How can tech firms improve their levels of gender diversity

The technology sector has some good news for you, the gender pay gap is lower than in any other industry, so we should all celebrate, right?

Could Disruption be the long awaited catalyst for Diversity? (F)
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Not so fast. Unfortunately, while the pay gap is much smaller than other industries, it still exists and currently, the proportion of women working in the sector is the lowest than at any point since 1984. But what can we do to tackle the issue?

Firstly, it should be recognised that the lack of women working in the technology industry isn’t down to pay, it’s almost entirely down to culture. The sector has essentially been designed, developed and implemented by men and very little thought has gone in to making it an attractive place for women to work in the past 40 or so years.

Far too many companies think that they can simply do what they’ve always done and eventually the gender imbalance will level itself out, but this is incorrect. Women and men aren’t the same; they often seek different things from employers, are attracted to companies for different reasons and ultimately offer different skills, as numerous pieces of research have proved. And the sooner firms accept these differences, the quicker we’ll be able to tackle the problem.

It’s important to do something, anything, differently to what you’ve previously been doing. Companies have been rooted in masculinity since the birth of the industry and that approach hasn’t worked, so it’s now time to be different. I’m not going to use the famous Einstein quote on madness, but it certainly applies here.

But enough talking, what can companies actually do to tackle the severe lack of women within the tech industry?

Firstly, employers should look to engage with schools and education providers so as to develop a pipeline of future talent into the industry by getting directly involved with initiatives like personal mentoring and sponsorship.

The more business minded readers may also have realised that not only are you getting a future pipeline from this approach, but you’re also essentially getting free advertising.

Secondly, organisations must also put much more work into redesigning jobs specifications as, currently, most would send even the people doing those roles to sleep. Rather than focusing on dry, overly technical skill sets, instead look at softer skills like adaptability, creativity, collaboration and innovation. Ultimately, these are the attributes you’re looking for and they’re much more likely to appeal to the female section of the technology market.

After all, if you explained to anyone the minutiae of what you do it would probably sound pretty boring for even the most interesting jobs, but if you focused on the end goal and what you could ultimately achieve, the role comes to life. So rather than honing on the exact type of coding language or deep experience that you think you require, talk about how future employees could be part of a team that uses tech to help build a skyscraper, or develop the next life-saving medical device, which is likely to garner much more interest.

What makes the issue all the more pressing is that the tech sector is one of the jewels in the UK’s crown and Brexit is likely to exacerbate the existing skills shortages in the sector.

We heavily rely on the skills of overseas professionals and will need to find a way to cover losses from the European talent pool and then some. Bolstering diversity before it’s too late could be that shot in the arm for the industry. Improving the numbers of women working in the field isn’t just a nice, fluffy PR initiative, it makes clear business sense. We all know that, so it’s about time we stop talking about improving gender diversity within technology, and start acting.

About the author

Barnaby Parker is CEO of Venquis, the leading change and business transformation consultancy.

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