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It’s impossible for us to flourish as a digital nation without workplace gender diversity

(Image credit: Image Credit: Coffee / Pixabay)

We are in the midst of a digital revolution, with technology rapidly and unequivocally changing the way we live our lives. But as we look to the coming decade and how technology is on track to shape it, how do we ensure a thriving economy, driven by world-class innovation, that works to the benefit of everyone in our communities?

Diversity is a critical piece of the puzzle and one that also makes good business sense – McKinsey Global Institute estimates that getting more women into the workforce could create up to $12 trillion in additional GDP globally in 2025. Yet, today, we are still seeing marked inequalities when it comes to accessing the opportunities that technology has to offer. 

Female employment is at a record high, but the percentage of women working in the technology sector remains extremely low. Currently, only 17% of the technology workforce is female, according to the Tech Talent Charter (TTC), the nationwide initiative set up to help UK organisations deliver greater parity. Compare this with the 70% of women surveyed by HP last year who said they would be interested in jobs in the technology sector and what you see is an untapped pool of people, eager to explore possible careers in the field.  

So, why aren’t women choosing a career in Tech?

Digital transformation is creating fulfilling and productive roles at all levels. But while 97% of women consider technology to be key to the future success of the UK economy, according to HP’s study, one in five women who didn’t choose to study STEM said it was because they ‘didn’t know anything about it’. What’s more, a quarter of those women who didn’t study STEM said it was because they didn’t believe they could and nearly a third of those not in a specialist technical role believe they don’t have the right qualifications – leading them to disregard a career in technology. Only a quarter of women said they associate working in the technology sector as a career with a good work-life balance, despite many firms offering significant flexibility.

These stats suggest that negative associations or a general lack of understanding in the field begins early and then persists into adulthood – potentially helping explain the low female representation in tech workforces.

What can we do to improve the situation?

First, it’s vital that every business establishes a tailored Diversity & Inclusion strategy. Only by creating and implementing this will we see real change happen. Think of it like a business plan; have intent, set metrics, and you will see results. What gets measured gets done – it needs to be embedded from the beginning.

The TTC is also helping to foster this change, not least because it requires businesses that sign up to establish a  clear plan to improve inclusion. Signatories of the charter – HP was a founding one in 2017 – make several pledges in relation to their approach to recruitment and retention, as well as collaborating with other signatories to share best practice. Its ambition is to grow to 600 signatories by the end of 2020 and is open to organisations of all sizes, from start-ups to large multinationals, spanning all industry sectors, from entertainment to banking.

However, as much as entry level initiatives are important, there also needs to be greater focus on, and support for, experienced professionals. Programmes might include reskilling opportunities for those currently employed and greater returning options for those coming back after career breaks, such as starting a family. Among TTC signatories, 49% of companies do not have a ‘returners’ programme.  Elsewhere, HP’s survey found that nearly half of women would be willing to retrain in a technical job, suggesting a huge opportunity to increase female representation through retraining and upskilling.. 

The UK government also has a vital role to play in supporting the technology industry’s efforts to get girls studying STEM subjects in schools, taking on digital roles and eventually having more seats at the boardroom table. One such initiative is the Digital Skills Innovation Fund which has allocated over a million pounds for people from underrepresented groups, including women, to learn digital skills. 

How do we remain competitive?

As the UK’s outgoing secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, Baroness Nicky Morgan, said in a recent speech; technology is neither the cause nor solution to all our problems, but a tool that we can harness as we choose. Our world-leading regulatory regimes have made the UK the ‘go to’ place for science, research and innovation for decades. But we risk losing a huge amount of potential talent if women are not applying for the fantastic opportunities in our technology industry. 

It is clear there is a lack of understanding regarding what a career in technology can offer women in terms of flexibility and a broad range of job opportunities - not just in technical roles, but in dynamic fields such as marketing and sales.. We need to challenge these assumptions and change the stereotypes. Striving towards gender parity in the tech workforce will help bridge the country’s skills gap, drive growth and secure the UK’s place as a global leader in digital innovation. 

George Brasher is Managing Director UK & Ireland, HP