In recognition of Women’s Equality Day 2021, a range of female industry experts draw on personal experience and offer advice to other women on gender bias in male-dominated industries
Women’s Equality Day is an important opportunity for businesses to take a step back and evaluate if they are doing everything they can to have a diverse and equal workforce. Within the technology industry, only 1 in 6 specialists in the UK are women and the growth of female representation in the sector has stalled over the last ten years. But what is the reason for this and how do we encourage women to join such male-dominated industries? Open Access Government has spoken to four technology industry leaders to try and find the answers.
Outnumbered and underrepresented
Women working in male-dominated industries compete with obstacles on a day to day basis as they fight for their voices to be heard.
“Despite Women’s Equality Day coming round every year, the proportion of female workers in tech industries is still not increasing at a significant rate. 72% of women in tech roles still report being regularly outnumbered by men in business meetings by at least a 2:1 ratio, and 26% of women put this ratio as 5:1 or more,” explains Leane Parsons, Change Manager at Node4.
“The situation is clearly still not improving, tracking right back to schools and classrooms. Whilst it is encouraging to see an increase in the number of students taking STEM subjects into higher education, there are still significantly more boys choosing this academic pathway and the number of girls studying Computing remains worryingly low. With the skills shortage in the technology sector continuing to increase, this lack of uptake should remain a cause for concern for the industry.
With the tech sector remaining such a male-dominated industry despite best efforts to reverse this trend, it is disappointing to see that despite a 40% growth in employment within UK tech companies in the last two years, just 30% of these roles were occupied by women. It is hard to imagine how this might change without more girls taking subjects such as Computing and programming into higher education and beyond.”
Ann Lloyd, VP Customer Success & Experience at Axway adds that, “although women represent nearly half of the entire workforce today, they’re still massively underrepresented in the technology industry. What’s more, McKinsey’s 2020 Women in the Workplace study found that the pandemic has negatively impacted women more severely than men, and we’ll continue to see its ripple effects into the future, undoing much of the progress made over the past six years.”
“Despite it being over one hundred years since women got the right to vote in the UK, it’s sobering to realise that women are still underrepresented in many areas of life including with which subjects they choose to study, which career they pursue and even how much they get paid, relative to their male peers. Although there are no official statistics on the percentage of women in data science or AI roles, there is growing evidence that the gender imbalance that affects the tech sector extends to data science and AI, as well,” furthers Martin Rehak, Founder & CEO at Resistant.AI.
However, it is important to recognise that it is not all doom and gloom and that progress has been, and is continuing to be, made.
“I was encouraged by a February report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) which stated that 31% of UK tech jobs were held by women. This represents progress when it comes to gender equality in the workspace, but I believe that organisations still need to be proactive in ensuring women are represented in IT professional and leadership roles,” explains Liz Cook, Chief People Officer at Six Degrees.
Making improvements for the future
An easy and impactful way for businesses to make a difference is through promoting women to leadership roles so that young girls starting out in the industry have someone to look up to. It is not encouraging for girls searching for a career to see all the top positions filled by men.
“There are still too few female role models in senior positions to look up to, which makes it hard for young adults to envision a future in the industry which encompasses gender and further diversity. Seeing more women in positions of power, influence, and leadership will inevitably lead to more women joining the industry, in addition to more girls hoping to study IT or tech-related subjects at university or in an apprenticeship,” explains Parsons.
Rehak agrees that “there is no doubt that there is an urgent need to elevate female role-models and build an army of AI advocates to light the way for other women and girls who want to build a career in this male-dominated sector. We’re playing our part at Resistant AI. We’ve been working hard to build a more balanced team and we have some fantastic female hires coming on board.”
Simple measures, such as setting up mentorships for female colleagues, can provide important support and encouragement in the workplace for women.
Cook explains how Six Degrees has achieved this by establishing a Women in Tech (WIT) group led by one of their senior female leaders, to provide our women with a forum to connect, share experiences and support each other as we progress through our careers. “We want to change the language and challenge the barriers faced by women in tech. I believe all businesses should consider creating a WIT group to drive success by providing women with the support they may need to progress their careers and ensure we can retain women in careers within IT.”
“At Axway we champion the incredible women working with us and in our industry,” Lloyd concludes. “This Women’s Equality Day we challenge businesses to join the discussion, to open the conversation up to their employees and share ideas on how we can improve as a sector and support women and girls who hope to enter the industry.”
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