Women in tech: where we are and where we should be

With International Women’s Day (IWD) taking place on 8th March, Sarah Lewis, Women in Tech Ambassador at Ivanti, outlines the key areas business should improve to better attract female tech talent.

As gender equality becomes ever more prominent on the global agenda and the #MeToo movement gains momentum, women in technology are still facing serious challenges on the path to achieving equal opportunities to their male counterparts. Technology roles are still largely filled by men and the percentage of women in this sector actually shrinks as they move up the corporate ladder – they make up just 26% of the workforce and a minuscule 11% of senior leadership positions. 

As well as being a crucial step in ensuring equal workplace opportunities across genders, promoting diversity in business is a proven tactic for success as it helps drive innovation and boost revenue. Among the many studies that demonstrate this, a recent Morgan Stanley report showed how companies with more women in their board of directors and workforce enjoy higher share prices and tend to outperform their less diverse competitors. 

Furthermore, taking the opportunity to hire competent women could help mitigate the tech skills shortage currently plaguing the UK. Ultimately, women represent an untapped talent pool which technology companies simply cannot afford to miss out on.

By analysing the data surfaced through Ivanti’s Women in Tech Survey, we’ve outlined the key areas business leaders should look to improve to better attract female tech talent.

Mind the pay gap

Gender equality in the workplace can be achieved through a multitude of initiatives – from implementing inclusive culture guidelines to creating mentorship programmes. But, first, companies need to work on nailing the basics – starting with pay. Our research supports this: 64% of women working in technology stated that equal pay and benefits would attract them to a new role. While it’s safe to assume that workers of every gender value many different factors in a job – like feeling rewarded or learning new skills – it’s natural for women with a passion for innovation and impressive experience in IT management to want their salary to compare with their male counterparts, as well as their ability and expertise.

What’s concerning is that despite equal pay regulations being in place since 1970 in the UK, the technology industry still has work to do to close the gender pay gap – as highlighted by 46% of our respondents. Aside from being unfair and antiquated, salary inequality between people with comparable skills and background is incredibly detrimental to any organisation’s efforts to retain valuable female team members – as well as recruiting new ones. Salary disparities based on gender are enough to put off ambitious female workers as well as forward-thinking employees across genders. So, if the pay gap situation isn’t addressed, all businesses will face serious challenges hiring talented staff – female or male – in 2020 and beyond.

Flexibility is key

The unfortunate narrative that a woman cannot wholly focus on their career and family, simultaneously often forces highly gifted and dedicated female employees to leave a great job or pass on an exciting professional opportunity so that they can start a family – or, in some cases, spend more time with a relative that needs care. Women can sometimes feel that choosing their careers can deprive them of the chance to experience motherhood, or care for their loved ones, in fear that their professional development might suffer. After all, almost three in ten women believe taking maternity leave had a negative impact on their career. While steps are being taken in the right direction, with extended periods of paternity leave becoming more common, this burden can currently be seen to disproportionately affect women. This is precisely why there is a pressing need for a mindset shift around flexible, remote and part-time working for those wishing to focus more on family, without penalising their career progression. 

According to our survey, over half of women in the technology space would be enticed to take a job at a company with flexible and part-time working options, while one third mentioned that more support from their employer for part-time work in management positions would help progress their career. Recent studies have shown that, while women make up more of the workforce than in years gone by, they still take on the majority of housework as well as spending the most time with children. So, it makes sense that flexible working would be an appealing option for them. Sadly, despite the availability of alternatives to the traditional nine to five, the stigma around flexible working remains, with many employers and colleagues perceiving this to mean “working less”, being less accountable for the team’s successes and failures or, crucially, not being eligible for promotions. It’s easy to see how this might hold women back from joining businesses in male-dominated sectors or encourage them to turn down a more senior role or leave the company altogether.

It’s time for managers and HR professionals within technology businesses to understand that flexible working is not just about policies, it’s about the culture around them. As more and more companies embrace schemes that fit around employees’ lives (at all levels of seniority) and move towards the long-awaited four-day week, in the hopes of boosting engagement and productivity, this more open-minded approach is set to also encourage more women to take roles in the tech sector. Gender equality within technology organisations will never become a reality if people are made to choose between family and career progression. So, if tech companies seek to attract talented and skilled female employees, they must integrate parent-friendly initiatives within their culture, so as to entice the best and brightest women to jump on board and stick around.

Shattering the glass ceiling

Whilst progress is being made in terms of improving gender equality in tech businesses, more work needs to be done. Technology companies should make it a priority to focus on female advancement and career paths if they hope to drive not just success, but diversity and inclusion in their teams. About a third of women who took part in our survey cited the glass ceiling as a challenge that holds them back from progression (representing a 7% increase from last year), while over half cited not being taken seriously due to their gender. It’s concerning that many of the barriers standing in the way of women growing professionally are cultural, which makes them harder to tackle – think of the 62% of those surveyed, who stated that stereotypes continue to favour male candidates for leadership roles, and that men and women in similar roles are judged by different criteria.

The technology community can work to fast track this progress by driving awareness among business leaders that women are an invaluable resource, a positive disruptive force, able to not only put their talent to good use within technology, but also facilitate innovation and support companies along their digital transformation journey.

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