Tech in Manchester: a man's world

In this contributed blog post, HR consultant for Equality Pays Michelle Gyimah discusses the lack of women in Manchester-based businesses

Back in February 2016 I attended the Manchester Digital Skills conference. This conference focused on looking at skills within the tech industry to discuss and review the challenges the industry is facing, and what successes they’ve had.

It was very interesting. They produced a Digital Skills Audit which will be available to download in April 2016. It revealed that in Manchester, one in five tech businesses do not have any women in their company.

The gender split at industry level is 60/40 in favour of men. Which seems fine, but when you drill down to the tech roles within the industry, the split is 70/30 in favour of men.  Within the industry when you look at what women are doing, either through choice or being encouraged, you can see women focusing on the soft skills such as admin, PA and project management.

There are so many statistics to show that organisations with diverse workforces and women in decision making positions do better. They do better socially in terms of corporate responsibility, they do better in terms of PR (because that’s a positive thing they can sell to potential employees, clients and investors), they do better in terms of investment and the types of investment they can encourage, as well as the decisions they make. The bottom line is they’re much more productive, which means they make more money.

This is a wake-up call for the tech industry, I suspect not just for Manchester, but for the UK as a whole. We need to be thinking about really cohesive, positive ways to encourage more girls and women into the tech industry, to encourage them into tech roles, but also to look for ways to retain them.

There are two key things that I took away from this conference.

1.      You need to look at recruitment and how it’s done. You need to be looking at more strategic, cohesive ways to recruit more women, and not just for the sake of them being women, but for improving gender diversity in the industry.

2.      Retention. It’s very interesting when you look at big corporations like Google and Yahoo and the staff benefits. The things that we see in the media are the quirky offerings like an iPad, funky chairs, games rooms, or drinks on a Friday.  Those things are great for young men, but if your workforce is made up of other people or you’re looking to attract other people who are not just young men without responsibilities, you need to be thinking outside of the box and look at other staff benefits too.

In the Digital Skills Audit report, the three top things that people were most interested in were career development and training, flexible working, and remote working. If, as an industry or company within tech, you could get those three things right, I can guarantee that more women would be encouraged to work with you.