Stem gender pay gap can only be addressed by closing the skills gap

In this contributed blog post, Simon Jones, innovation director at Black Pepper, discusses how closing the tech skills gap can contribute towards closing the gender pay gap.

Nearly fifty years after equal pay legislation came into force, in April the UK conducted the largest gender pay declaration ever undertaken anywhere in the world.  More than 10,000 UK companies have published their gender pay gaps, with 78% of firms declaring on average they pay men more than women. Naturally, tech companies have come under scrutiny with Apple pledging to employ more women as it’s gender pay gap was revealed to be 5% in favour of men.

But here’s the rub – while addressing the gender pay gap is essential, I believe that technology, and particularly the software industry, faces a bigger issue – a lack of women working in the field.

When it comes to recruitment, it’s not always a case of discrimination. We have discussed methods such as positive discrimination to redress the balance, but our discussions haven’t progressed because there’s a conflict: on the one hand we want to hire the best person for the job, and at the same time we want our team to reflect the cultural, gender and ethnic makeup of society. With three times as many male applicants to female, often we cannot achieve both goals.

While this affects many of the science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) industries, the software industry has a particularly poor gender balance.

Like many businesses, we offer work experience to secondary school pupils and deliberately partnered a girls’ school. However, age 15 is already too late; few girls interested in software development.

Let’s not forget, some of our greatest industry pioneers have been women. The world’s first programmer was Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper wrote the first compiler, Margaret Hamilton was the first software engineer. But something changed. A female colleague recalls that when she embarked on her software career in the 1960s she was one of a number of women; but as her career progressed, fewer women entered the field. Over time the imbalance has got worse, not better.

Many experts advocate teaching Stem subjects in primary school, but in my opinion primary school is too late – even, nursery is too late because society has conditioned children about what play activities are gender appropriate. Play naturally transfers to interests and then careers. In their subconscious minds, and those of their parents, engineering is for boys. It’s a great shame and isn’t true.

If Stem is the future of the British economy, then value needs to be placed on it. We need to give girls and boys equal opportunities from birth. The Government should educate parents that Stem careers are as esteemed and respected as doctors and lawyers, and suitable for both men and women.

But while Government has a role, not every change comes through legislation, it needs a social shift which is where business leaders come in, both as employers and as influencers.

Let’s break the cycle. Speak to your children and their friends about software as a career and let’s ensure that girls born today are brought up to be software engineers. That way, in 20 years’ time, as a girl starts her career, she will see an equal number of men and women building technology that will transform the world.

But it doesn’t stop there, as employers we need to ask the question ‘how can software, meet society’s needs if women don’t bring their perspective and experience? How can the UK compete in a global market when we only look for talent in 50% of the population?’

Ultimately, businesses hire staff and promote individuals into positions of influence. I believe any business that hires and promotes in a way that reflects society, including gender, will outperform one that doesn’t.

So, look to the one in four applicants who are female and ask what they will bring to your business beyond the skill set. And for those women you already employ, consider how you can support their careers through mentoring, networking and exposure to become role models to young women choosing their path in the world.

If we tackle the skills gap, we can tackle the pay gap, but we all have a role to play.

 

 

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