A common challenge in the tech industry is the issue of gender imbalance, one that for many years has proved difficult to tackle.

In fact, industry professionals predict that gender balance will not be reached for another 12.5 years, according to research from CWJobs.

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The research found that men were even less optimistic about the likelihood of this, believing that it could take another 14 years to see an equal ratio of men to women in the industry.

The issue of gender inequality, whether in relation to the pay gap or the misrepresentation of women in tech, has often centred on the numbers rather than the experiences that women face.

Workplace culture plays a huge part in the under-representation of women in tech. Kaspersky Lab estimates that occurrences of mansplaining, when a man talks to a woman in a patronising or condescending way, are experienced by 26 percent of female IT decisionmakers.

Over a third (33 percent male and 39 percent female) of UK tech workers see the attitude of men as the biggest barrier to gender imbalance in the industry, according to research by Trainline.

Image: Clare Gilmartin, CEO of Trainline Clare Gilmartin, CEO of Trainline. Image credit: Trainline

"Addressing these imbalances is essential to attracting and retaining female talent, which in turn is crucial for the tech industry to best meet the needs of the diverse audience it serves. It should be a key focus for any tech business," Claire Gilmartin, CEO at Trainline said in a statement.

"It's essential that the industry looks ahead and delivers a working environment that allows men and women to thrive. Mentorship schemes, enhanced parental benefits, flexible workingunconscious bias training programmes and fair recruitment processes are all critical to ensuring women and parents are supported throughout their careers, which in turn will provide technology businesses the talent pool their future depends upon," she added.

The state today

There have been multiple actions taken to address the issue of gender imbalance over the years.

Big businesses have made improvements to their workplace strategy by welcoming women to board meetings and setting up diversity and unconscious bias training programmes to spread awareness.

The Tech Talent Charter was launched in 2017 to encourage more women into tech, an initiative backed by over 80 organisations across the UK, which share their employment and diversity data anonymously as an obligation to employ more women.

Read next: Tech Talent Charter among UK initiatives to boost diversity in tech

UK startups are also rising to the challenge. Fuel Ventures, a London-based upstart venture capital fund, started trialling anonymous pitch decks at the start of the year as a way to tackle unconscious bias against female founders.

"We're doing a female founders push, which started in Q4 last year," Fuel Ventures founder Mark Pearson told Techworld. "We want more female founders and tech startup companies to pitch to us, because we need to get our numbers up."

A number of other organisations are doing all they can to raise the number of females that apply for STEM courses and are selected for graduate schemes.

One example of these KPMG. The firm set up a programme named 'IT’s Her Future' in 2017 to boost the number of women joining tech roles in the company. The proportion of female graduates that took on tech roles after programme increased from 36 percent in 2015 to 54 percent in 2018 as a result.

"For the first time, technology is helping businesses to measure the effectiveness of diversity programmes rather than relying on gut instinct. Advanced analytics allow businesses to ask the right questions of employee data so they can focus on potential issues such as patterns of attribution and the promotion of underrepresented groups," Carolyn Horne, global VP of Europe and South Africa at Workday said in a statement.

"They can also spot where bias may be playing a role in the recruiting process, better understand their organisation’s pay parity, or configure succession planning reports to factor in gender to help improve female representation in leadership positions," she added.

A recent global study by Odgers Berndtson found that for the first time, the average salaries for women leaders in tech have increased above their male counterparts.

The study found that average salaries for some of the UK's top female executives rose from £122,000 in 2013 (less than half of the male average) to £330,000 in 2018, making the average salary for women across leading commercial roles in tech higher than that of men.

"Businesses are taking the role of women in IT more seriously than ever and we’re starting to see much more of a shift in focus towards encouraging women into the sector and into senior roles all over the world," Michelle Jones, global head for channel and field marketing at Atos told Techworld.

"Flexible working is on the rise and the IT industry is becoming one of the first to fully embrace the digital tools that make communication easier and better integrated, reducing the need for a physical office space and increasing the appeal for working mums," she added.

Read more: Mind the gap: The unique challenges facing female founders in tech

So, what next?

The deadline for reporting gender pay gap figures in UK is 4 April 2019 for private sector firms with over 250 employees, but only 16 out of 100 major UK tech and IT businesses have submitted their data, an analysis by the Guardian revealed. Last year, over 1,500 organisations failed to meet the deadline, according to the UK's equality watchdog.

Half of the companies that have filed their figures this year say they have narrowed the gender pay gap, but for many organisations, figures remain the same or appear inaccurate. This suggests a lack of urgency or ownership about the issue.

"The UK is on track to hit one million women in STEM roles by 2020, with a critical mass of 30 percent female employment in such roles 'within reach', according to [campaign group for women in STEM] WISE," said Michelle Senecal de Fonseca, area vice president for Northern Europe at Citrix said.

"While we should champion such progressive development, there is still significant work to be done – as well as encouraging more young girls into STEM subjects, employers must support women in the STEM workforce to ensure that they remain there.

"The reality today is that women are often still required to do the lion's share of domestic and emotional labour, in and outside of the workplace. Employers who can provide more flexible hours and a 'work from anywhere' culture will be more attractive to both women and men, as they look for ways to balance their busy lives."

The UK tech industry is urged to take diversity and gender balance seriously, with an equal amount of awareness spread across all organisations.

"Changes in legislation to share parental leave are a good start in encouraging all employees to share the load at work and at home, but businesses need to provide a culture where all genders can thrive, regardless of their responsibilities outside of the office," said Senecal de Fonseca.

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