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Why is the tech sector less attractive for women?

Posted by: Ian Piper
22/11/2017

 

Advancement in the technology field is happening at a rapid rate but the number of women employed in the sector isn’t keeping pace. Just one quarter of employees in the UK in a tech related field are female and a fraction of those are making it to the top. Junior and mid-management levels also struggle to attract and retain female talent. IBM is leading the way when it comes to successful women at the top of technical ranks, and being able to demonstrate the benefits. The opening statement on IBM’s website gives credit to CEO Ginni Rometty: ‘Women have been working in tech jobs since the 30s. They became vice-presidents and presidents in the 40s. IBM advocated for equal work pay for nearly 30 years before the equal pay act (US) in 1963 – fast forward to 2016 and their CEO is a woman’

However, the “gender–in–tech” problem is rarely acknowledged. Instead, tech companies tend to place women in ‘people roles’ while men dominate the more technical positions. Coders for example, are highly regarded and through their technical skill comes higher wages, higher levels of respect within the workplace and positional power. Companies should consider that a more diverse workplace is proven to get better results because it more accurately reflects your customer or client base with a wider range of experience. Kathryn Harris, President and long running member of Women in Technology (WIT), who is based in Washington D.C., said that by now she had always hoped that numbers of women entering into the tech sector would have increased by a lot more.

The NY Times has claimed that women account for fewer than a quarter of the engineers at most tech companies and taking into account that America has a higher proportion of women graduating than men, you would expect to see more women at the top. This situation also gets more pronounced the higher up you go. McKinsey & Company in association with Leanin.Org, conducted a study around women progressing in the tech sector and found that 37% of tech workers at entry level are women, but this drops to 30.5% at a managerial level and continues to decrease with each career advancement. Fortune 500 companies with at three female directors or more have seen a return in their invested capital increase by at least 66%, a return on thier sales increase by 42% and a return on their equity increase by at least 53%. Referring back to the McKinsey and Company study, women only make up 25.4% of tech workers at director level, 20.2% percent of tech workers at the vice president level and senior execs make up just 18.7%.

So what is being done to bridge the gap? A recent report from the Tech Partnership revealed that only 17% of the UK’s tech industry workers are women. Elaine Bucknor, director for Sky Group’s technology office, recently commented that gender balanced teams are more effective and produce better products and services, as well as making for a far more balanced working environment. Her opinion was that companies simply can’t risk missing out on the different perspectives that female workers could potentially be offering. This year Sky introduced ‘Get into Tech’, a free training programme aimed at women who are perhaps starting their careers, wanting a change in career or for women who simply haven’t considered the technology sector. The programme seeks to provide a supportive environment and it includes courses in software development, soft skills development, testing and integration and job prep.

However, it is not always the sector putting women off and instead women themselves feel like they don’t belong in the tech industry. Women are typically less likely to go ahead and study subjects like maths and science which ultimately lead to a tech bias. You don’t need a technical degree to work in the sector; it requires an individual with a combination of skills, technical knowledge and analytical thinking. The attitude from Elaine is that ‘when you learn the basic coding, you can invent new products and then advertise your own creations to the right people, technology creates new jobs and is a great way of future-proofing your career’.

One concern for women in the tech sector is around career breaks, whether wanted or needed. The fast-moving nature of many sectors within the tech economy, where the trade moves at super speed, is often more off putting for women because when returning, it’s harder to get back into the world of work. Statistics show that women tend to leave the tech workforce at a higher rate than men. A three year study from researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that women only make up 20% of engineer school graduates. The survey’s 5,500+ respondents cited reasons such as workplace culture and lack of advancement opportunities.

Larger tech companies have recently expanded parental leave programs in order to offer more flexibility. Twitter for example, said that it would offer all new parents 20 weeks off following on from the likes of Facebook and Netflix.

So who are the most powerful women in tech? Many of the women at the top of Forbes list have long been established in the sector. For the fifth consecutive year, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has been named the most powerful women in technology taken from the Forbes most powerful women list (she’s No.7 overall). Much like Elaine Bucknor at Sky, Sheryl is one of those at the top who give women a voice for female empowerment.

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