Gender diversity in tech | Why men must be part of the solution
With our lives becoming ever more digital, automated and connected, it’s no surprise that the global information technology industry is on track to reach in excess of $5.3 trillion by the end of 2022. A high growth industry with tremendous opportunities for many and varied careers and yet, gender diversity has been low over the years compared with other industries.
According to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2021, women make up just 14% of the workforce in cloud computing, 20% in engineering, and 32% in data and AI. A recent Tech Nation report that looked specifically into diversity in UK tech companies also revealed that 77% of tech director roles are today filled by men and suggested that only 19% of the UK tech workforce are women.
With circa 600,0001 vacancies in digital technology in the UK, it is clear the sector is not attracting and including all the available talent, costing the UK economy an estimated £63 billion2 each year.
Tech is a fast paced, entrepreneurial industry with some of the highest paying professions and you don’t have to be ‘techie’ to work in the sector. Roles available vary from company to company and, contrary to common thinking, skills often attributed more to the female gender – critical thinking, flexibility, collaboration and communication – are sought after attributes in candidates. With today’s hybrid, remote and flexible working solutions clearly more acceptable to many more businesses, why do we continue to see a gender diversity malaise in this industry?
At Amrop UK, we work with a wide range of mid-market technology companies supporting their executive search, talent and board development and what we know, just like all industries, is that a number of strategies need to be employed to both attract and retain women in the sector. But what seems to be key is that male leaders, even when recognising they have a gender diversity issue in a business, often still recruit those who look like them, talk like them and think like them. It’s simply comfortable.
What they struggle to realise is when people look at the same problem from diverse perspectives – whether gender or ethnicity – ideas are often challenged, and the path isn’t quite as smooth. However, as an industry driven by innovation, this is critical to disruption in the tech sector and to keeping the ideas tap switched on.
In addition, when companies try to address this problem, they often focus their efforts on the women in the business in terms of training and support. However, experience shows that this is often not sufficient to bring about change. The focus is too narrow and essentially segregates the issue to being a female-only issue rather than positioning it as a broader company performance problem. Of course, in the tech industry, there are often too few women anyway to produce the required impact, so men do need to join their efforts for companies to be successful.
We recognise that many tech companies are addressing their diversity gaps, creating more inclusive work environments and providing employees with the resources they need to work effectively and grow. The industry is also trying to help itself with initiatives like the Tech Talent Charter, an employer-led, non-profit organisation leading a movement to address inequality in the UK and drive inclusion and diversity in a practical and measurable way. But with the pace of change slow and the data still lagging, more needs to be done outside of the predictable work/life balance strategies, equitable compensation and mentoring programmes.
Our view at Amrop UK is that men must be part of the solution. First and foremost, senior male leaders (as the prevalent gender) must own the issue and ensure the education of everyone in the business – bottom to top. This is especially important for start-ups where the pace of change is rapid, and leaders are often inexperienced in managing their diversity situation.
Second, create a mixed team to lead out the strategy and deliver buy-in with a data-based business case (there’s plenty of statistics out there!) to ensure everyone understands the prize that comes from true diversity of thinking. For example, Debbie Forster MBE, Founder of the Tech Talent Charter, states that: “Diverse companies have a 45% increased chance of growing their market share. 75% have an increased chance of capturing new markets.”
Third, Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking said: “The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding.” But to truly understand the diversity situation we must first develop accurate data on the make-up of the organisation as it grows and changes, as well as create valuable feedback loops on perceptions of the situation. This information will be invaluable to delivering action, rather than talk, and real performance improvement.
Finally, work hard at breaking the mould – learn to hire from more talent pools and partners you’ve not considered before and rewrite job descriptions losing masculine terms such as “control”, “master”, “experienced”. Remember, women will only apply for roles if they feel extremely confident they have the skills to apply; in contrast to males who will apply even with only 40% of the boxes ticked!
And finally, actively sponsor a high potential woman in the organisation to advance and develop; advocating for her at key points in her career into transfers and promotions, as well as enabling the individual to become a role model for others. Sponsorship is far more than simply watching out for an individual and providing mentoring where required. It’s a proactive strategy to ensure those with the requisite skills make it through the many roadblocks that can occur in any career to create the breakthrough required.
The data clearly indicates that managing diversity and inclusion effectively results in improved operational and financial performance. This type of success can only occur though if the entire organisation is engaged and specifically, if men are willing to take ownership of the performance improvement, join their female counterparts and get involved in owning the equitable workplace.
1 2018 Inclusive Tech Alliance Report
2 2018 Edge Foundation Report