We need to keep up the charge on women in tech

March 8, 2022
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This article first appeared on Computer Weekly's website.

As we mark International Women’s Day and recognise the hugely important role women play across business, I am encouraged by signs that the gender disparity in tech is starting to be rebalanced.

Our own global research in the Harvey Nash Group Digital Leadership Report, based on feedback from 87 countries, finds that the proportion of women in leadership roles in tech remains stubbornly low, at just 12%.

However, the number of women across the tech workforce as a whole is rising – Deloitte for example predict that it will nudge up to one third in large global technology firms during 2022.

Indeed, looking at the UK which is broadly representative of many developed markets, we are seeing some significant shifts.

Data from the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) released in February revealed that over 150,000 women have been recruited into tech roles over the last three years. That’s an uplift of 44% - more than double the increase in men (19%) over the same period. There are now over half a million women working in the sector.

More broadly, it was also heartening to see that almost 40% of UK FTSE 100 board roles are now held by women according to data from the FTSE Women Leaders Review. 414 women held FTSE 100 board roles last year, a jump from 374 in 2020.

There’s a similar picture of rising female representation at the top table in countries around the world.

Pandemic effect

However, substantive change won’t happen overnight. It’s going to be a long process, even if the direction of travel that we’re seeing is encouraging.

An important factor in this has been the remote and now hybrid working model that we’ve seen as a result of the pandemic.

Two years of remote working through Covid-19 have been good news for many people with parenting and caring responsibilities (a responsibility most often held by women) as they have been better able to balance work and life.

There has been a general realisation that working remotely does not mean less gets done. Far from it, productivity has risen. With less travel time, and greater flexibility to organise the working day, people are if anything working longer (although perhaps at different times of day or night) and more efficiently.

We need to ensure that this continues – and that we don’t see a gradual turning back to old ways as time goes on. At Harvey Nash Group, we’re following a hybrid working model of two days a week in the office for most staff.

I’m determined that we’ll keep flexible working which will evolve I am sure. I believe it represents a great blend that enables people to work effectively remotely but which also gives enough time for those face-to-face interactions and conversations that just don’t work as well on Teams or Zoom.

For spontaneous ideas generation, for example, I don’t think anything works as well as in-person meetings.

No turning back

I am a little concerned, however, at the irresistible language of going back to old ways that I’ve been hearing in various forums.

There is a human tendency to revert over time to what we know best and I think that as an industry we need to be careful not to lose the learnings of the last couple of years and let things drift back to how they used to be.

We need to keep embracing the flexible working patterns that let more people into the industry regardless of their gender, ethnicity, background or other characteristics. Technology must be open to talented people whoever they are.

This is also true regardless of the stage of life someone is at. We need to see more opportunities for people later in their careers such as returning mothers to retrain and reskill themselves into tech.

At Harvey Nash Group, we’re big supporters of initiatives that let people do that. For example, in the UK the government has launched a digital bootcamp initiative offering intensive training in digital skills. Other countries have schemes along similar lines.

We’d love to see initiatives like this become even more widely available, and really focused at people of all ages. We need to find every way we can to address the skills shortages that have affected technology for so many years.

With so many women becoming displaced at the moment – from Afghanistan last year, and now tragically from Ukraine – there is a further opportunity to help those with the right attributes that settle in new countries to be trained into tech roles and play a part in the economy.

Supporting diversity

For businesses themselves, there are many facets to supporting gender (and other) diversity. Across both new hires at graduate and apprentice level and experienced hires later on, employers should be challenging themselves to ensure they are taking a balanced approach that truly supports diversity.

For women already inside tech, mentoring and networks can play a key role in helping them develop their careers. It’s important that mentors have proper training themselves – just to be ‘well-intentioned’ is not enough.

Male allyship is really important too – when senior men really support the gender equity agenda, it can be incredibly powerful and sends out a very strong message.

At Harvey Nash Group, we appointed a male senior executive (the head of our Netherlands business) as executive sponsor of our network (wo+men@nash) – sending the message that it’s of relevance to men as well as women.

All of our research tells us that women gain just as much satisfaction in their tech careers as men, and progress into incredible roles. It’s a message that we need to shout louder about. I can’t think of a better career where you have the opportunity to change the world, do rewarding work and earn good money.

In an age when technology is all around us and an integral part of our everyday lives, no one should think ‘tech is not for me’. It’s for everyone, and women have an equal part to play.

By Bev White, CEO, Harvey Nash Group

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