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How to close the IT gender gap

(Image credit: Image Credit: GaudiLab / Shutterstock)

Where are all the women in tech?

A record number of women in full-time work has pushed the UK's employment rate to a new high of 76.3 per cent, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show.

Great news on the surface.

But delve a little deeper and the employment gender crisis still reveals some staggering findings in this alleged age of equality.

The number of women working in the IT sector has stagnated over recent years with research revealing that only one in six tech specialists in the UK are female.

Just 23 per cent of the people working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) roles across the UK are female - and only 5 per cent of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women.

In fact, women only account for around 16.8 per cent of total workers in the UK's tech sector. And the proportion of women working in specialist roles falls as seniority rises.

Female IT business analysts, architects and system designers falls to 14.1 per cent and further still to just 12.5 per cent of programmers and software developers, according to data from the Office of National Statistics.

Furthermore, 78 per cent of students in a recent PWC study couldn’t name a single famous female working in technology and only 3 per cent of females claim a career in tech would be their first choice.

This is hardly surprising when you look at university and higher education statistics.

Despite the fact that women accounted for over half (57 per cent) of students enrolled in higher education in 2018, women were a considerable minority in Engineering and Technology (17.6 per cent) and Computer Science (17.7 per cent).

Around one million women would have to be recruited to work within the UK technology sector in order to reach true gender parity.

How can this gender gap be closed? There are many ways girls can be encouraged to give IT a go. Parents of daughters can play a part by introducing stories about strong female role models, especially those in tech such as Katherine Johnson who helped NASA fly people to the moon. Further Education establishments should find ways to entice girls into IT. But what can businesses do to attract more females into these traditionally male dominated roles and sectors?

  • Get your recruitment right

At Capsule, we've always focused very strongly on creating a gender balanced team.  Women now make up over a third (34 per cent) of the Capsule team, a much higher proportion than most tech companies, but there is still some way to go. 

We took a very pragmatic approach to our recruitment strategy by changing the way we advertised jobs to make them more attractive to female employees.    

Research shows that the author of a job post will unintentionally use language they are most comfortable with, which in turn may reinforce a bias in who applies for a job.

We’ve never gone all out with the “Rock Star”, “Ninja”, “Crushing It” and the party-hard language that was popular for tech start-ups to use at one time, so we felt we were starting from a reasonable place.  But the tools still reported that our posts were a little masculine - which prompted us to rethink the language we used in our job posts.

So we cut out any stereotypical masculine phraseology in job posts and ran each job description through an independent ‘gender neutral language checker’ to ensure relevance to both genders.

  • Avoid ticklist job ads

We unearthed more research which identified that women are less likely than men to apply for a role if they feel they don’t meet every single requirement listed in the job advertisement.

I felt our job posts were a bit too prescriptive on skills with not enough emphasis on what life is like at Capsule, which seemed the wrong way to attract people to our company.

As a result, we decided to dispense with typical ‘what you need to do’ bullet points and replaced them with more of a story around the job, and what it was like to work at Capsule to help candidates see how they would fit into the organisation.

We switched our approach from a list of things we expected, to a more welcoming description covering things like what the job entails day-to-day, the tools we use, how we decide what to work on, how we manage releases, and what to expect from your co-workers. Our latest job posts are now more balanced.  We get a good mix of people applying and are more confident we’re attracting the right person for the job.

  • Female-friendly interviews

Interviews also became more of a two-way discussion around whether the unique empowered culture would work for both parties.

We use them to highlight the ethical, inclusive approach which underpins the Capsule business ethos in our ads, and describe our flexible approach to work and sharp focus on team bonding – all of which are appealing to both male and female workers. 

As our gender ratio has changed over time, it’s now much easier for us to offer a woman's perspective of what it’s like to work at Capsule. Candidates are encouraged to have an informal chat with other female members of the team to get an idea of what it’s like to work with us.

  • Diversity-first website

We also rewrote parts of our website to include more images of our female team members and were careful to avoid stereotype-reinforcing images.

Instead, we try to demonstrate what it feels like to be part of our company and the diversity we have.

Gender neutrality works

The unusual diversity at Capsule delivers many benefits. Simply having access to different points of view is immensely helpful when we're facing business or development challenges, as you get a new perspective on things.

Last year there were around 600,000 unfilled tech job vacancies in the UK, alongside a shortfall of women leaving university with appropriate qualifications. The UK's tech industry is therefore facing the dual challenge of hiring employees with much-needed skills and narrowing the gender gap in an overwhelmingly male sector.

Workplace parity will only be achieved when ability, experience, attitude and passion is the deciding factor in determining who is the best person for the job – not who will fit in with the IT stereotype of ‘boys and geeks.’

It’s the deep-rooted gender-discriminatory imbalances of the industry that needs to change - not the calibre of females.

Wendy Rule, co-founder, Capsule (opens in new tab)

Wendy Rule is co-founder of CRM software specialist Capsule. Established in 2009, the company is now used by over 11,000 customers across 170 countries.