The truth is unavoidable for those heading up major tech companies across the world – gender inequality is still a major problem and not enough is being done to combat it. But this issue isn’t just centred on diversity – it’s fast becoming a pressing economic concern too.
The UK is facing a digital skills shortage, which is costing businesses up and down the country up to £50,000 a year. A lack of resource means businesses are turning down work or having to outsource it, often to outside of the EU.
And this trend is only set to continue as Britain is expected to need as many as 1.2 million new digital workers by 2022, according to UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES). With a skills gap already forming and the digital industry continuing to rapidly expand, companies need to act fast if they want to entice more women into tech roles and secure their future.
A woman’s worth
Women are a valuable asset to any business. This is supported by the latest report from McKinsey which details how women can bolster a company’s outputs by as much as 15 percent by addressing the skills shortage and bringing more into the workforce.
The Women and Work Commission corroborate this viewpoint and go further to argue that harnessing women’s full potential in the workplace could bolster the UK economy by as much as £23 billion a year.
In spite of this, women still make up less than a third of the UK’s tech industry and this is costing companies.
A survey for the Nominet Closing the Gender Gap report found that 76 percent of businesses were hiring inadequately skilled staff in order to bridge the gap and over half (56 percent) believed this was effecting productivity – which is reportedly 33 percent lower as a result.
Encouraging more women into tech can help create a more skilled workforce, as a recent study into GitHub, the open-source sharing program, uncovered. Having found that code written by women was approved at a higher rate (78.6 percent) than men (74.6 percent) when their gender was unknown, it has dispelled the myth that “girls don’t get tech”.
The research highlights an important truth – that women are just as capable as men in their technical abilities and adds credence to the idea that an influx of women into the tech industry will help plug the current skills gap.
It can also be argued that having a more diverse workforce will lead to greater innovation and fresh ideas.
A survey conducted by Forbes found that as many as 85 percent of corporate diversity and talent leaders agreed that “a diverse and inclusive workforce is crucial to encouraging different perspectives and ideas that drive innovation”. These statistics would suggest that companies with a more gender-balanced workforce are known to enjoy higher staff morale and better communication skills.
Plugging the gap
The tech industry is booming but it is also a ticking time bomb, if the UKCES forecast is to be believed.
How can Britain create as many as 1.2 million new digital workers over the course of the next six years?
One obvious solution is redressing the current gender imbalance. And this is something we are taking the lead on at Apadmi, with female representation currently at 25 percent and growing.
At present, female retention rates within tech companies are poor, standing 15 percent lower than males. This is usually the result of challenging working conditions and company culture – it is widely accepted that working in the tech industry means working late hours and often staying behind.
This can be problematic for those employees with families and this disproportionately affects female workers.
At Apadmi, we found that offering more flexible working hours is a viable solution to attract and retain more female employees. Taking the lead from the major players at Silicon Valley, tech companies should also look to offer employees more adequate maternity leave as this is another proven way to encourage new mothers back into work.
The gender pay gap is becoming a noisy issue and figures recently released have revealed women are likely to earn £300,000 less than men over their working lives.
Pressure is growing for companies to commission audits and review salaries of their male and female employees. Salesforce, the American cloud computing company, is spending $3 million in closing the gender pay gap and enforcing equal pay for all staff, regardless of gender.
Following this lead will help rebuild women’s trust within the industry and encourage them to want to pursue a tech career.
While working conditions and the gender pay gap are issues for females working within the industry, many women don’t even make it that far due to a major barrier from the outset – the recruitment process.
Unconscious bias against women exists and comes in the form of gender-coded language used in job ads and perceptions of female candidates in the hiring process. Working to create gender-neutral ad wording, formalising job criterion and ensuring there is at least one female on the interview panel will go in some way to tackle unconscious gender bias and will in turn, lead to a fairer interview process for females.
Finally, the tech industry is all about the future and the future of the industry itself has to be an influx in females.
Education is the stepping-stone to the industry so we need to work hard to encourage girls and young women into STEM subjects. There are encouraging signs at present with the WISE Campaign reporting a steady increase of girls taking up STEM subjects for GCSE and A-Level and a continuance in their outperformance of their male classmates.
At Apadmi, we are actively reaching out to female students in higher education and we empower women in senior roles to deliver guest lectures in universities. We also partake in hackathons, host workshops and deliver talks to students in the hopes to inspire the next generation of women to forge a career in tech.
With the growing demand for digital talent and an industry expanding rapidly, tech companies need to act fast to attract new talent and plug the skills gap. Realizing the value of a gender-balanced workforce, and in particular the value women can bring to a company, can only help to secure the future of our industry.