International Women’s Day – the tech industry alone cannot solve the gender gap
By Shelley Copsey, FYLD CEO
The last three decades have been a golden age for technology, but far more must be done to develop diversity in the industry, ensure that all of society reaps the benefits of advancements being made and – on International Women’s Day – we must have a specific focus on encouraging women to join the industry at a far greater rate.
The advance of technology over the last 30 years has been nothing short of incredible. It has changed the way we work, the way we communicate, and the way we learn. This trend will only accelerate in coming decades.
Technology will change the way we live and work all over again in the next few decades. We will see millions of new jobs created in the technology space, with a every sector of the global economy supported by technology advancements.
As the CEO of a business developing and deploying technology to make industries safer, more productive, and increasingly efficient, that’s an exciting proposition. But in a week where we celebrate International Women’s Day, there is also cause for concern.
Despite three decades of growth, we still see a pronounced gender gap in tech. In the UK, three million people are employed in the tech sector, equivalent to 9% of the workforce. But just 26% of that 9% of the workforce are women.
And when it comes to C-Suite representation, that number declines drastically. Tech Nation figures show less than one in ten (9%) C-Suite leaders are female, with only 3% of CTOs or Technical Director roles held by women.
We hear a lot about increasing female representation in technology roles and STEM pathways for women. But these figures show that the industry is falling woefully short, indicating there is more noise than decisive action. As the tech industry embarks on its next period of growth, enterprise needs to work side-by-side with the public sector and academia to ensure that nobody is left behind, whatever their background.
When I began my career, being a female could often mean not getting a job interview, especially if you were of child-bearing age. It could mean inappropriate questions being asked in promotion interviews about your ability to manage both your work and home life. It was off putting, and many people opted out. When reviewing diversity statistics, it is hard to conclude otherwise than that a whole generation of supremely talented people that was largely lost to the sector.
The tech sector has missed out on some extraordinary contributions because of this lack of diversity, and it cannot afford to make the same mistakes again.
The government has a central role to play if we’re going to see meaningful progress. Simply, there are not enough effective initiatives to encourage young women into technology in the number we need to close the current gap.
Tapping into women already working in technology is a must. When I was growing up, I didn’t even consider technology as a role because I didn’t see anyone like me working in the space.
That problem remains; a PwC report found that 78% of students can’t name a famous female working in technology. It’s no surprise that in the same study, more than a quarter of female students said they’re put off a career in technology because it’s too male-dominated, and just 3% said it was their first career choice (compared with 15% of boys).
There are so many amazing women working in technology. Both the private sector and Government has to find ways to make them accessible if we’re going to encourage the next generation to be part of the industry. Let’s show young women that the technology industry is a place where they can thrive.
And when female entrepreneurs attempt to establish tech-based businesses, let’s offer more support. We have a system where an average female entrepreneur takes four years to get a business moving in the right direction, compared with two years for men. But the government cuts tax concessions after three years. We’ve only just seen changes to programs such as the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme being adjusted to have a longer timeframe, meaning more female entrepreneurs can benefit from it, too – and disappointingly it took significant private sector intervention to achieve this outcome, versus our elected Government designing concessional investment systems with diversity at the core.
In 2023, we need initiatives that consider the reality – YouGov data states that in many couples, cleaning, cooking and child rearing is still considered a woman’s work. Two in five women who work full-time and have a partner (38%) say these tasks mostly fall on them, compared with only 9% of men in the same situation.
I am privileged to work at a business that truly considers how to create a diverse workforce that benefits from the skills and ideas of many different backgrounds. And it’s an approach driven by the C-Suite, rather than being handed off to HR to lead on. This is a differentiator at FYLD.
At FYLD, we as a leadership team take personal accountability for the team we build and ensuring it is diverse. That means working with recruiters who are themselves diverse and taking steps such as anonymising CVs prior to review, so we’re not making judgements based on our unconscious bias.
Even the really small details are important; we’ve deployed a bot in our Slack channel that recognises non-inclusive language and suggests other words that might be more suitable. So it’s more about educating and reinforcing a truly inclusive culture that makes FYLD a great place to work for people from all backgrounds.
Many businesses in the technology sector are doing similarly positive work, making it a more attractive place for women to forge successful, rewarding careers. Given the sheer volume of change required however, and how systemic that change is, Government simply needs to do more, to drive interventions at scale that will fundamentally change the diversity outcomes being achieved.
We are at an inflection point which requires meaningful funding and a commitment from governments in the UK and abroad to go beyond lip service to ensure we don’t look back in 30 years lamenting another lost generation of women in technology, along with the economic and social disparity that results.