Despite repeated calls for action from educational institutions, companies and governments the tech sector still has a gender diversity problem. According to PwC, the gender gap within the technology industry is worse than ever: in a recent survey of over 2000 A level and university students, only 3% of females said a career in technology was their first choice, and only 22% could name a famous woman working in technology.
Lack of diversity in students studying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects creates imbalances that ripple throughout the wider industry. According to the same research paper only 5% of leadership positions in the technology sector are held by women. It’s easy to be intimidated by this situation, but the truth is there are many practical steps businesses can take to improve the situation. At Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), with our global workforce made up of over 35% women, we take diversity very seriously. As part of our ongoing efforts at improving gender representation in technology, we brought together diversity experts to speak at our recent Spark Salon, hosted in collaboration with the Open University, to explore what small, practical steps companies can take to ensure they’re doing their part.
Build a support network
Gender imbalance in technology and wider STEM careers is a problem that has been weighing down the sector for decades, and will take years to resolve. When faced with such a seemingly intractable issue, it can be easy for businesses to assume that they won’t be able to make a difference. It’s important not to fall into this trap: there are many industry groups out there which can help businesses effect positive change in their workforces. Tech Talent Charter, which TCS supports, is one example, a business-led initiative to change approaches to diverse recruitment and retention.
Debbie Forster, CEO of Tech Talent Charter, attended the Spark Salon and pointed out that the problem of gender imbalance in tech is too big for any one business to solve on its own. By joining industry groups such as Tech Talent Charter, or supporting initiatives such as Code First: Girls, WISE and Tech She Can, companies can begin to share ideas and best-practices for better diversity, and work together on tried-and-tested ways for bringing more gender diversity into their businesses.
Be less prescriptive
According to Ruben Kostucki, founding member and COO at Makers, Europe’s top-ranked software engineering bootcamp, the first thing any business, large or small, should do to boost their tech team diversity is to take a thorough look at their assessment process for job applicants. Ruben likened this to a funnel: you can’t get more gender diversity without doing everything you can to ensure you have a strong number of female applicants at the start of the funnel.
The best way to achieve this is by taking a long hard look at the culture you have established in your business. Marketers look at how their messaging plays with potential customers and prospects, and it’s time businesses did the same with their recruitment efforts.
Many technology businesses write their job descriptions in ways that may be turning away female applicants. Research from Harvard Business Review suggests that women are more likely than men not to apply for a job if they do not meet all the criteria listed in the job description. However, the research also found that this disparity was not due to a lack of confidence among women, but a different perception of how the hiring process would work. This suggests that if businesses are slightly less prescriptive in how they write their job descriptions, a wider range of applicants will come through the door to be interviewed.
Show off travel opportunities
At TCS’ recent Spark Salon Parvati Raghuram, Geography and Migration professor at the Open University, spoke about how travel opportunities can boost gender diversity. As part of her comparative research on the UK and Indian technology ecosystems, she found that travel opportunities were a key reason why many women chose to go into IT in the first place. Travel affords people a chance to build a wider network of contacts beyond their home country, and develop new skills. 97% of female Indian business leaders Parvati surveyed indicated that international mobility and global exposure were a key factor in the recruitment and retention of women in the tech sector.
There are some simple, practical things businesses can do to capitalise on this opportunity: be specific in your recruitment efforts, calling attention to any travel or global postings that could come with the role; see business travel as a positive to be advertised, not a negative to be hidden. Businesses can also build up travel opportunities specifically for female IT specialists, for example by getting involved in women in IT conferences and events. Finally, it’s important to provide practical support to help facilitate international mobility: make your staff feel looked after, and potentially invest in a professional business travel service to make sure they feel safe, secure and productive on their travels.
Get involved with the local community
The gender imbalance in STEM subjects starts in education: a lack of uptake of these subjects in schools and universities constricts the supply of qualified female candidates for businesses to consider for tech roles further down the line. The problem for many of these students is that the wider significance of STEM subjects is not made clear enough: it’s not explained adequately how a STEM education unlocks a host of opportunities in the new world of work.
There has been strong investment in STEM subjects by the government in recent years but more can be done and businesses have a role to play. TCS works directly with schools and charities around the country as part of its IT Futures programme, and runs Digital Explorers events which are designed specifically to help bridge this gap between the classroom and the workforce, inspiring more children into STEM subjects and careers in tech.
Failing to encourage more women into STEM careers risks placing a drag on long-term economic growth. McKinsey estimates that advancing women’s equality could add up to $12 trillion to global growth, and tech will form a big part of that. Equal representation in technology roles is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good for businesses and the economy at large.
Yogesh Chauhan, Director of Corporate Sustainability at TCS (opens in new tab)
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