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Tech gender parity: we can’t do it without support from men

Research has shown a lack of diversity in organisations is costing the UK economy money, but experts claim we can’t increase the number of women in tech without the support of men

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To achieve gender parity in the technology industry, men in influential positions need to show their support for diversity, according to a panel of experts.

A study by women’s network Everywoman has found access to role models and career development tools encourages women to progress in their career, with 81% of women on the Everywoman network claiming access to such resources has helped them move up the career ladder.

But Sheridan Ash, technology and investments director and UK women in technology leader for PwC, said there’s only so far women can get in technology without support from the men in the industry.

“If you are in a very male-dominated environment and the men aren’t helping you, sponsoring you and trying to make a change, you’re going to get nowhere,” she said. “There are so few women that you need to start this change by getting the men behind it.”

PwC tries to engage its workforce on the issue of diversity by offering reverse mentoring, whereby young women in the business mentor men at director and partner level to make them aware of what it’s like to be a woman in the IT industry.

The firm also addresses the differences between men and women, giving staff members training on where men and women are different and how this might play out in the workplace, including for women who have just had children and, in some cases, find it difficult to return to their job.

“There are differences between men and women, but that doesn’t mean we should be treated differently,” said Ash.

There is a pipeline problem in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) industries, and despite the new curriculum in the UK requiring children between the ages of five and 16 to learn computing, there is still a drop-off of girls.

There should be a focus on recruiting university graduates without a tech background, targeting those who might have dropped out of Stem earlier in their education, said Ash.

“There’s a problem across the whole pipeline,” she said. “We want to work across the industry. It’s the right thing to do as it benefits us and it benefits everybody. We need to get more girls doing Stem subjects.”

Giving access to role models

Everywoman was originally founded by Maxine Benson and Karen Gill to act as a platform through which women around the world could connect and support each other in male-dominated environments.

But many cite a lack of industry role models as one of the biggest reasons why women do not choose technology careers, and Benson claimed finding role models and making them accessible is high on the agenda for Everywoman and the technology industry as a whole.

In 2016, Everywoman partnered with tech firms such as FDM, Deloitte, Keytree and BP to launch the Modern Muse application, designed to give young girls access to profiles and stories of women in different sectors and inspire them to pursue these careers.

“The two most impactful things we could be doing is providing access to role models and access to learning and development tools,” said Benson.

According to Everywoman’s research, 36% of UK firms still do not have any women at board level, showing a lack of role models for women in senior positions.

“Seeing is believing and role models make things very real for people,” said Michael Keegan, chairman and head of product business for Fujitsu in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Keegan has previously told Computer Weekly that hiring managers should make sure to see a diverse range of candidates when hiring to avoid choosing the same kind of people, and create more role models for diverse candidates throughout the business.

Fujitsu has a Torchbearer Recognition Awards programme to find people across its UK business, men or women, and showcase them internally or externally to encourage and motivate others to feel they can make a difference.

But Keegan too said there is a pipeline issue in the Stem sectors, and that the industry needs to work together to encourage diversity.

“We have to offer role models in every level in the company,” said Keegan. “In the tech sector, one of the biggest challenges is that we’re great at getting girls into our HR, commercial and legal functions, but we need to do so much more to get them into technology itself.”

The business case for diversity

Everywoman highlighted in its survey that statistics show companies with women on boards do better financially, and in the UK, moving to all mixed boards could increase GDP by 3%.

Firms that are more diverse generally better reflect their target customers.

“If you’re more diverse, your workforce will be better engaged, and if you have a more engaged workforce, your organisation is going to perform better,” said Keegan.

Every person has their own unconscious biases which determine their underlying thoughts about other people and how they should act or behave. In the tech sector, this often leads to hiring mangers recruiting people who are exactly like them, therefore stifling the potential diversity of the company.

Read more about diversity in IT

  • CEB offers some practical proven solutions to help IT leaders recruit and retain a better balance of employees.
  • Computer Weekly recognises 50 inspirational women who are role models for diversity and success in technology.

Barclays runs a number of programmes in an attempt to avoid this problem, such as its apprenticeship scheme for people over the age of 50.

Wendy Papworth, director of global diversity and inclusion, and group HR at Barclays, said seeking out people who are harder to access and promote is important to help diversity filter up in businesses, and some restraints put on entrance requirements can be unnecessary.

“We shouldn’t shut the door just because girls haven’t done the right A-level subjects,” she said. “There are lots of roles in tech where you don’t need deep gamification programming skills.”

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I absolutely agree - it needs to be an effort by everyone in business. I think the first step, however, is to get both genders interested in technology from when they start learning about it in school, to help them understand the variety of different flavours of technology... it's not all about sitting at a desk after all!  
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