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Removing the Barriers for Women in Technology

Posted on April 2024

A woman with a digital tablet
​Attending the MK Innovates STEM Festival last year, our specialist technology recruiters, Lisa Subhash and James Clayton, noted that every organisation with which they spoke expressed a need for a greater number of female candidates, yet were unsure how to attract and retain them.

Following this, we surveyed a number of our female technology professionals partnered with us to hear first-hand about their experience within the industry and the barriers they face.

Of those surveyed, only 8% believe that there is currently a good gender balance within the technology sector, yet 62% agreed with the statement that this balance has improved in the past 5-10 years. While the issue remains prevalent, there are evidently steps which can ensure that skilled female professionals are able to reach their potential. Below are three areas which emerged as key action points from our survey.

 

Provide flexible working to support childcare commitments

67% of respondents listed the need for flexible/hybrid working to enable childcare as a significant factor affecting their career. As an agency, we have seen value added to numerous organisations as a result of reaching a wider talent pool which may otherwise have been untapped due to geographic distance or care commitments. The often inflexible requirements of childcare make such work arrangements not simply an optional benefit but a practical necessity.

Flexible working impacts not only hiring and retention but also career progression, as some respondents expressed the concern that women are passed over for promotion on account of their childcare commitments. Female representation in senior leadership will be considered in the third section, but it is clear that this issue applies to all levels. While some job roles will inevitably require a certain level of work onsite or within set hours, the immense shift towards hybrid and flexible options seen in the past four years should place this consideration at the top of employers’ lists when seeking a practical solution to support their female workforce.

 

Review and transform company culture

After being invited to a Microsoft Teams group, one survey respondent, an Associate Director of Business Intelligence, was informed by a colleague, ‘The guys will have to watch what they put in the chat now that we have a woman in there.’ Another respondent, a Head of Digital Innovation and Change, expressed frustration at not being invited to meetings, and that women in the field are ‘not being listened to, [being] thought of as Project Managers rather than qualified and experienced technical specialists.’

These anecdotes typify the experience of many that the technology industry is a male-dominated culture in which women are viewed as unwelcome guests, rather than equally-qualified participants. This perception is present as early as school-level, and is feared to prevent girls from entering into the field in the first instance by avoiding STEM subjects.

The importance of company culture was rated 9.23/10 on average by our respondents, demonstrating its high priority when making career decisions. Workplace culture cannot always be discerned during the application process, but it’s impossible to hide once a candidate is on board, and an environment which is unwelcoming or actively hostile towards women will be severely detrimental to retention and career progression. One respondent suggested ‘promoting a culture of calling out when male colleagues talk over females or take credit for others’ work.’ The solutions will vary, but a culture review is a necessary first step for any organisation to determine its tailored action points.

 

Implement mentoring to enhance representation

A change in culture must inevitably come from the top, and a number of respondents expressed disappointment at the lack of female representation in senior roles, with a CxIO lamenting that ‘women in the digital tech zones are not amplified and showcased enough… out of sight is out of mind.’ Without visible figures in senior or leadership positions, female professionals at earlier career stages will not have an aspirational model to aim towards, resulting in a vicious cycle.

Representation should not be tokenistic gesture, but rather a resolve to remove the barriers – some of which we have discussed above – which prevent women from reaching positions for which they are both qualified and capable. Respondents identified mentorship as a means by which this can be achieved; while only 23% had received mentoring in their career, those who did claimed great benefit, with one explaining that it ‘gave me visibility and improved my reputation.’ Mentoring schemes can be a vital means to break the cycle and promote gender equality at all levels.

 

This is not an exhaustive guide to the barriers faced by women in the technology sector, and other factors such as recruitment practices, pay gaps and the impact of unconscious bias warrant considerable discussion in their own right. However, the three action points outlined above provide a basis to promote gender equality and greater inclusion within the industry.

 

To discuss roles in Technology, contact James Clayton on 020 7557 7667 or email jclayton@venngroup.com.