GUEST BLOG: What is being done to encourage more women into tech?

In this guest post Shirley Wood, training and support director at education technology solutions organisation, Jisc, looks at the positive efforts being made to encourage more women into tech

While statistics prove there are fewer women than men employed in tech, engineering or science companies, it isn’t all bad news. Much is being done to highlight the difference and redress the balance – and in doing so, to bridge the UK’s technical skills gap.

UK facts and figures

Firstly, let’s provide some context.

Last year, only 18% of ICT professionals working in the UK were female, even though women currently make up almost half (47%) of the workforce.

According to a government report of 2015, in the digital industries, just 26% of jobs were held by women, down from 33% in 2002. In IT, the figure was even lower at 16%, and in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) just 13% of jobs were held by women.

This could be because fewer girls than boys are getting involved in Stem education — just 7% of girls take computer studies A-level courses. And only 17% of those studying computer science in higher education are women, which is the lowest percentage in any field except for engineering and technology, where female students make up just 15% of enrolments. Of those that do take STEM subjects, only half (51%) actually go on to do STEM-related jobs.

There is some evidence to show that gender stereotyping is affecting girls’ choices. Management consultancy company Accenture conducted research (2015) which found that 60% of 12-year-old girls thought STEM subjects were too difficult, with 47% of girls claiming these types of activities suited their male counterparts better.

What’s being done to encourage more women into tech?

Quite a lot, actually. Some steps taken include:

  • TechUK has a women in tech programme aligned to the European e-Skills for Jobs project, which aims to raise awareness of the e-skills gap across Europe.
  • Women in Stem is a Government-backed call to action created in 2013, which asked organisations to work together to boost female participation in technology and engineering. Its website with lots of aspirational and inspirational blogs and articles.
  • In 2016, Accenture partnered with charity Stemettes to stage a multi-city event in the UK and Ireland aimed at encouraging schoolgirls to consider Stem careers. The children were taught coding, took part in workshops demonstrating Stem skills and computational thinking, and attended panels where women in the relevant industries spoke about their careers.
  • British Gas launched a women in tech network (2016) to enable its female employees working in Stem roles to network and collaborate.
  • KPMG launched an initiative in March 2017 to encourage more women into tech. It will use inclusive job descriptions, peer-to-peer Q and A sessions as part of the interview process and targeted advertising across traditional and social media. The company has also launched a Tech Insight Week for women, and plans to work more closely with recruiters to provide greater insight into its tech brand.
  • Although not specifically aimed at women, in January 2017, Microsoft announced the launch of programmes for developing digital literacy, digital skills and cloud skills across the UK. The programme aims to reach more than 560,000 people by 2020.

Yes, you can!

One point that’s made over and over when researching the dearth of women in technology is the lack of role models, but there are efforts to rectify that problem, too.  Speaking to an audience of women at the WeAreTheCity 2016 technology conference (and quoted in Computer Weekly), Jacqueline de Rojas, executive vice-president for Europe at Sage and president of techUK, reminded tech professionals they are the role models that girls and young women will be looking towards.

“You are a role model whether you choose to be or not,” she said. But imposter syndrome (when accomplished individuals are unable to accept their own abilities) is often associated with women in the IT industry, preventing many from speaking up about their achievements and encouraging others to pursue tech jobs.

De Rojas advised women in tech to overcome negative self-image through sharing experiences and learning from one another. She added: “It doesn’t take a lifetime of coaching or relationships to inspire or be inspired. It is possible to create outstanding careers from a position of extreme adversity.”

At Jisc, we have many excellent role models. Two of them, Frances Burton and Susan Bowen, have recently written blogs about being a woman in tech for Computer Weekly’s WITsend blog.

New Jisc trustee, Susan, who is vice president and general manager at Cogeco Peer 1, writes about her love of computers and coding from a young age and enthuses about the opportunities her career presented to travel the world.

She adds: “My experience within the industry and the inspiration around me gave me the drive and desire to make a difference in the sector. I wanted to give something back to an industry that had given me so much and to also address the imbalance for women in technology. So I joined the techUK Board, where I am currently chair for the Women in Tech Council.”

Meanwhile, Jisc’s security services group manager, Frances Burton, doesn’t ever think of herself as a woman in tech, but a person in tech, partly thanks to her supportive parents and a forward-thinking mixed school where boys and girls all took woodwork, metalwork, cookery and sewing.

After school, Frances studied fashion and ended up with a career in technology almost by accident. She explains: “My journey started when, looking for paid employment after fashion college, I landed an office junior job with the Atomic Energy Authority. The AEA computing division had developed one of the first text-based databases and I was chosen to demonstrate this new technology simply because I could touch type! It turned out I had a bit of an aptitude for this technology and my path was set.”

As for me, I never thought twice about going into a technology career as, at the time, there were more openings in that area. At school, I always saw it as a challenge to do science and maths subjects, as did a number of other girls at my school who went into engineering and science.

When I first started work, there were a significant number of women in the area I worked in, but I have seen the proportion of women reduce over the years, except in what are seen as the “softer” areas such as training and support.

What about the pay gap?

By April 2018, all employers with more than 250 staff will have to publish details of their gender pay gap, based on data from April 2017.

We already know that UK women in all roles earn on average 13.9% less than their male counterparts, and, according to research from recruitment firm Hired, women in the UK technology industry are paid on average 9% less than their male counterparts.

How does Jisc compare?

I am happy to report that Jisc’s 2016 staff survey results showed the gender split across the organisation is broadly equal overall, with 52% male to 48% female.

However, there is a lower proportion of women within the 35 to 44 age group, the 55 to 64 category and the over 65s.  Within the latter two, the ratio of male to female staff is more than double.

Within the executive leadership team of nine, only one is female, while the group senior leadership team comprises 17 women and 28 men.

In terms of pay, Jisc statistics (2016) Jisc show that the average salary for male employees is £45,633 compared to £34,522 for females, and the average hourly rate for males is £25.03, compared to £20.87 for females.

So, while there’s clearly more work to be done in terms of the gender and pay gap in the sector in general, it’s clear that strong efforts are being made to achieve a better balance.