Women in tech: What's the landscape look like in the UK?

As the world marks International Women’s Day, recent data shows that women still face challenges getting ahead in the UK tech sector.

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The number of women working in technology has continued to increase over the past year, with 31% of UK tech jobs held by women, according to a February report released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

However, while the data set shows progress, other statistics indicate that women in the UK are still widely underrepresented in IT professional and leadership roles.

Preliminary data from the Harvey Nash Tech Survey 2021 shows that gender diversity of UK technology leaders remains broadly unchanged from last year, with women representing just 10% in those roles. The full report, due to be launched later this month, surveyed more than 800 tech professionals in the UK and more than 1,700 globally.

Harvey Nash asked tech pros in the UK how much they agreed with the statement that the tech industry is doing enough to promote female participation in technology; 40% of those surveyed in the UK disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement.

When the figures were broken down by gender, the report found that more women than men in technology in the UK disagreed with the statement. More than half (54%) of female tech professionals in the UK feel the industry is not doing enough; of that group, almost three times as many women in the UK strongly disagree the tech sector is doing enough.

Christie Struckman, research vice president at Gartner, said her firm's research shows that companies with higher levels of equal representation are more profitable, an companies with at least one woman on the board of directors outperform those without any women by 26%.

“The responsibility to fix [the] gender gap and increase retention of females in the workforce rests with the CIO and the IT leader,” Struckman said. “Apart from participating actively in employee resource groups, CIOs and IT leaders need to lead the organisation into a culture that is more inclusive and conducive to growth of women in IT.”

Inclusion needs to start earlier

The findings highlighted by Harvey Nash are in line with data from UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) that shows girls and young women are similarly underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) university courses.

Computer science-related degrees have seen a relatively low percentage of female graduates, with the percentage fluctuating between 15% and 16% from 2015 to 2019. Those low participation levels in technical courses are reflected in the small percentage of women holding tech roles in the UK.

Bev White, chief executive of the Harvey Nash Group, believes that in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak and Brexit, the UK tech landscape will significantly change.

“Digital will be at the heart of the revolution,” she said. “Tech will be more important than ever and alongside this, societal appreciation of the importance of inclusion is growing all the time. I’m confident that we will see real progress in terms of women’s participation in the tech sector. We are on an irresistible path to a different kind of society and tech must reflect this.”

While the coronavirus pandemic has put technology and the digital workplace front and centre in many jobs, a recent whitepaper published by STEM Women found that 60% of female STEM students have had their future career prospects affected by the pandemic. A recent report from Kaspersky also found that 47% of women working in technology believe the effects of COVID-19 have delayed their career progression.

Computer science and technology fields show the largest gender imbalances, from current student, to graduates and the workforce. One study found that in 2019, only 21% of IT technician roles in the UK were held by women, a figure that has remained largely static since 2015.

Tackling this inequality is not a new priority for organisations in the industry and while some initiatives have begun to have an impact, work remains to be done.

What companies can do

When capturing the views of women working in UK tech, the Harvey Nash Tech Survey 2021 found one key area where significantly more women than men (32% more) feel support is needed: in providing additional apprenticeships and cross-training opportunities. Those surveyed also want more flexible working opportunities to balance other life commitments and better engagement in schools, colleges, and universities. Both men and women saw those as crucial to building more diverse teams.

“As our research shows, there are many facets to this and multiple factors that can help shift the dial: remote working, mentoring, diversity and inclusion training and awareness, apprenticeship and entry schemes, better outreach to schools and colleges, positive messaging,” White said.

However, she warned that diversity must not be seen simply as a "project"; instead, it requires a sustained cultural and mindset shift.

“Change needs to be systemic and coordinated, not a set of disparate initiatives. Government has a key role to play in this — it can help set the agenda at so many levels,” she said.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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