Hannah Malone, a long-standing member of the Digital Technologies Skills Group at Skills Development Scotland, focuses on the issue of gender for her second exclusive FutureScot column.

Despite the good news that the number of females working in tech has risen from 18% to 23% in recent years, there is still so much we collectively have to do – government, public sector and industry – to plug this worrying gender skills gap.

We need to pursue gender diversity, not just because it is the morally and socially right thing to do, but also because diversity benefits us all. Diverse teams build better products and services – anyone remember the Apple health app that claimed to solve all your health issues yet had nothing in it about menstruation? And how about the fact the very first attempts at voice recognition did not respond to women because the designers who tested the products were all male!

Diverse teams are also more productive, increasing the profitability of business, which ultimately leads to better economic development and improved wellbeing of wider society as a whole. 

Despite these obvious benefits, our pipeline of female tech talent remains as leaky as ever, with girls and women dropping out at every key career decision and transition point. It’s therefore vital that we all think about gender, not only from a young age when subject and career choices are being made, but also at other important life stages to ensure we are as inclusive as possible. 

At schools, we need to lift digital skills out of the computer science class and get them blended into other subjects such as art, music, English, PE and other areas that appeal more to girls. Schools also need to think about where they are taught, not just how they are taught, to make sure they are accessible and attractive to all. 

But early years is only part of the problem, and we as an industry have to do a lot more to attract and retain older females in tech. We need to ensure our recruitment adverts appeal specifically to women. We need to make sure upskilling and reskilling courses are easy to access for females by considering childcare and online learning. We need to ensure we offer flexible and inspiring working environments which are not only attractive to women, but also help and enhance work life balance.

We need to continually myth bust the idea that tech staff work alone in dark basements, wearing hoodies, getting up to no good online when in fact “digital humans” are doing so much more and so much good in the world. 

Recent research found that there were many aspects of digital jobs that should appeal to females, but they’re not widely promoted such as teamwork, problem solving, making a difference, and being creative. We need to do more to push these softer meta skills as well as the obvious technical capabilities we require.

We must be cognisant of the subliminal and negative message we send out through our marketing and communication activity, making sure there is no negative unconscious bias which can turn women off working in the sector. And there is a business benefit to doing that as well – Google research in the US found that YouTube videos featuring at least as many female characters as male ones yielded 30% more views than other videos, proving that creative marketing which is more inclusive delivers better results.

We as an industry need to lead on diversity and inclusion from the top. This is not just an HR issue….it’s everybody’s issue. Let’s reassess what good looks like, demand diversity as part of any recruitment shortlist, offer mentoring opportunities, get female employees out there being advocates for what we do, consider how we communicate about our industry, and gather the data and use the insights – practice what we preach –  to help women make the tech world a better place to work.

SDS has created a range of resources to help others work towards plugging the gender skills gap. Check out their teacher resource packrole model resources and their best practice guide. And why don’t you get your female employees involved with their Digital World campaign either as a case study, advocate or even a mentor.