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Balancing the workforce in the tech industry

 
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Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Baroness Trumpington. These women and many others were vital to developments in computer science and technology since the 1800s. But fast forward to the present day and the number of women entering technology professions is stagnating, and in some industries, even falling.

This month we marked International Women's Day and it's got us thinking about how the tech industry should be striving for a more diverse workforce and how emerging data technologies can help to achieve this. This post explores some of the most striking research on the topic of gender diversity as well as some of the best initiatives that aim to combat the gender pay gap, gender imbalances and the underlying sexism that still exists in boardrooms today.

Reinventing the workplace

We all know the benefits of having a gender balanced team: gender diversity is positively correlated with profitability, innovation and economic growth. A McKinsey report from 2018 which demonstrated this also made a number of interesting findings including the sheer scale of balancing the gender gap, predicting that closing the gap in Western Europe could add over $2trillion to its economy by 2025.

Additionally, the report made suggestions that could help both businesses and governments encourage diversity:

  • Education is key. Over 60% of businesses don’t know how to act on gender diversity.

  • Company culture and leadership style are important factors in successfully creating a gender balanced workforce.  

  • Governments should promote holistic change programmes to remove traditional barriers that women face.

Community

Lack of gender diversity in tech startups often stems from lack of diversity in its founder’s network (which, in a company’s early days is often the source of leads, clients and hires). It’s vital for leaders to look outside of their own networks. Projects such as TechUK’s Women in Tech programme, or the Girls Who Code organisation exist to close the gender gap in technology, and they’re changing the face of tech recruitment and education for women.

Women in Tech

The recent Women in Tech study conducted by PwC found that just 27% percent of female A Level and university students say that they would consider a career in technology and only 3% say it would be their first choice.

The figures on women working in the tech industry and, in particular, the proportion of leadership roles held by women (it’s just 5%, by the way) are alarming enough but these statistics show that the disparity between men and women starts way earlier, stemming from upbringing and education..

Perhaps, additionally, tech companies aren’t doing enough to attract female talent. Bringing together this point and the previous two, educating businesses on gender diversity is key as are programmes such as Women in Tech.

The Gender of Our Tech

This article, so far, has explored a number of steps we need to take to improve gender diversity in the tech industry. But what about the tech itself? Has bias, discrimination and lack of diversity already been ingrained into the software we use?

Take AI personal voice assistants as an example. Why are they, by default, female? Alexa. Siri is a female name of Scandinavian origin. Though it’s probably not their intention, the teams that are building this kind of software are embedding outdated gender norms.

Although a slightly different angle to the other points this article has covered, this is a real issue that needs to be addressed if men and women are to achieve parity in tech as well as other industries. In the voice assistant example, experts are already trying to create a solution by using using machine learning to break down the elements of voice, such as tone and pitch, and then use this to create a voice that is completely androgynous.

Conclusion

The challenges of attracting women to work in tech go way beyond education exposure and recruitment processes. The underlying culture in tech companies needs to evolve if they are  to hire and retain top female talent. To reap the benefits of a diverse workforce, businesses need to look outside of their traditional networks, to educate their leaders and their staff, and as a result, create a culture that promotes diversity.

 
BlogsKatie Lockett