The number of women working in tech is significantly lower than in other UK sectors with just 17% of tech roles held by women. Yet businesses are more aware than ever before about the importance of diversity for innovation, creativity and the bottom line.
As part of women in tech month, we talk to two of REPL’s female leaders and look at:
- Why diversity matters
- When gender differentials begin
- How women in tech are perceived
- How we can get more women into tech
Why Does Diversity Matter?
Our view of the world has been shaped for centuries by a single narrow perspective – that of men. Their lives have been taken as representative of everyone else’s. And this causes problems from minor issues, like voice recognition software that’s 70% more likely to recognise a male voice, to major life-changing risks.
One example of the more serious consequences of a world designed for men is road safety. Data shows that although men are more likely to be involved a car crash than women, when women are involved in crashes, they’re:
This all comes down to crash test dummies which were designed in 1950 and based on the average man: 1.77m tall, 76kg with male muscle-mass proportions and a male spinal column.
Data from crash testing influenced the design of cars. And of course they were designed around men. The result? With shorter legs, women need to sit closer to the dashboard in a more upright position putting them at greater risk of internal injury in frontal collisions. And car seat design also fails to support women’s backs placing females at greater risk of whiplash.
All of this begs the question: if women had been involved in designing and making cars, would cars be safer for people who don’t conform to the standard crash-test dummy size?
This is just one example, but it demonstrates the impact that narrow perspectives have on technology and ultimately, people’s lives.
Yet it’s well understood that even today, women are significantly under-represented in technology firms. And, as REPL’s Chief Executive Officer, Cerys Johnson recognises, the gender divide starts early.
Perception Starts Young
As the mother of a boy and two girls, Cerys has seen the impact of social expectations at first hand: “Even in their early years, four to eight-year-old girls won’t play on a table at nursery with ‘boys’ things’ as they’ve been brought up to think they can only play with certain toys. And that boys are adventurous and outspoken, that they do tech and games. Such a degree of socialisation is extremely damaging.”
These gender expectations impact female education throughout their lives. At GCSE level, there’s a fairly good degree of parity between girls and boys taking STEM subjects. And for subjects like biology, maths and additional science, more girls take these subjects than boys.
But by A-level, the split is 57% with more young men than women studying STEM and at university, female representation drops even further to 24%. Of course this translates to even fewer women in tech in the workplace.
The problem seems to be more pronounced in the UK than some other EU countries: the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, at less than 10%. While Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus lead with nearly 30% representation.
What Needs to Happen to Get More Women into Tech Jobs?
Research from PwC suggests a number of reasons as to why there are so few women in tech:
- 78% of students can’t name a famous woman working tech – more female role models will make a career in tech jobs appear achievable
- 16% of females have had a career in tech suggested to them compared to 33% of males – teachers need to address this skew at school and beyond with positive messages for females as well as males
- 5% of leadership positions in the technology sector are held by women – addressing challenges that are typically female, like childcare and flexible working, will help more women break the glass ceiling
- 50% of women want to work in a field that makes a difference – show how technology can make the world a better place and women might be more tempted to follow a career in tech
Although there’s a steep hill to climb, there’s a huge range of roles in tech that go well beyond coding. With something for everyone, there’s an opportunity to match individual women’s interests to an exciting and rewarding career. But how should employers go about doing this?
As Cerys says: “REPL is definitely less male dominated than your average tech company although there are still more men who work here. History is part of reason that tech is male dominated. While history has by definition happened, we do have the opportunity to change the future.”
More Role Models
Highlighting the impact that women have made to the world of tech is one way of opening more women’s eyes to the trailblazers in the field.
It’s also down to other tech firms to ensure they follow the lead of companies like REPL by putting female tech workers forward to speak at events. As Cerys notes: “By giving women representation at women in tech initiatives and engaging locally with our communities, we can support women and girls into and through the routes into tech.”
Promoting Better-Balanced Tech Firms
“The point at which the penny dropped with me was when we discussed diversity of thinking at REPL”, says Cerys. “I suddenly realised, if we only recruit middle class, middle-aged white men, we’re more likely to think in the same way. But throw in someone with a different perspective and you’ll get a more productive discussion. And a richer basis from which to make better decisions.”
REPL has taken a number of positive steps to make the firm a best-in-class employer for women including setting up a women’s group, establishing a culture of female empowerment and following best practice in recruitment.
Of course, empowering women doesn’t mean ignoring men as Liz notes: “we encourage ideas from across the board, by females or males in terms of inclusivity and diversity.”
By being truly inclusive for all humans, REPL aims to make everyone comfortable so they can perform at their best and achieve their individual and collective goals and aspirations.
Encouraging Women to Pursue STEM Subjects
Despite all the work going into making STEM subjects and careers more open to women, there’s a long way to go.
Cerys’ advice to any women making the leap into STEM is to: “believe in yourself”. By referencing back to yourself, rather than worrying what other people have to say, women can go a long way to counteracting social pressures. As Cerys notes: “Everyone doubts themselves at times, but self belief is the key to resilience and by backing yourself, you’ll go a long way.”
Liz echoes these thoughts but also adds: “Women in tech will often find themselves in meetings full of men so it’s important for women to embrace their own voice and way of thinking. It might be unique and that’s good. If the only thing holding you back is fear that’s when you should jump.”