The tech industry is booming. The need for tech professionals is exceptionally high, and yet the talent pool simply can’t expand fast enough to keep up with demand.
The Coalition for a Digital Economy estimates that the UK will have 800,000 unfilled digital vacancies by 2020, and given that just 15% of the UK’s tech workforce is female, the answer to this growing skills shortage seems obvious. So why aren’t we better at paving the way for 50% of the population to fill these roles?
There’s an insidious funnel at work here. Not enough girls are being encouraged to pursue tech to begin with, and of those who do opt for a STEM-focused education, too few are being offered jobs they’re qualified for. Even those women who land a position in tech often don’t stay; women leave tech jobs at a 45% higher rate than their male colleagues because of hostile cultures, poor retention policies, and unfair barriers to career advancement.
Here are just a few ways that we can begin to bring balance to the tech sector.
The first step to fixing the funnel is getting more girls into tech, and positioning a career in computer science as a viable, achievable option for all children. Visibility and awareness are crucial; girls need to see female tech professionals represented by the toys they play with, the books they read, and the hobbies they have access to.
As girls get older, any interest they’ve garnered in STEM often peters out. Schools need to work to guard against this drop-off by including female tech professionals in their careers events, creating spaces in which girls can learn and experiment with tech in a supportive, inclusive environment, and better tailor their STEM offerings to the way girls typically learn best.
The digital skills gap is widening every year, as new tech hits the marketplace and businesses battle to land what little talent is available in the market. Businesses can’t sit around and wait for fresh blood to enter the workforce, so they need to do what they can to help their current employees upskill and fill some of the gaps on their bench.
Returnships and on-the-job training programs for existing employees can help you bestow the skills your business needs on women who are already in your workforce, or those who’ve had to step back from their careers and are looking for a structured way to return to work.
Ask women in tech what they feel is the most important factor in retention, and the majority will say workplace flexibility.
There’s a growing acceptance of the need for flexible and remote working, but still more needs to be done to allow women to work in a way that really is effective in the long run .
More often than not, women shoulder the bulk of caregiving responsibilities, and flexible working policies can be the difference between an employee who feels supported and able to do their best work and one who feels they have no choice but to step away from a position.
Offering flexibility attracts more women, and helps them stay in work; data from the Kellogg School of Management estimates that at least half of women graduating from top MBA programs will leave full-time work within a decade of graduating, either due to family commitments, or because they feel forced out.
You might think that keeping male and female pronouns out of your job ad will be enough to make it gender neutral, but the fact is that the way job ads are written often repels female candidates, both unconsciously and consciously—especially in tech.
The way you describe the position says a lot about your company culture, and using masculine words like “ninja”, “headstrong”, and “dominate” can give off real “boy’s club” vibes and put female candidates off.
Closing the gender gap in tech is not simply a social issue; it’s a matter of necessity. If businesses don’t actively seek to close the skills gaps within the tech industry, they’ll soon find themselves without the talent they need to help them stay efficient and competitive.
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