Over the last few years, we’ve seen a welcome shift in the business world when it comes to diversity and inclusion, particularly in conversations surrounding gender equality issues. An increasing number of organisations — from fresh startups to tech titans — are taking steps towards building a more diverse industry with a culture focused on fostering fairness in the workplace. In particular, businesses all over the world are investing resources not in just recruiting and retaining female talent, but creating initiatives and spaces that help empower young girls and women to shoot for a career in STEM.
While it’s great to see changes rippling across the tech ecosystem, we still have a lot of work to do in the way of achieving true gender equality. While 2019 may not necessarily be the year we completely close the digital skills gap and get that perfect gender balance, there is a lot we can do to drive even more positive change across the tech community and address the problematic digital skills gap.
Women and the tech skills gap
Employers are in a never-ending race to win the best talent on the market, and with the shortage of qualified professionals we’re seeing globally, there are more jobs than there are people to fill them. When you consider the fact that, by 2020, the UK will have 800,000 unfilled digital roles, business owners need to ask themselves why they're not tapping into female talent in the industry, or creating opportunities for women to go after a career in tech.
Any business operating within the sector has a duty to help cast off the damaging misrepresentations of women that have locked down the IT industry for the last three decades. Even though these issues are gaining recognition, there has been a noticeable drop in the number of female students taking up computing as a subject, with just 12% of today’s computer science degrees being awarded to women.
Many women choose to avoid the sector completely. This is generally down to a lack of leadership opportunities and outright discrimination in an industry with a reputation for being something of a boys’ club. The result is that UK business owners are missing out on a treasure trove of talent, and if businesses want to stand the test of time, then a serious culture change is in order.
So what can we do to make women feel more welcome in tech? Here are a few ways to build an inclusive culture in your organisation:
1. Celebrate women in business
If young girls can’t see the female face of success in this world, they can’t aspire to it themselves. Industry powerhouses like Ginni Rommetty (CEO, IBM), Sheryl Sandberg (COO, Facebook), and Susan Wojcicki (CEO, YouTube) have emerged as incredible role models, tackling negative stereotypes of women in tech head on. But we still need greater visibility and more women at the table at C-suite level to continue carving out a space for women in tech; a space where they feel valued and are given the same opportunities as any peer with the same drive, experience, and skills.
Celebrating employee achievements is important for any business looking to attract and retain the best talent, but recognising the success of women to the same degree as their male counterparts is absolutely crucial to bringing more females into the tech sphere and ensuring that they feel just as valued.
This needs to go way beyond popping the odd staff photo and bio on your website, of course. If you've got a conference or networking event on the horizon, take that as an opportunity to showcase the women driving your business forward. It’s the perfect space to highlight your confidence in them beyond the four walls of your meeting room, and paint a clear picture of the kind of positive, inclusive culture that many employers only pay lip service to.
2. Offer mentoring programmes
Making sure everyone on your team feels free to ask for help and offer advice in turn is part of what it takes to build a more inclusive — and happier — company culture. The overwhelming majority of women working in tech fight against gender bias every day, so asking for help may not be as straightforward as it seems.
Training and mentoring programs are a fantastic way to show your employees that you are committed to their professional development. It also kills two birds with one stone: fighting the skills shortage by creating a space to hone skills and learn new ones whilst tackling gender bias head-on.
3. Mind your (gendered) language
Being aware of the gender bias ingrained in the business world is massively important if you want to appeal to female candidates. When it comes to job titles and descriptions, work on making them as gender neutral as possible.
Steer clear of any masculine terms like ‘ninja’, ‘hacker’, or ‘rock star’ to make sure your ads are equally attractive to potential female candidates. Aim for less aggressive language and opt for a positive and collaborative slant. There are some great tools online to help check your ads for bias, so you can test your text to remove any element of doubt you might have about unconsciously putting off great female talent.
The future of the industry
Real change doesn’t happen overnight. Clearing the way for women to be treated with equity and receive the recognition they deserve will be a slow process, but the payoff will be huge. We’re making progress every single day, and that progress will give rise to leaders who can inspire the next generation of professional women.
We’ve got to support girls and women in their aspirations to succeed in tech, and fostering a diverse pool of talent will, in turn, plug the ever-widening skills gap that threatens to slow progress in every industry on the planet.
About the Author
Zoe Morris is President of Jefferson Frank, part of Frank Recruitment Group, and oversees its ongoing business and sales operations, employee training, and hiring initiatives globally. She studied Psychology at the University of London and has nearly 20 years of experience in the recruitment industry.