It is no secret that women are heavily underrepresented in tech roles in the UK. Women in Tech reports that only 14% of people working in STEM roles in the UK are women. Many companies are trying to become more diverse; they are working on creating resource groups to improve diversity and close the gender gap.
Despite this though, female representation in the tech industry has failed to grow over the last ten years.
Here at Ignite Digital Talent, we are committed to creating equal opportunities, both in terms of the candidates we put forward to clients and our team here at Ignite Digital HQ.
We have put together this guide to try and help companies committed to improving their focus on improving the gender gap within their hiring strategy.
Underrepresentation in STEM is something that starts early, and can be traced all the way back to the education of our children. Children have to make decisions about their future in their early teens when they choose their GCSE options. Some subjects are compulsory, such as science and maths, however optional subjects such as ICT are often disregarded by girls. This is where the gender gap starts to occur.
If you have the resources, visiting schools and encouraging girls to pursue STEM subjects helps to tackle this issue early on. Many schools have programmes where they invite companies in to discuss employment and work opportunities.
This has many advantages:
- Combatting peer pressure
- Providing positive role models
- Ending misconceptions of what STEM careers look like
It is also very important to provide information and support to parents. Parents want to know that employment within the STEM sector will be interesting, provide long term financial security, and will encourage their children to pursue further study.
One of the problems is that the variety of roles and skills are often not emphasised. To many young girls, this means STEM simply does not seem interesting. If you are visiting a school your focus should be upon encouraging girls who are already interested in science, tech and maths.
You also may like to provide specific examples of roles where creativity and thinking outside the box are integral. A perfect example of this is something like a UI/UX designer or Front-End Engineer. This is a role that many young people are not aware exists, yet it has many creative and exciting aspects.
Target Sexism in the Workplace
Half of women in STEM roles report experiencing sexism at work. Although there are no legal barriers stopping women from pursuing a STEM path, there are still many social barriers that exist within the industry.
Many of the people that hold high power positions at companies are men, and as such it is easier for subtle sexism to exist. This can take many forms and is often demonstrated by women being assigned roles that involve “soft skills”. Although women may excel at these, this only serves to further reinforce the stereotype. One that suggests that women possess more “soft skills” than the higher valued “hard skills”.
There are cultural factors to consider too. Women have reported that they have been made to feel that their skills are not valued at the company. This has led to them experiencing feelings of “not fitting in”.
To combat this, you need to ensure that there is an even distribution of roles. Instead of assigning roles involving “soft skills” to women, use it as an opportunity to let men demonstrate those qualities. Team leaders need to address these predetermined biases proactively.
It is also important to make sure these expectations extend outside of the work environment. If any decisions are made outside the office, or there are frequently heavily male dominated leisure activities, try and find a way to make them more inclusive.
Finally, take note of who organises catering or retirement celebrations – don’t take women away from more important, career developing, tasks to address pastoral issues.
Provide Lots of Opportunities
As a company, it is important that you provide lots of learning opportunities for women throughout their career path. Research already has confirmed that women have less exposure to computing as children. As such, this means that ‘later on’ opportunities, such as during higher education and employment are crucial, career defining opportunities for women.
Work Experience and Internships
Many schools have compulsory work experience weeks, and outside of this, many young people look for holiday work experience. Work experience gives girls who are interested a chance to get hands on experience and learn about the various roles. Even if only for a couple of weeks, work experience costs you very little but may make a huge difference to them.
Apprenticeships are a combination of practical training and theory-based work. You can offer apprenticeships for multiple levels, from school leavers up to degree level. Apprenticeships are also offered to people at any age. They are a fantastic way to train staff with practical skills that will prepare them for a tech career.
Another fantastic advantage of apprenticeships is their potential for inclusivity. According to the Learning and Apprentices Survey, a high proportion of apprentices are BAME or people from low socio-economic backgrounds. Apprenticeships are a great way into a career for many candidates who may not be able to afford to go to university. They also provide opportunities for people who otherwise may not have access to careers within the tech or digital sector. 40% of people in tech felt that ethnic diversity was low in their ecosystem, so making sure BAME have access to tech careers is crucial.
Returnships are relatively recent; they were introduced to Britain in 2014. They are high-level internships designed to help experienced professionals who have taken a career break get back into senior roles. They focus on helping returners build technology skills and boost confidence through coaching and mentoring.
Returnships may be particularly relevant to your female work base. Women returning from maternity leave or those who have taken long term career breaks whilst raising children are a demographic who are routinely disadvantaged and feel out of touch with the workplace.
Returnships are great for employers as they have access to high-calibre diverse talent pools. Returners are also likely to have lots of previous skills and experience. This is great for the company as they do not have to invest as much in training them. Although they are still quite new, returnships have the potential to go a long way in readdressing the gender gap amongst older, more experienced employees.
A mentorship is a relationship between a more knowledgeable or experienced person and a less experienced employee. Mentors are great because they are of minimal cost to the company but effective for the person being mentored. Mentors can pass on their skill and knowledge to the mentee, as well as putting them in contact with a large network of business professionals.
Networking is very important at most companies, and it’s important that women are included in this. Networking helps women build up a wide variety of industry contacts. Ultimately, this can lead to women having more role models, and having more creative ideas.
Create Career Continuity
Career continuity covers two main areas. The first is leading women into the sector. One of the main issues is that most programmes only target one stage of the tech journey. This means that many women only have one off opportunities, and are therefore less likely to stay engaged in tech. If you want to succeed, then you should think about the way your programmes connect. They should allow a smooth transition to the next experience. This increases the chance that these experiences will lead women into the sector.
The second aspect of career continuity is making sure you retain the women already working at your company. 40% of women say they have been passed over for promotions which have instead been offered to less qualified men. Another very prevalent problem is the pay gap. These factors can lead to women feeling like their careers are not developing as much as they want them to. If you want to retain women, you should make sure there are an equal amount of opportunities for progression and of course, fair and equal pay.
In conclusion, a diverse team is more creative, innovative and ultimately, more profitable. Conversely, not having inclusive and diverse teams can actually damage the reputation of a company.
We hope you found this guide useful, and has helped steer you towards implementing ideas, strategies and policies to diversify your team and close the gender gap.
At Ignite, we know that a diverse workforce is a fantastic asset.
Our aim is to help narrow the gender gap and provide everyone with the opportunity to excel in a tech, digital or data career.
Where our office is based, in Temple Studios, we are lucky to be by Boom Satsuma. Boom Satsuma are currently offering FREE digital courses for women and girls across Bristol. This is a fantastic opportunity for women to grow their skills and prepare for a career in digital.