Why are there still not enough women in the technology sector?
October 01, 2015 by Lesley Reeve, COO, FISCAL Technologies
Even in 2015, there are a depressing number of news reports revealing a lack of women in technology jobs, including in the likes of technology giants Google and Facebook. With FISCAL Technologies recently receiving a Role Model award in the Enlightened Employer category of The Business Magazine’s Women in Business Awards 2015, I have been asked how technology companies can cut through the stereotypes and attract--then retain--women.
Firstly, are women so very different from men that they need their own recruitment and retention strategy? Yes. Women are a different breed and genetic tendencies kick in early to form stereotypical working traits. We are emotional creatures: we nurture, protect, and we are natural community builders. It goes without saying that we are also amazing multi-taskers, having to be a lead figure in family life and balance this with a meaningful career. There is a wealth of amazing female talent out there, who for many reasons, choose not to consider the technology sector for employment, let alone for building their careers and taking up senior leadership positions.
Nowadays, though, it is getting ‘cool’ to be a geek, and this will be great for the technology and science sectors. Therefore, opportunities to succeed in these sectors need to be presented to girls early in their lives, to show them anything is possible and to stop barriers growing their minds before their roots take hold.
The key to getting more women into technology roles - - coders, engineers, and scientists for example - is to reach girls at a rudimentary stage, from 8-13 years old, before the social conventions and gender tendencies kick in. The usual distractions and priorities of the female mind in this phase is what we need to penetrate with a creative, interesting and ‘hip’ approach. Businesses can support a number of good initiatives that encourage an increased number of girls at school to take up coding, or to get involved with computer clubs and so on. Girls want to see real, strong female role models that they can identify with though, and this is where I think local businesses can help more. I for one have been offering local schools my time to share insights and experiences with the students.
It’s not an overnight change though… think back to the late 1800s early 1900s, women were forbidden to participate in sports based on widely-held cultural assumptions that physical activity would damage reproduction! (Shocking). It took around 50 years to change opinion and embrace women in sports. Now, after a further 80 years, many female athletes, such as Jessica Ennis, are being named within the top 50 athletes of all times and as Role Models to young girls. Much better than the X-Factor singers appearing on reality shows and only being famous for their looks, lifestyle and latest boyfriends!
For me, after hiring that talent, I need to ensure I reach my employee retention goals. It is essential to create and foster a supportive environment for career growth. Employers can and more importantly, must, support career development and role transitions, especially so in this sector. We have direct experience of transitioning female employees from generalist roles into more technical ones once we unlocked hidden potentials.
- One of our talented female employees started as a receptionist and is now a business analyst
- Another majored in chemistry at Oxford, but then didn’t want to pursue a career in it. She joined us in a customer service role and then transitioned to the technology department, underwent training and is now a junior developer.
- Another of our analysts originally wanted to pursue a career in childcare, began her studies, but then abandoned them. She decided she wanted to pursue a job in the technology sector that offered her more of a future and felt more ‘respected’ than looking after children. She wanted a job that challenged her brain more. She started as the office manager at FISCAL and is now a data analyst.
So getting more women into techy roles can be a bit of a winding road. You can’t necessarily find women in the roles you want to hire for at the outset, but often you can develop them from within the organisation once they see possibilities, discover their own talents and choose a direction for their career development. The female disposition is less forceful but more adaptable and thus offers great flexibility to a company.
What about top management roles, either in tech roles (CTO) or just in a tech company?
It starts from the flow created from all the work discussed above. You have to build a pipeline of female talent and often this must be done from within. This will eventually bring women to the top roles.
But once again old, pervasive attitudes must change. It would be unheard of for a male board member to say, “I’ll be in at 8:30 after the school run, and then I’ll need to leave at 5 to pick up the kids again.” But this is often what is implicitly expected from women, so these long-standing perceptions and what is essentially cultural dogma, still have to change. And they are changing. As the old guard on boards are replaced with younger generations, revised roles and perceptions of both men and women in the workplace will come as well through an organic process. Only then will the mix of men and women at the top change. Only when employers truly believe that having women at the top will not be a hindrance to the business but rather will improve the bottom line, as already proven and published in various studies.
I also believe there is a particularly female way of looking at life that will start to shape workplaces and management boards-- a female framework, for lack of a better phrase. There is no such thing as a work/life balance. As I mentioned at the beginning, women take on work, family, personal well-being and development all in one pot. This pot is constantly being stirred up as priorities are juggled -- and very successfully for most. So I call it “blending”.
Women in senior management positions now have the chance to shape the composition of technology workplaces and boards and act as the catalyst to influence change for the future. I for one am excited to hold my position, be a role model and make a contribution to this momentum for change and live with the belief that in one more generation, we won’t be having this discussion.