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Fixing the demographic deficit in the IT Channel Sector

(Image credit: Future)

Global and well documented efforts to encourage women to consider a career in STEM have been successful in many ways –  for example, WISE’s (a group campaign for gender diversity in STEM) Women on Boards 2019 report shows that the percentage of FTSE 100 STEM companies with at least 33 percent women at board executive level has risen from 40 percent in 2018 to 48 percent in 2019.

Despite progress, there remains a demographic deficit within the IT channel sector, where most women are unfortunately still underrepresented. The Tech Talent Charter’s (TTC) inaugural report on gender diversity in the channel revealed that, small and large companies on average are made up of 79 percent men, 20 percent women and 1 percent non-binary or other. The situation in medium sized companies is only marginally better, with the average being 75 percent men, 23 percent women and 2 percent non-binary or other. It’s clear the IT channel sector still has a long way to go.

Namely – the lack of female representation runs the risk of leading to less diversity, which can result in less innovative thinking and narrow the talent pool businesses can draw from. Research also indicates that a lack of diversity can impact the bottom line, with businesses ranking as less diverse than their counterparts producing less revenue. There are ways leaders in the IT channel sector can encourage diversity female representation including working with the education sector, increasing awareness of women in the channel and creating strong networks for women providing support and advice.

Engaging education

The gender gap in technology often starts at school and carries on throughout each stage of life.  While parents, teachers and guardians are often great influences in encouraging girls to take up STEM subjects and ultimately pursue a career in the sector – the channel sector has the opportunity to be proactive in engaging with girls early on in their education. For example, businesses could work with local schools directly to support both in-school and out-of-school programs – either through after school clubs, having guest speaker events and offering work experience opportunities.

Although education lays the foundation for increasing gender diversity in the sector, highlighting female role models in the industry is also an important factor that could make a difference. For women to consider a career in the industry, seeing equal representation is a major motivator.

Women in the industry often find it difficult to name a female role model who inspired them to pursue a career in technology. A survey by CW Jobs found more female STEM workers were aware of the fictional Sheldon Cooper than real-life female STEM workers. I believe that in a digital age, one where we are more easily connected than ever before, the opportunities and possibilities are endless, it’s about understanding how to access them and making the potential a reality.

Shining a spotlight on successful women

Women across the sector need to step up and become vocal about the career opportunities and benefits in the channel. It is ultimately the responsibility of those of us who work in the industry to highlight the significant contributions that women have made to it - and showcase the possibilities of a career in our sector. 

We should also be encouraging businesses to either offer internal mentorship programs or participate with external ones. Such programs can be the perfect opportunity to provide guidance and invaluable advice to those at every stage of their careers. I believe organizations need to ensure that, if they don’t have already, they have D&I programs and metrics set up – and that these initiatives are robust and wide reaching in order to fully promote and support diversity within the sector.

Challenging stereotypes and tackling gender discrimination

Tackling stereotypes, unconscious bias and gender discrimination needs to be a top priority for the industry. For example, in 2015, a campaign by software company OneLogic featuring a female engineer was met with backlash, with online critics arguing that the campaign was ‘accurately’ portraying what an engineer looks like. When even surface-based attempts are met with criticism, it is vital women are not deterred from pursuing a career in the channel and remain determined that they can be part of the change. Addressing the deficiency needs to come from a place of genuine insight and result in action.

Businesses need to act quickly and fairly on any reports of gender discrimination – to make clear that it will not be tolerated in any form. The first step to doing this could be to work with HR departments to create a workplace culture that welcomes and champions diversity and inclusion and make it clear to all employees that such policies are in place.

A diverse pool of experience, backgrounds and people are needed to contribute to fresh ways of thinking about creative concepts – something that industries such as ours need. It is for these reasons that I urge and encourage women and young girls to consider a career in our sector and why I believe that breaking down barriers, assumptions and established practices is fundamentally important to securing our future. Currently, of the STEM companies listed on the FTSE-100, only 16 percent have achieved the Davies Review target of 33 percent of their boards being made up of women. Whilst this may seem like bad news, there is always a silver lining. By the standards of earlier decades, this represents a huge step forward and is a major achievement – furthermore, government data shows that in 2019, the number of women in core-STEM occupations reached one million. We’ve already achieved so much and we can continue to make many more positive changes.

Ultimately, for women looking to start a career in IT or wider STEM fields, it is vital to remember that what matters is your drive, passion and perseverance to pursue and reach your goals despite any challenges you might face.

Jane Craven, Sales Director of Enterprise Solutions, UK, EPOS