5 barriers women face in STEM careers
The shortage of tech skills in the UK isn’t new. In 2019 there were over 600,000 tech job vacancies, and this crisis costs the UK economy £63 billion a year. To compound the issue, women only account for between 17% of tech staff.
But, there is hope, the picture seems to be improving in some sectors. The number of women working in technology has increased over the past year, with more UK tech jobs held by women (ONS).
Yet, while some sectors are improving, others are lagging behind. Women are still underrepresented in technical and leadership roles across the board.
So, which tech roles need women the most?
The role of Software Developer is the most in-demand job in the UK technology industry. It’s also in the top 5 most sought after roles across UK cities. Currently, the demand for Software Developers outweighs the supply. In 2019, it was the most advertised role out of any role advertised (Source). Despite the huge demand, women make up only 14.6% of the software developer workforce. (Source)
Architects and system designers are high-level decision makers with expert experience. With high salaries and big contracts to deal with, these are tech leadership roles. Yet, there are few women sitting at the tech leadership table. For IT architects this is also the case, with women only accounting for 16.9% of roles (Source).
Engineering is the most male-dominated field in STEM. IT Engineering isn’t any different. Women only account for 6.8% of IT engineers (Source). In fact, the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, at less than 10%, while Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus lead with nearly 30% (Source).
In comparison, in support and project manager roles gender diversity is doing better: Women account for 24.5% of User Support Technicians, 24.7% of IT Project Managers and 27.1& of IT Managers. What does this mean? The gender inequality in the tech industry goes beyond just numbers but permeates the types of roles women are assigned. Men being more likely to hold technical roles and women the managerial and support roles.
To hire diverse tech staff, employers need to look beyond traditional pipelines.
Apprenticeships allow employers to hire from diverse pools of talent and find candidates with non-traditional tech backgrounds. This means employers are not limited to the male-dominated pool of STEM graduates. In the UK, only 13% of Computer Science graduates are female.
Apprenticeships are government funded programmes. This means women from low-income families have an accessible route into tech. This avoids student debt and provides immediate paid employment in the tech industry. Employers benefit from Government funding towards the apprentices training costs, while large employers already contribute to the Apprenticeship Levy Pot. Have a look at the different tech apprenticeship routes here.
Communication in tech recruitment makes a huge difference when trying to increase diversity.
Project Recruit highlights role profiling as a key area. Women and men approach job specifications differently. If women aren’t 100% qualified they may not apply, whereas men tend to apply anyway. Employers need to be honest about what skills and experience is essential and what is nice to have.
The words used in role descriptions (especially in tech) can put some women off. For example, phrases such as ‘we need a tech superhero’ or overuse of technical terms. Similarly, many women are interested in the company culture. So, consider the internal culture and the leadership commitment to equality.
Women need to see women in leadership to know they have a future there. This means using images of women and gender inclusive language in advertising. Women must be visible and championed in the company.
When shortlisting candidates, it’s not uncommon to be affected by unconscious bias. People tend to be drawn to people “like us”. It’s important to train interviewers to recognise bias to create a balanced interview.
Building diversity for the future means laying foundations for long term change. ED&I expert and Founder of TP Consulting, emphasise the need to build effective employee engagement, development and retention into company culture.
Making sure employees are all on the same engagement page is vital. A competency framework that supports your vision will shape employee culture and feed into the interview process.
Prioritise creating a clear development path to success in your company. Putting a support structure in place helps empower individuals who often go unheard.
Retaining women in tech is as important as employing them. Make sure there is a robust and fair internal hiring process. Remember, young women are often more modest about their achievements in the workplace. Mentorship schemes can help young women feel empowered and boost their confidence in a male-dominated environment.
Want to know what you can do as leaders to get more women in tech? Join us September 23rd at 11.30am for a live webinar “How to get more Women in Tech? Practical Steps for Leaders”.
We have the power to create a more diverse workplace. So, why not join the movement and help the tech industry discover the next generation of talent!
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