Although research suggests men and women use technology equally, when it comes to women applying for and working in STEM careers, disparities begin to appear. Despite the fact that women account for 46 percent of the UK labour force, women make up just 17 percent of IT and Telecoms professionals. So why aren’t more woman opting to work in the technology industry?
The answer to this question is not clear. As a woman working in the UK technology sector for 15+ years now I have never felt at a disadvantage because of my gender, nor has it prevented me from reaching my career goals. And, with the UK tech sector due to grow four times faster than GDP this year, now is the time for women to get involved in the fast paced world of tech.
Encouraging talent into the sector however is only the first hurdle – and steps are already being made to open up opportunities for women in STEM careers. The real challenge is retaining talent once women start a career in the industry. In fact recent research from the US Center for Talent Innovation shows women working in science, engineering, and tech fields are 45 percent more likely than their male peers to leave the industry within a year. Interestingly this is not from a lack of enthusiasm or passion. Of the women surveyed, 80 percent said that they love their work, yet many still report barriers to getting to the top.
I too have faced challenges finding female talent in the sector. As CTO for the Digital Catapult, in my search for and in my mission to retain talented female technologists, I have identified three key areas for consideration:
1. See past quotas – The quotas and incentives for companies to take on more female practitioners are admirable, but the question is do they help? Do they remove the obstacles women face every day as technologists? Personally I am not so sure. As a female in technology I want to land my dream job because I am the best candidate for the role not to fill a quota. In order to diminish this awkwardness, organisations need a good mix of both genders in the workforce. We need to see past quotas as the answer and bring in both male and female support in creating a true career path for women.
2. Provide clear role models – Unfortunately there are less clear career paths for women in technology than other careers. As there are very few women filling senior roles in tech it is hard for those joining the career to visualise their progression. There are very few role models to inspire and mentor women and this needs to be addressed by businesses upfront, with a clear career path.
3. Education, Education, Education – Starting young is the key to ensuring more women choose careers in tech so it’s great to see that coding has become part of the primary school curriculum. For those that weren’t fortunate enough – like me – to have a technology fuelled childhood organisations need to play their part in up skilling; providing women in the industry to up skill in the latest technology.
At the Digital Catapult we are practicing what we preach as our Directors are 50/50 male and female. We are also involved in the Apps for Good scheme, in which I and other members of the team mentor girls and boys in schools across the UK in developing apps.
With the likes of Jeni Tennison, technical director at the Open Data Institute receiving an OBE in the New Year’s Honours list and the Digital Catapult’s non-executive director Dame Wendy Hall being named in the Science Council’s list of top 100 leading UK practising scientists, women technologists are slowly becoming more visible. It is possible for women to enter a male dominated profession and be successful, regardless of the barriers that might be in their way. By looking past quotas, increasing female role models and increasing education, women will start to see a path to success and take this opportunity with both hands.