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Diversity matters – International Women’s Day 2018

The tech sector has a poor reputation for workplace diversity - if we are to take advantage of the opportunities of the digital economy, this has to change

On 8 March, we mark International Women’s Day. It’s a time to celebrate the changes made to drive out gender discrimination and also take stock of where we still need to #pressforprogress.

With the World Economic Forum's 2017 Global Gender Gap Report telling us that gender parity is over 200 years away, there has never been a more important time to keep motivated. And with global activism for women's equality fuelled by movements like #TimesUp and more, there is a strong global momentum striving for gender parity.

The tech industry has an important role to play in improving gender parity in business. Technology is responsible for completely transforming how we work. With the addition of new innovations in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, the future of work will look very different from where we are now.

It’s vital that these developments are made without inbuilt gender bias, as they have been in the past. Otherwise, we run the risk of widening the gender gap even further.   

Business case for diversity 

There is a business case for diversity. A team with varied experiences and background will produce richer, more considered ideas. Some reports show that gender-diverse companies are 45% more likely to improve market share, achieve 53% higher returns on equity, and are 70% more likely to report successfully capturing new markets.

Furthermore, women can help the tech sector address its skills crisis. The range and scope of statistics on the digital skills gap is varied, however they all paint the same picture – the UK faces a digital skills crisis.

Top female talent is crucial to the health of the tech sector
Julian David, TechUK

Data gathered by Vacancysoft for TechUK revealed a total of 51,882 unique tech vacancies in 2016. Organisations ranging from charities to FTSE100 tech companies were found to be recruiting for roles which require higher-level digital skills such as senior developer, data analyst, cyber security analyst, software engineer and more. We need to attract more talented women into the sector to fill these positions. 

Women make up only 17% of the UK tech sector workforce and have much poorer representation in AI - estimates suggest 13.5% worldwide. We have a huge task ahead of us which we must not shy away from.

We must address the problem throughout the pipeline and attract girls and women into the sector, retain talent and help women see opportunities for progression.

Focus on returners

There is much to do here as the recent survey by Tech City UK shows that girls are much less likely than boys to see the opportunity for a career in tech. There are many great initiatives out there supported by both industry and government but I want to highlight two projects that I urge all tech companies to get behind.

First, I want to focus on returners. The fast-paced nature of our industry can make it intimidating to come back after a substantial career break. We must break down those barriers. Re-entering the workplace after a break is no mean feat, but with the support of networks, tools and business interest, we can make this easier.

TechUK’s Returners Hub provides returners with the tools they need to understand their options so they feel empowered to step back into the tech sector. The hub serves those who are looking to re-enter or re-skill into the tech sector as well as tech companies looking to explore options for their own returner programmes. It also features training organisations that can assist in creating a bespoke returners programme and provide best practice. We’re always looking for more tech companies to share their own returners programmes and content on the site.

Tech Talent Charter

Second, we must be accountable. At the end of last year, TechUK was a founding signatory of the Tech Talent Charter - a commitment by organisations to a set of undertakings that aim to deliver greater diversity in the tech workforce of the UK, one that better reflects the make-up of the population.

Signatories of the charter make a number of pledges in relation to their approach to recruitment and retention. Importantly, the Charter states that all signatories must provide data on their own workforce each year so that we can measure success and make more impactful, measurable changes as an industry for the future. I encourage all businesses to consider signing up.

Top female talent is crucial to the health of the tech sector and we must all continue to #pressforprogress at every stage. Continued collaboration and transparency are critical to making the changes needed and by continuing to grow, support and develop initiatives, this industry can be a driving force in making our society, and our workplaces, more fair and equal.

Read more about diversity in IT

This was last published in March 2018

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