Back rear view photo of programmer, improving security system of her corporation by using artificial intelligence

Written by Ash Gawthorp, Chief Academy Officer at Ten10

When you hear ‘technician’, ‘software developer’ or even just ‘tech entrepreneur’, what sort of person do you initially picture? Most people would often automatically imagine a white male probably in his 30s or 40s.

The gap in women who work in STEM has been well documented over the last few years, and although there has been progress, it’s been slow. With only 30% of women occupying STEM roles in the UK, there isn’t enough being done. But we can’t speak about STEM roles in blanket terms; there are certain pockets of the industry that have larger imbalances. For instance, in the US, only 16.1% of all DevOps engineers are women compared with 34% of all technology programme managers.

Historically, tech has been a heavily male dominated industry. This often meant that it felt inaccessible to women and unfortunately, the tech sector today still feels like a world away for many women.

Diverse workforces are strong workforces and with the UK currently facing a persistent digital skills gap, businesses can’t afford to lose out on crucial untapped talent. Those businesses that harness the power of diversity are 70% more likely to capture more markets. We need to properly engage with the other half of the population, to build stronger tech businesses in the UK.

Breaking down these barriers that are preventing equality is the only way to champion female innovation. And a good starting point is changing the perception of tech to make it a more accepting place for women.

 

‘No Girls Allowed‘

It’s a long-term problem that needs to be looked at from a long-term perspective, starting with examining how we instil gender expectations at an early age. The problem is systemic with the seeds being planted in school and early education. Often seen as ‘male domains’, young girls are usually steered away from studying science and maths subjects, receiving notably lower levels of support from teachers, parents, and peers compared to boys when it comes to pursuing STEM careers.

This stereotyping at a young age inevitably then carries throughout education. Only 35% who take STEM subjects at university are women, which then turns into just a quarter going on to take up careers in tech.

Additionally, there are hurdles to jump over with the way that some subjects are taught in school. There is often unconscious messaging that subjects such as engineering, computer science and data science is “just maths”. But this is really misleading.

Maths is taught in schools through pure maths, something that is useful if you want to go on and do a maths degree but not quite as useful or engaging if you are wanting to take it in a more practical direction. In this sense, we often lose a lot of students along the way who decide that maths just isn’t for them.

 

Role Models are Essential

Role models play a huge part in encouraging more women to enter the world of tech, both in the workplace and in the wider media. With the distinct lack of female entrepreneurs or women in senior roles, particularly in tech, we see this chain creates a vicious cycle of discouragement and self-doubt.

Over half of women in tech leave before the midpoint of their career, according to research from McKinsey. A huge part of that is the fact that women are more likely to be passed over for a promotion, often due to bias from employers worried that working mothers won’t be as committed. For every 100 men who are promoted from entry-level roles to manager positions, only 87 women are promoted, a problem that isn’t only restricted to tech.

Without diversity in leadership, it’s been found that women are 20% less likely to gain support for their ideas. This leads to further entrenched feelings of imposter syndrome and not belonging in the industry. A lack of female leadership can also affect hiring and promotion decisions, propagating unconscious biases as well as the inadequacy of support for women in tech.

It follows that without representation, how can you see yourself successful in that career? The importance of role models in leadership positions shouldn’t be understated: it’s been proven that it has played a huge part in the persistence of gender stereotyping.

A strong female presence in tech is crucial, both in encouraging women to enter the industry and in playing a key role in career progression. Having those role models highlights the importance of determination and shows the potential of what can be achieved if you set your mind to it.

 

It’s a complex issue with no single solution

The recent reports that the gender pay gap has remained static, as high as 15% in tech, has proven that the government hasn’t done enough to support women in tech. We can start by supporting continued professional development and help form pathways for careers. Current methods aren’t cutting it and the government needs to direct funding into schemes that we know work; according to data from the UK Government, in 2021/22 only 53.4% of all apprenticeships were completed.

A huge part of this is also supporting women who are returning to the workforce, such as mothers. The government must work with employers to guarantee flexible options for mums, while also ensuring single parents have access to essential childcare services.

Fortunately, the tech industry is fully capable of creating work patterns around mothers and other people with caring responsibilities. We know from the last 3 years that flexible working is possible and putting structures in place that allow mothers to work around their responsibilities will encourage them to not just pursue, but excel, at a career in tech.

Funding is needed for reskilling schemes where women are equipped with tangible skills and tools in courses that they can see themselves reflected in by female mentors. These can become blueprints for their own successes. Opening accessibility for women will help both bridge inequality and grow UK businesses.