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The ROI of a gender-balanced workforce

Jacqueline de Rojas, president of TechUK and area vice-president, northern Europe at Citrix, looks at the business advantages of addressing the tech gender imbalance

Achieving the right balance in the workforce can play an important role in transforming businesses, driving innovation in the workplace and enabling the next generation to play a crucial role in the future of IT.

My own experience, working in many different organisations in the technology industry, has shown me first-hand how business leaders are increasingly exploring new ways to attract and build a more diverse pool of employees in the tech sector.

But we should be under no illusions. The technology sector in the UK and around the world still has a long way to go if it is to create the kind of modern workforce that will not only deliver opportunity and success for every potential employee, but will also provide the industry with the diverse skills and ideas that are essential to its success.

It is perhaps best not to assume that we all appreciate the need for a gender-balanced workforce, and how this will deliver greater return on investment (ROI) for businesses.

Campaigns to attract more women into technology careers are often positioned in the media as "more women for women’s sake". But increasing women’s presence in the technology industry is not simply the latest corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative. It is a management strategy that can deliver a more talented and productive workforce with tangible business outcomes.

The UK is suffering from a skills shortage in the Stem industries, while the benefits of boosting this workforce are clear. Earlier this year, for example, Engineering UK commissioned research that showed how hiring 182,000 skilled workers a year by 2020 could increase the UK’s GDP by £27bn. But the UK currently employs only 55,000 such workers.

Similarly, despite being at the forefront of innovation and ideas in terms of delivery, the tech industry still struggles to attract and develop a workforce truly representative of the modern world. The cost? When unable to find the talent at home, firms are forced to look overseas with potentially expensive recruitment programmes to fill positions. Or, worse still, we lose our innovative British businesses to other countries where there is more talent.

Women are a largely untapped resource in the Stem sectors, representing a pitiful 13% of its workforce despite making up 47% of the British labour market as a whole.

Boosting the ROI

But beyond boosting numbers, it has been found that women make a positive impact on a business’ bottom line. A recent McKinsey whitepaper looking at gender equality in French multinational firm Sodexo analysed the data from 50,000 managers across 90 entities worldwide, and found clear evidence that teams with a male–female ratio between 40% and 60% produce more sustained and predictable results than those of unbalanced teams.

Having women on the board is also shown to be aligned with a positive performance. A catalyst study into corporate performance and women’s representation on boards in Fortune 500 companies found that those companies with more female board directors outperform those with the least on a return on capital investment by 66%, on a return on sales by 42%, and on a return on equity by 53%.

Facilitating entry to the market

Improving education and support alone will not increase the number of women in technology and other Stem industries. Businesses that are keen to benefit from a greater representation of women in their teams must ensure that women do not only feel valued within their company (and industry), but also utilise their assets to attract the best talent from alternative career paths.

The technology industry, in particular, needs to start practising what it preaches. With the rise of cloud and the consumerisation of IT, innumerable companies are professing the advantages of mobile working technologies and how these can be a key driver in attracting a diverse range of professionals into the IT workforce. 

By harnessing these solutions, the technology industry can lead the way in breaking down some of the barriers that could put off women and other groups from working in full- and part-time tech roles.

Businesses that offer flexible working options not only attract more women who value the balance of home and work life, but could also greatly reduce the drop-off of talent often seen following maternity leave. However, flexible working opportunities will truly benefit the company only if there is a cultural shift and the wider organisation embraces an end to the nine-to-five mentality.

Breaking down barriers

To succeed in developing a more diverse and gender-balanced workforce, corporate leaders must be prepared to stand up against practices such as “showing face”. Breaking down barriers built around the traditional male-orientated work culture is important to ensure that those who work flexibly are as championed as their office counterparts. This may involve challenging the traditional outlook of executive committees, to drive commitment and ensure accountability.

If we are to become a digital nation of significance, businesses, government and organisations such as TechUK must work together to tackle diversity, gender balance and digital inclusion. Without this, the UK risks overseeing a technology revolution without the diverse workforce to enable it to achieve its true potential. 

The value of increasing women’s representation in the UK Stem workforce has significant potential, not only to individual companies, but also the Stem industries and the wider economy.

This was last published in August 2015

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As a woman, I agree that the ability to have a flexible work day is attractive to me, but I have mixed feelings about seeing the end of a nine-to-five mentality. Already, that seems to be mostly gone in IT at my organization, but not in a good way. It's being replaced with a 24/7 mentality, even though we don't have the staffing levels to support that. I prefer a solid line between work life and home life, but that often doesn't happen in technology. People end up taking their work home with them, something that doesn't happen in other career fields, like say, nursing.
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