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As we mark International Women’s Day and recognise the hugely important role women play across business, I am encouraged by signs that the gender disparity in tech is starting to be rebalanced.
Our own research in the Harvey Nash Group Digital Leadership Report, based on feedback from 87 countries, found that the proportion of women in leadership roles in tech remains stubbornly low, at just 12%. However, the number of women across the tech workforce as a whole is rising, with Deloitte predicting that it will nudge up to one-third in large global technology firms this year.
Indeed, looking at the UK, which is broadly representative of many developed markets, we are seeing some significant shifts. Data from the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) released in February revealed that more than 150,000 women have been recruited into tech roles over the past three years. That’s an uplift of 44% – more than double the increase in men (19%) over the same period. There are now over half a million women working in the sector.
More broadly, it was also heartening to see that almost 40% of UK FTSE 100 board roles are now held by women, according to data from the FTSE Women Leaders Review. A total of 414 women held FTSE 100 board roles last year, up from 374 in 2020. There’s a similar picture of rising female representation at the top table in countries around the world.
However, substantive change won’t happen overnight. It’s going to be a long process, even if the direction of travel we’re seeing is encouraging. An important factor in this has been the remote and now hybrid working model that we’ve seen as a result of the pandemic.
Many people have experienced two years of remote working through the Covid-19 pandemic. Those with parenting and caring responsibilities – which are most often held by women – have often been better able to balance work and life.
There has been a general realisation that working remotely does not mean less gets done – far from it, as productivity has risen. With less travel time and greater flexibility to organise the working day, people are, if anything, working longer – although perhaps at different times of day or night – and more efficiently.
We need to ensure that this continues – and that we don’t see a gradual turning back to old ways as time goes on. Many companies, including Harvey Nash Group, are following a hybrid working model of two days a week in the office. Hybrid working enables people to work effectively remotely, but also gives enough time for those face-to-face interactions and conversations that don’t work as well on Teams or Zoom. For spontaneous ideas generation, for example, I don’t think anything works as well as in-person meetings.
No turning back
I am a little concerned, however, at the irresistible language of going back to old ways that I’ve been hearing in various forums. There is a human tendency to revert, over time, to what we know best, and I think that as an industry we need to be careful not to lose the learnings of the past couple of years and let things drift back to how they used to be.
We need to keep embracing the flexible working patterns that let more people into the industry regardless of their gender, ethnicity, background or other characteristics. Technology must be open to talented people, whoever they are. This is also true regardless of the stage of life someone is at. We need to see more opportunities for people later in their careers, such as returning mothers, to retrain and reskill themselves into tech.
In the UK, the government has launched a digital bootcamp initiative offering intensive training in digital skills. Other countries have schemes along similar lines. We’d love to see initiatives like this become even more widely available, and really focused at people of all ages. We need to find every way we can to address the skills shortages that have affected technology for so many years.
With so many women becoming displaced at the moment – from Afghanistan last year, and now tragically from Ukraine – there is a further opportunity to help those with the right attributes who settle in new countries to be trained into tech roles and play a part in the economy.
For businesses themselves, there are many facets to supporting gender (and other) diversity. Across new hires at graduate and apprentice level, and experienced hires later on, employers should be challenging themselves to ensure they are taking a balanced approach that truly supports diversity.
For women already in tech, mentoring and networks can play a key role in helping them develop their careers. It’s important that mentors have proper training themselves – just to be well-intentioned is not enough. Male allyship is really important too – when senior men really support the gender equity agenda, it can be incredibly powerful and sends out a very strong message.
All of our research tells us that women gain just as much satisfaction in their tech careers as men, and progress into incredible roles. It’s a message that we need to shout louder about. I can’t think of a better career where you have the opportunity to change the world, do rewarding work and earn good money.
In an age when technology is all around us and an integral part of our everyday lives, no one should think, “Tech is not for me’. It’s for everyone, and women have an equal part to play.
The Harvey Nash Group Digital Leadership Report is available here (requires registration).