The importance of getting more women into tech

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Amidst the mandatory disclosure of the gender pay gap for all UK companies with more than 250 employees, and the #Paymetoo campaign, Amali de Alwis, CEO of Code First: Girls talks diversity and gender pay gap with ITProportal’s Senior writer Mike Moore.

The last 12 months have given minorities and women a strong voice in the workplace and called for urgent measures involving safety and respect, equal opportunity and equal pay. From Silicon Valley to Hollywood, to #metoo and more recently, the gender pay gap statistics revealed by Oxfam at Davos 2018, the global public opinion has never been so receptive nor ripe for change.

Why is diversity in the workplace so important?

Diversity is absolutely key to society and to any group that wants to succeed, or even survive in good conditions. The tech sector is currently one of the fastest growing sector in the UK with the highest paying jobs, meaning whoever works in this sector is part of the best paid individuals in the country. If an entire category of individuals, whether it’s women or minorities are scarce in the tech industry we will never close the pay gap.

In fact recent stats show that the gap is widening. If a business is really serious about reducing their gender pay gap but not addressing issues of inclusivity these initiatives will ultimately be ineffective. This applies not just to the tech industry but to any other high paying industry, such as finance.

Statistics show that male dominated industries are also the highest paying ones. These are the verticals where we need to see more women and minorities, in all types of positions, including in leadership roles.

In your opinion, what more can be done about the gender pay gap?

I applaud the UK Government’s recent initiative to not back down when faced with corporate pressure about the gender pay gap and to for the first time in history, instigate a culture of greater transparency the issue. On April 4th, all UK companies with 250 employees or more were required to release their gender statistics them. The information received quite a bit of media attention and I really hope this will last over time, and help raise greater consciousness of how ubiquitous and pervasive the issue is. Women are paid less across all industries, in every country in the world.

Of course, having to share the gender pay gap numbers will shed light on the issue, but this is only scratching the surface. Much more can be done. Companies need to start looking at the gender pay gap issue in terms of equity of roles and not just equal pay. Entire industries and roles that have more women such as PR or nursing, should pay the same as those which have traditionally had more men, such as advertising and emergency services for example.

On April 2nd 2018, several female MPs launched the #paymetoo campaign, aiming to take action to close the gender pay gap and urging women to demand greater accountability from their employers if they fail to take action when unequal pay is identified. It’s alarming to discover just how systematic the issue is across the country, but I also think it’s a good sign that this is being heard. If the gender pay gap becomes a public issue, it will have to be addressed.

What can be done to bring more women into tech, and close what seems to be a gender skills gap on top of a pay gap?

Well, at Code First: Girls I have been working hard to move the needle the right way by launching classes to teach more women to code, in a context where female engineers, developers and other tech industry related roles are dismally missing. We and all other organisations that are looking to get more women into tech are contributing to a more diverse workforce and hence, increasing the chances of a company succeeding in the long run.

Despite countless studies showing that more diverse companies and teams produce better business results, the situation has worsened in the last ten years in the UK, and it’s frankly alarming. In 2017, female Programmers and software developer made up only 3.9 per cent of tech and telco professionals in the UK. That number is down from 10 per cent in 2007.

Since 2013 Code First Girls has delivered £3 million worth of free education to 5500 young women across the UK, and in late 2017, we launched a campaign to teach 20,000 women to code by the end of 2020, so we’re on a major roll to get more women into technology, in highly qualified highly paid jobs.

What role do you see female or minority engineers playing in terms of gender equality and solving the gender pay-gap?

More women and minorities in tech is a really critical part of the gender pay gap equation, and not just for engineering but also for jobs across tech and digital. The challenge is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. The industry needs more female and minority representation in tech, at senior levels in order to attract more of them. I think that bringing more women and minorities into leadership roles in tech and elsewhere can play a crucial role in reversing the current trend.  

When women who do make it into male-dominated industries share more about their journeys, experience and tips, this sets a fantastic example for younger women, and helps them to imagine pathways through careers. Studies have shown that role models are one of the most efficient ways of breaking psychological barriers - especially where there are preconceived ideas about the type of person would stereotypically do a particular job, and what jobs are typically done by women vs. men. Code First: Girls is well aware of that, and that’s why we run a yearly Ones to Watch campaign, where we nominate top women under 30 in the tech and entrepreneurship, in an attempt to give greater visibility to the female faces of UK tech. We recently published the 2018 list of 25 young women who made it into our 2018 cohort, and even received some media attention about it.

Amali de Alwis, CEO, Code First: Girls
Image Credit: GaudiLab / Shutterstock