage with, their diverse customer communities. Yet more than that, gender diversity can have a real impact on a company’s bottom line. Indeed, statistics show that companies who encourage gender diversity within their management teams enjoy more average growth and an increased return on equity.
Companies and communication
Clearly then, there are plenty of incentives for technology organisations to start encouraging more women into the sector, and companies should be doing all they can to facilitate this. The key here is communication: businesses need to demonstrate the value that women add in terms of diversity, the effect that diversity has on the bottom line and the vast array of opportunities within the sector. To do this, organisations must focus on showcasing role models at every level of the industry to demonstrate the different ways that women can progress within tech – ensuring that they hear from a variety of realistic representatives, not just voices from those at the very top.
Tech companies also need to work more closely with educational institutions to target and educate the right talent from an earlier stage. Meanwhile, they can work to optimise their marketing materials, websites, and recruitment processes to emphasise existing opportunities and diversity within the organisation to prospective recruits.
Retaining female talent in STEM
On the other hand, when it comes to retention, organisations need to prioritise the establishment of networks that will help female employees to access support and mentoring opportunities. The development of such communities – both within organisations and across the industry – will ensure that women have the connections, confidence and knowledge to progress in their careers and stay within the tech sector.
One of the most hotly debated answers to tech’s diversity issues is the implementation of mandatory quotas. However, there are a number of risks associated with this quick fix – from hiring individuals who lack the skills required for their role to fostering dissatisfaction and hostility within the workforce. Most of all, it undermines exactly what the industry should be striving for: finding the right talent with the right skills to encourage diversity and success across the sector.
It is only once businesses focus on this aim, looking past short term solutions such as mandatory quotas, that they will be able to feel the benefits of gender diversity across the sector and have a positive impact upon the number of women working in STEM in the UK.
Lynn Collier is COO, Hitachi Data Systems UK