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UK Women in Tech: What’s the situation in 2017?

Posted by: Charis Fisher 3 Mar 17  | Current Issues |  Digital |  Life at Work |  Technology

It’s becoming increasingly clear that tech has a global skills gap problem. As a society, we are not training enough developers and engineers, even as the demand for IT and STEM-educated professionals is booming: by 2023, there will be 142,000 more jobs in technical fields to fill.

Yet, the solution to this technical skills crisis is right in front of us. With only 23% of tech organisations benefiting from diverse senior management teams, diversity will be the easiest and most logical way forward. In particular, filling the IT skills gap with female talent will be crucial to pursuing innovation and keeping up with the changes in the digital landscape in years to come.

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Dragging behind its global peers

As it stands, in the UK women in tech currently earn 9% less than men, performing significantly worse than the US and Australia where the averages are respectively 8% and 5%. The situation is particularly bad in companies with headcounts of between 200 and 1000 employees, where women can be underpaid by as much as 17%.

Pay gaps as significant as these can be really demotivating for women already working in technical fields, who may struggle to attain the same professional recognition as their male counterparts. This lack of recognition is equally discouraging for young women discovering their future career opportunities. Only 43% of girls in the UK would consider a career in STEM – much lower than the equivalent 50% in Russia and 54% in Ireland. 70% also indicated they would be more open to a STEM career if there were more equal employment opportunities.

Diversity breeds Innovation

Bringing more women into the world of tech is always a simple way to encourage innovative thinking. For Sage’s Director of Bots and AI, Kriti Sharma, it is clear that an absence of female developers has often led to critical issues with the product itself:

"Early voice recognition software didn't always recognise female voices because none of the developers had been female and no-one thought to test out the technology on women.

Artificial Intelligence learns like babies do: it picks up data and knowledge from the world around it. So if that world is all male, it's going to have a very limited sphere of knowledge indeed.”

Breaking the Unconscious Bias

Assumption 1

“Most women aren’t interested in leadership roles”

An issue that often affects women more than men in the workplace is undervaluing their own abilities. Studies indicate that women tend to be less vocal about their expertise and may not necessarily put themselves forward for more senior positions. This does not mean that they are not interested, however.

Companies should consider investing more time and energy into headhunting rather than selecting from the pool of applications received so as not to miss out on female candidates with hidden potential.

Assumption 2

“There is nothing women can do about the gender pay gap”

The single best way that women can combat gender inequality is to stick up for their own professional integrity. A recent report on the state of gender pay gaps showed that, on the whole, if women are confident in their own worth and demand the same salary as men, companies will usually grant their request. 

There are hopes that in future hiring managers will be more reliant on data to determine candidates’ market value rather than their previous salary, which may have been subject to gender bias.

Assumption 3

“There are not enough women qualified to speak at tech industry events”

To challenge this myth, TechWorld recently published their own selection of 236 potential female UK tech event speakers – ranging from startup founders and CIOs to venture capitalists and academics. The real issue here is not a lack of available women to speak about tech, but the initial assumption that there are very few women working in the IT sector.

Fixing the Skills Gap

Despite the challenges ahead, there are many organisations who are fully invested in getting more women into tech. Working in partnership with Enterprise Nation, Facebook has pledged to provide digital skills training to more than 10,000 women by the end of 2017.

As part of the company’s #SheMeansBusiness initiative, the aim is to encourage more women to found their own businesses, particularly in the tech sector. If the project’s objective is achieved, the result would be a further £45m in contributions to the UK economy by the end of the year.

In terms of future-proofing the IT sector, over 35,000 primary school teachers across the UK recently benefited from additional computer science training under the Barefoot Computing project. Organised by BT and the British Computing Society, the programme is designed to improve teachers’ confidence with computing skills which will in turn boost tech literacy for the younger generation. BT has committed to support five million young people in the pursuit of IT literacy by 2020.

Though it looks like we still have a long way to go as regards creating a supportive working environment for women within tech and in terms of filling the IT skills gap, big steps forward have been taken. Tackling unconscious bias and the resulting lack of confidence and recognition that follows will be a critical factor – viewing diversity as a tool for innovation and not just a buzzword.

With organisations such as BT and Facebook leading the way for digital literacy, it does look like the situation will be much brighter for UK women in tech in future.

Want to find out more about #WomenWhoCode? Here’s what it was like to be a woman in tech in 2016


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