By Tanya Field, Co-Founder and CPO
It was my honour to have recently been shortlisted for the Great British Businesswomen Awards, an annual event that celebrates female leaders across a range of industries. The organisers put on a fantastic show, and I was pleased to see a good representation of leaders from my own technology industry – truly inspirational women such as BT’s Nektaria Efthymiou and Amazon’s Beth Knight. However, it did get me thinking. Despite some progress there remains a depressing lack of women in technology. In fact, women make up less than a third of the world’s workforce in technology-related fields. In the EU just 17% of ICT professionals are women.
Of course, gender equality is the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint. But there are many other good reasons for wanting to increase the representation of women in the sector. For one, a more balanced workforce is shown to improve business outcomes. Research suggests that companies with a gender-balanced executives are 25% more likely to record higher profits than their peers. In the tech sector, female leaders have been found to be more capital-efficient, securing on average 35% higher ROI than men.
When considering why we need to address the lack of women in tech, it’s also worth remembering the outsized contribution technology has on modern societies and culture. Digital technology is quite literally making the modern world. Without more women on board to influence how this technology is developed and deployed, the world will continue to be largely designed by and for men.
One of the biggest reasons for the lack on women in technology fields is that there has been only limited success in attracting school-age girls into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) subjects. As a result, fewer women than men are going on to study STEM subjects at university as a precursor to working in the tech sector. Recent analysis shows that just 26% of people studying STEM courses are female.
Things are improving, but at a snails’ pace and despite efforts by schools, universities, and industry to address the women in technology gap. From coding clubs to apprenticeship programmes and much else besides, a range of initiatives tailored for young girls are seeking to boost interest and participation in STEM fields but they are only having limited impact.
Creating a gender-balanced tech sector is proving to be an intractable challenge. The dial is not shifting as far or as fast as it needs to – so it’s time to redouble our efforts. For one, we need much more of the type of initiatives already in place: more coding clubs, more apprenticeships, more awards to celebrate successes and raise the profile of women in tech, and more corporate-led women in tech programmes. We need businesses to engage more often and fully in schools and universities to help grow that grassroots interest and provide women with clear and attractive career paths.
By doubling down on what is working today we can hopefully increase the pace of change. But this will not be sufficient to drive change on the scale that’s needed. We therefore need to try brand new approaches.
One is addressing the simple fact that far too few young girls aspire to a job in tech. There are many reasons for why this is the case, from a lack of role models in the sector to the perception that tech is too “geeky”. This perception needs to change so that tech careers are seen as aspirational. That means clearly demonstrating the power of tech jobs and their outsized impact on our societies, but it also means engaging with young people in new ways.
Social media is a case in point. Influencers are highly effective at winning the hearts and minds of young people for a whole array of things – some more useful than others. We can learn much from how people and trends become popular on social media and influence young people’s choices. These lessons can then be applied to help positively influence young girls to consider careers in tech by demonstrating how rich and rewarding careers in the sector can be.
Today, technology touches on most parts of our lives. It’s arguably the single most important force for change on the planet and it’s remodelling the world daily. Yet women have little input in this story. Until they do, technology’s benefits will not be fully realised.
Change is happening, but far too slowly. It’s time for bigger change with greater efforts at the grassroots level to show young girls just how exciting the sector is, underpinned by cross-fertilisation between businesses and schools to drive that message home. This challenge can be solved, and it’s high time that we did so.