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FDM Group has launched its Back to Business programme to help women who have had a break from the industry to catch up and return to tech-based roles.
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Sheila Flavell, chief operating officer at FDM Group, said: “The Getting Back to Business programme is an essential part of our women in IT initiative, helping women to restart their careers and break through the glass ceiling we hear so much about.”
The programme was launched on Ada Lovelace Day after a beta of the course in Hong Kong in 2015.
The course is currently underway in the UK, with a cohort of 12 women taking part. The programme will provide participants with seven weeks of training and mentorship.
Once training is completed, participants will be given a full-time job with one of FDM’s partner organisations, and many of the women taking part in the programme already have placements.
“The first woman we placed from the previous cohort sent me an email that said, ‘Thank you for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself’,” said Flavell.
FDM Group works with many different types of people to help them gain access to careers, including graduates, ex-service personnel and women. Flavell said the group is the largest hirer of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) graduates in the UK.
She also said she understands how hard returning to work after a break can be, as she could not afford to be a stay at home mother after giving birth and had to give up work.
Closing the gender gap in tech
There is currently a skills gap in the UK, with firms unable to find people with the tech skills to fill roles, and there is also a lack of women in the IT industry, making tech heavily weighted towards men.
Many have already argued that women who are looking for employment could fill both the gender gap and the skills gap if trained correctly.
“This situation is not sustainable. There are more than 2.4 million women who want to work but are currently out of work – this is a vast talent pool that could potentially help fill the digital skills gap,” said Flavell.
Vanessa Vallely, founder of We Are the City, said flexibility is a huge factor women consider not just when returning to the workplace, but also when looking for upskilling schemes.
According to Vallely, the jobs provided after a returners programme should be as flexible as the programme itself. “The big thing that’s missing is the flexibility for the end of these returnerships,” she said.
Having left only months between having her children and returning to work, Vallely said many women don’t return because they feel they will return to a lower role or have fallen behind, leading to a lack of confidence – things returners programmes aim to tackle.
“We need returnerships in tech, there’s a definite shortage there,” she added.
Vallely said some women “automatically deselect themselves” from applying to jobs and returnership programmes based on the language used in adverts or the hours required for the advertised role.
By changing the language in job adverts, it is possible that more women will be attracted to apply for tech roles where they may otherwise have chosen a different role.
Jacqueline de Rojas, TechUK president and executive vice-president of Sage, said more could be done to make job roles more accessible to women, including thinking carefully about the language used.
“Language is a very powerful tool when we’re looking to the market and we [should] make job descriptions more accessible,” she said.
Ensuring diverse hiring committees and introducing diverse boards can also help to spread more diversity around an organisation, and De Rojas said this was beginning to take place.
“There are no all-male boards in the FTSE 100,” she added.
The pros of gender diversity
But why should firms ensure gender diversity? De Rojas said it is in a firm’s best interest to be diverse, as it promotes better business outcomes.
“When you just have one woman on a board that used to be all male, you reduce the risk of bankruptcy,” she said.
However, around half of tech companies do not think having a diverse workforce will contribute to business growth, according to Miranda Brawn, co-founder of Colour in Tech.
Focusing not just on gender diversity in tech, but also on diversity of colour, social background, age, disability and sexual orientation, Brawn said we should be teaching young children about diversity so they push for it in the companies they work for in the future.
For now, Brawn said women can progress by putting their hands up, being outspoken and not being intimidated by being the only woman in the room.
“It’s key to be comfortable with being the only woman in the room until more women join. I embrace being different and that’s one of the things I would recommend,” she said.
Brawn also provided some shocking statistics about the current state of the industry. She said out of 40,000 businesses in London, almost 1,000 are all male, and 40% of women with a tech degree will either never enter the field or will drop out within five years.
She said by increasing diversity in a firm, it is more likely to succeed in the global market place as it will be “vital” for teams to have people who will be able to communicate and work with global clients.
The next course of FDM’s Back to Business programme will start in January 2017.
Read more about women in the IT industry
- The proportion of women choosing to work in the IT profession is set to increase over the next four years as businesses adopt digital technology, according to a major study by the CEB.
- Since Computer Weekly launched its list of the most influential women in UK IT in 2011, the number of initiatives championing and encouraging women in technology has grown enormously.