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Technology Is A Man’s World…But It Doesn’t Have To Be

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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Hannah Pym, head of marketing at app developer Apadmi, suggests how we can get more women into tech – and why we should do it

There just aren’t enough women in tech. That’s the general consensus in reaction to the latest statistics that have reaffirmed the very real existence of gender inequality within the tech industry.

Add to this the fact that there already is a widening digital skills gap in the UK, it’s clear that the matter isn’t just a diversity issue but also a growing economic concern.

Marking International Women’s Day (March 8) Hannah Pym, head of marketing at app developer Apadmi – priding itself on a 25 percent female workforce – discusses how businesses within the wider tech industry can address this contentious issue and why encouraging more women into tech makes economic sense.

Women make up just 27 percent of the tech industry and even in the face of increased government efforts to encourage females into STEM disciplines, it’s only forecasted to get worse. The level of disparity between males and females in the tech industry is a widespread problem. This stems from the grassroots, for example one in five digital start-ups in northern England employ an all-male workforce, and also reaches as far as the internet giants, such as Facebook and Google, whose tech staff is only around 16 percent and 18 percent female, respectively.

From a diversity point of view alone, the stark contrast between the number of male and female employees within tech companies is quite troubling. When you then factor in the current digital skills shortage in the UK, which has forced businesses up and down the country to turn down or outsource work to companies beyond the EU, the issue takes on a whole new economic dimension.

Girls in CodingThe boys-only club just isn’t working

The current digital skills shortage is a problem felt right across the developed world. With as many as two-fifths of all digital businesses in the north of England having to refuse work worth up to £50,000 due to a lack of resource, it seems senseless to have such dissonance between the sexes. Despite the skills shortage, the tech industry is continuing to boom but with the rapid rate at which it is growing, we need a greater influx of digital talent – if we can’t attract more women to the industry, there is no way we will be able to meet the continued demand – which may end up stunting the industry’s growth.

Not only is workforce gender imbalance costing businesses, it is also costing the economy – up to £2.6bn each year, according to the Closing the Gender Gap report from Nominet. This figure refers to the under-skilled staff being hired to fill the gap who lower company productivity. Of the 500 businesses surveyed for the report, three-quarters (76 percent) said they lack adequately skilled staff and more than half (58 percent) said this affected productivity, which is estimated to be 33 percent lower as a result.

The lack of women in tech is both damaging and costly to the industry and wider economy.

Why the industry will benefit from more women

The creation of a more diverse, gender-balanced workforce will not only bolster the UK economy by a reported £2.6bn, and potentially save digital companies from having to refuse work, it can also help shift the culture of a company and create a more efficient, productive working environment.

For any company, regardless of industry, a skilled workforce is crucial for success. Earlier this month a study into GitHub, the open source program-sharing service, analysed over 1.4 million users and reviewed around three million pull requests. Comparing the approval rates of code written by both male and female users, the research found that code written by women was approved at a higher rate (78.6 percent) than men (74.6 percent) when their gender was not known to approvers. The study dispels the myth that women “just don’t get tech” and proves that women are just as good, and in some cases even better, than their male counterparts.

Tech companies with a more gender-balanced workforce are known to enjoy improved communication skills, higher staff morale and are exposed to a wider range of fresh and innovative ideas.

What women want

Redressing the gender imbalance is of vital importance, and we are certainly taking the lead on this issue at Apadmi, as we now boast a workforce of which 25 percent is female.

If we want to see a greater representation of women in the tech industry, we need to start right at the beginning – education. More needs to be done to reach females earlier on so they’re more fully aware of the number of opportunities a STEM degree can afford them. At Apadmi, we are actively partnering with universities and working hard to reach out to more female students. Empowering women in senior roles at Apadmi to deliver guest lectures in universities as industry leaders is one example of what we do but we also partake in hackathons, host workshops and deliver talks to students in the hopes to encourage more young women to venture down the tech route.

The next stage is recruitment. Unconscious bias against women does exist in the recruitment process and can be found anywhere from the wording used in job adverts to the perception of candidates in the hiring process. A way to tackle this is to remove gender-coded language from ads and to formalise the criteria that applicants are measured against. Also, ensuring there is at least one female on each interviewee panel eliminates unconscious gender bias and will help give female candidates a fairer chance – creating a more meritocratic process.

Currently the overall gender pay gap in the UK stands at 19.1 percent meaning that a woman, on average, earns 80p for every £1 earned by a man – in spite of the introduction of the Equal Pay Act in 1970. Commissioning an audit into how male and female employees are paid and promoted will provide comparative data to make changes should a company need to. Redressing any discrepancies and actively promoting a fair pay policy will be effective in enticing women to want to work at a company.

Finally, working for a tech company can often mean late hours and if the company culture is one that actively encourages employees to stay late or eat dinner in the office, for example, it automatically disadvantages employees with families – particularly female employees.

Reviewing the culture of your organisation and offering more flexible working hours, as we do at Apadmi, will help attract and retain more female staff.  Similarly, offering adequate and fair maternity leave to allow women to recover after giving birth, will ensure more new mothers return to work. For example, when Google increased paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 18 weeks, the number of new mothers who quit Google dropped by 50 percent.

The pressure is on for tech companies not only in the UK but right across the world to address the issue of gender inequality in the industry and encourage more women into tech. If we want to plug the gaping skills gap, more needs to be done to redress the imbalance and it needs to be done sooner rather than later.

How much do you know about tech’s most successful women? Try our quiz!