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Men don’t need to help women in tech, say IT professionals

Many tech workers don’t think it’s important for men to help women to integrate into tech teams, according to research by Computer Weekly, which experts say highlights the wider need for inclusive action

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It’s not important for men to be involved in integrating women into tech teams, according to 44% of tech workers.

The annual Computer Weekly/TechTarget Salary Survey found that the number of people who said men need to be involved in integrating women into IT teams has dropped significantly over the past few years, from 57% in 2019/20, to 40% in 2020/21, to only 23% this in this year’s figures.

Meanwhile, the number of people who disagreed that men should help women rose slightly to 44% this year from 42% last year.

Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates, called the figures “very disappointing”, and pointed out a lot of the push for greater diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the technology sector over the years has been done “mainly” by women.

“This is a really crucial part of the diversity problem that we have in the industry – I cannot stress enough how much addressing tech’s D&I challenge is everyone’s responsibility,” he said.

“Over the years, so many – mainly women – have worked incredibly hard to bring more women into the technology sector but, unfortunately, the needle has barely shifted. This must not deter our commitment to change. We, both women and men, must keep the pressure high and ensure we are doing everything we can to support women in all aspects of the digital and tech industries.”

Respondents to the Computer Weekly/TechTarget IT Salary Survey are predominantly mid to senior level IT managers, aged 35 or above, and more than 80% of those who answered the survey this year were men.

Results from the past three surveys span across the pandemic, with the 2019/20 showing a more positive snapshot of pre-pandemic diversity initiatives, before several firms became more concerned with navigating the uncertainty brought about by Brexit and the pandemic.

Allyship and support for under-represented groups from those who are in the majority in the tech sector is extremely important, especially as inclusion can play such an important role in whether or not businesses are able to retain diverse talent.

There are many reported reasons as to why women avoid the technology sector, and a lack of inclusion or a sense of belonging is one of them. As pointed out by Shaw, despite ongoing efforts to increase the number of women in the industry, the number has remained largely the same over the past five years.

In the 2021/22 Computer Weekly/TechTarget Salary Survey, there was a drop in the number of people who said their company has a plan to increase gender diversity in its tech teams, from 29% last year to 24% this year. This is a significant difference from 2019/20’s results, when 40% companies had a plan in place for improving gender balance in IT teams.

“There is a risk that the events of the past few years – the pandemic, the impact of Brexit, the cost-of-living crisis – means tech founders are focusing on survival at the expense of progress around diversity,” said Shaw.

“However, there is a strong case to support the fact that diverse tech companies are more successful, so it seems nonsensical that there has been a decline in companies making a concerted effort to increase gender diversity in their tech teams.”

The pay problem

Even once women are encouraged into the technology industry, there are often issues with equal pay, with women suffering from a gender pay gap in several industries. Sometimes, this is because the industries that predominately employ women tend to be lower paid, or because women are less likely to hold C-suite positions in companies that offer higher salaries.

This disparity became even clearer during the pandemic, where women were disproportionately affected as a result of the types of roles they had, the nature of the industries that more heavily employ women, and – in many cases – women shouldering the burden of care for children and the elderly.

While the number of IT workers who said women and men with similar qualifications were paid the same in their company has increased year on year (YoY) – up from 28% last year, to 34% this year – there is still a significant drop from pre-pandemic figures (58% in 2019/20).

Figures regarding equal pay followed a similar pattern, with a YoY increase in the number of IT workers who believe women and men have the same opportunities within their company – from 26% in 2020/21, to 38% this year. While an increase, it is still significantly less than the 68% of those who thought women and men had equal opportunities within their company in 2019/20.

Andrea Palmer, chair of BCS Women, claimed women were at greater risk of furlough or redundancy during the pandemic: “During the pandemic, as in other sectors, women left their tech jobs in droves, many because they needed greater flexibility to home school their children or care for someone, and others reassessed their priorities of what they wanted out of life, plus where they wanted to work and for which companies, from a social, environmental and ethical perspective.

“If men think they don’t need to help women, then we’re never going to reach any form of equality”
Andrea Palmer, BCS Women

“Now, as we all recover from the impact of the pandemic, women in tech need more support and encouragement to progress in their careers – not less. But if men think they don’t need to help women, then we’re never going to reach any form of equality. We need men to be our allies, and we need to do this together. Until these issues are tackled, then the dial won’t move in a positive direction.”

Although gender equality for those working in tech appears to have suffered in recent years, there was a small drop in the number of people who said their IT departments are working to address the topic of gender equality in teams – 65% this year versus 67% last year.

Experts have already warned that the pandemic shouldn’t be an excuse to stop diversity initiatives, and those who have diversity baked into their strategy are less likely to have found it difficult to maintain those initiatives during lockdown.

Skipping over available talent

In the past, experts have also said that hiring more women could help to address the IT skills gap. IT employers have a limited talent pool to fish from, so by overlooking women and other underrepresented groups as part of their hiring processes they are, in effect, eliminating a potential source of talent.

But the number of people who said hiring women would help to close the tech skills gap has been declining over the past few years, from 58% in 2019/20, to 37% in 2020/21, and to 26% this year.

In both 2021/22 and 2020/21, 37% of people actually disagreed, saying hiring women would not help to address the industry’s IT skills gap.

Palmer said there also needs to be a focus on training and upskilling women in their current roles to “boost the talent pipeline”, while Debbie Forster, CEO of Tech Talent Charter (TTC), warned businesses against “sticking to what you know”, instead stating that “difficult times” are an opportunity for “innovation and progress”.

“There is a huge amount of pressure on tech employers at the moment to find the right talent, and it can be tempting under pressure to revert to tried and trusted methods of recruitment and look in the obvious places for the next generation of talent,” said Forster. “But we know that this not only won’t be enough, but will ultimately prove the riskier choice for business.

“Employers who do not diversify will not attract the best talent, and the government knows this too, which is why they have invested in tech skills bootcamps to attract more diverse candidates. And it works – in TTC’s annual report, we saw that employees from bootcamps were more likely to stay with their companies – 38% compared with 22% for traditional candidates.”

TTC’s research with We Are The City found that just over three-quarters of women said an inclusive company culture is an important factor when accepting a role, but 75% of women felt some men in their organisations were not allies for their success.

While the push for greater diversity in the tech industry began with increasing the number of women in the sector, companies are also working to address other diversity topics.

More than half of those who were asked as part of the Computer Weekly/TechTarget Salary Survey this year said their company was addressing the topic of ethnicity in their IT departments, while 38% said the same of age-related diversity, 35% said the same of the topic of sexuality, and 34% said their company was addressing the topic of disability in their IT departments.

There is still work to do to increase diversity of all types in the UK’s technology sector, but without help and support from majority groups in the industry, the progress may continue to be slow.

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