Discussions around the gender gap in technology tend to focus on the challenges women face when entering the sector – that is, the subjects they’re encouraged to study at school and the entry level jobs they apply for. However, with research indicating the number of women studying STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] subjects has increased each year (though by only a small amount), it’s time to talk about ways to keep women in tech.
Research by Accenture and Girls Who Code found that, in the US, half of women who start their career in tech leave by age 35. This should be concerning to businesses looking to increase diversity and inclusivity and capture all the business benefits that brings.
It also serves to undermine the progress the tech sector is slowly making by removing female role models for the next wave of talent, not to mention losing a vital number of skilled employees from the workforce at a time the industry is facing a skills gap.
While similar research hasn’t been done in the UK, we do know at least 30 per cent of jobs advertised in Edinburgh and Glasgow are for tech positions – so we need to do better at keeping people in the sector.
Employers must recognise their responsibility in achieving gender parity by fostering inclusive workplaces with equal opportunities for women that encourage them to stick around. There are a host of ways to do this, from removing biased language in job descriptions to holding networking events during the workday to accommodate those with evening commitments.
Forrit, for example, goes above the statutory minimum on flexible working hours and parental leave, by encouraging all parents, not just mothers, to take leave and manage household commitments. We also encourage women to apply for jobs and promotions – 50 per cent of our management roles are held by women – and our female tech staff regularly speaks at schools and colleges on topics including ‘women in tech.’
Whatever the tactics, it’s clear the technology sector needs to actively change from the inside to make working in the sector long-term a viable option for women. Let’s hope this year’s Ada Lovelace Day helps to draw attention to this issue and makes this a reality.
Monica Richardson is the delivery team leader at Forrit – a platform which supports developers and IT operations and is a partner for the Ada Scotland Festival, which addresses gender imbalance in computing science education in Scotland.
Ada Lovelace, born in 1815, is considered the first computer programmer.