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There is a higher proportion of women in Parliament than in British tech. None of the world’s biggest technology companies were founded by women. Only a tiny majority of the investors funding the sector in the UK and the US are women. And an even smaller percentage of the coders, software developers and product managers in the industry are women. 

Gender inequality. It’s the ugly truth undermining the progress of British technology. Anyone who claims that tech, the UK’s fastest growing sector, doesn’t have a diversity problem is either delusional or lying.

 Why is this so? Is it true that women can’t teach themselves to code? Is it true that the gung-ho entrepreneurial mentality doesn’t come naturally to women? Are women unable to take the imaginative leap of creating an idea that is truly ground breaking, truly new? Of course not.

 The problem is straightforward. Technology is a male-dominated industry which has  created more products for a male-dominated audience; a global trend that’s hugely significant for the UK’s tech sector.  Not enough women are enjoying the higher paid jobs that the sector is creating. In addition  they are missing from the global influence the huge tech Ceo  

giants enjoy.  This is a self-fulfilling cycle that alienates half the population and must be stopped. Technology’s gender bias, much like the lack of diversity at a corporate level, feels as old as time. There is a clear consensus that this is a problem that must be addressed, but yet the numbers stay the same.

 Enough is enough. Half a dozen female entrepreneurs do not mask the scale of the problem. Every single person working in the technology industry has a responsibility to recognise the need for more women to enter digital careers and cry out for change.

 Despite best efforts, the vocabulary of sentiment and motivation has failed to improve the situation – and so I resort to the language of economy and industry. Diversity breeds competition and improves the quality of products. A more diverse workforce will produce better platforms, more intuitive lines of code and find unattainable answers. In short, more women in tech will help us create better tech companies more frequently.

 Tapping into the female workforce would dramatically increase productivity within the fastest growing sector in the UK. Digital businesses currently employ more than 1.4m people in the UK, yet many have long-term vacancies they cannot fill. Encouraging women into digital careers would eradicate this problem, fuelling faster growth in this industry.

 Britain’s tech sector has bold ambitions to be recognised as a global force. Against the might of Silicon Valley and the emerging digital economies of China and India, this is no mean feat. Yet if Britain were to take a stand on the issue of diversity, it would create an identity that resonates across this global technology community we so desperately seek to impress. This sense of purpose would not only mark us out; it is what will allow us to realise our potential.

 I invited members of the Tech London Advocates Women in Tech working group to the House of Lords on Monday to mark the start of London Technology Week. For too long the question of diversity in business has rest with government, but we will set out how the private sector can drive change. It was a fantastic event full of men and women determined to help be part of the change. I salute all the work they do.

 The government has provided huge support for the digital sector over the last few years  introducing policies that accelerated growth at unprecedented rates. But women stayed away, continuing to be left out of the conversation.

 Any solution to this huge inequality must come partly from within the private sector. It is business’s responsibility demand better from the sector, working with policymakers to implement radical change. Nothing should be off the table: if women-only shortlists for senior positions are what it takes to tip the scales, so be it.

 People ask if the next Google could be produced in Britain. Chances are someone already has that idea in their head and, statistically speaking, chances are that person is a women. Letting that idea fade because of a lack of access to digital skills, a lack of opportunity or the reluctance of a closed industry would be an outrage.

7 thoughts on “An urgent challenge for the tech sector 

  1. This really is an old argument that belongs in the 1990’s. It is folly to call for more employers to employ women simply because they are ‘underrepresented’. If you are looking for true equality then women should have to work their way up the chain, similar to how men have to. If they get short-cuts purely based on gender then that is not equality.

      • You just end up by creating more bias by installing colleagues who gained their position on gender instead of merit. Fighting fire with fire doesn’t work and doesn’t create any respect for said employee, particularly amongst those who have worked hard but been passed over for the position simply because they don’t fit the right demographics. In fact, you go backwards, creating resentment which probably worsens the culture, not bettering it.

  2. John, there is an almost endless supply of research that shows that women of equal merit do not get equal chances in sectors and roles that are considered to be male. Since the famous Goldberg studies in the 1960s, psychologists and HR specialists have been assessing the consistently detrimental impact of being female on consideration for new jobs, for promotions, for project leadership and assignments and pay. Simply having a female name on a CV, but identical CV content, means the female cv gets pushed down the pile.
    Merit does not work as a balanced mechanism for women in traditionally male workplaces or for work percieved as male.
    In addition, women who counter the work stereotypes and pursue their engineering or IT passion and flair then encounter workplace cultures that, for many, are beyond endurance. Cultures which are great for guys but not for women. Is there a shareholder out there that would tolerate sub-optimal business performance because a skewed workplace culture prevented the attraction and retention of talent.
    Evidence that having a critical mass of women at the top significantly increases business performance is driving governments to seize this economic imperative. Our government has done so in a half-hearted and poorly targeted way.
    Martha Lane-Fox is, of course, spot on. It is up to organisations to grasp this glaring opportunity and take the high ground. Change is always uncomfortable for those set in the old ways – great leadership and real commitment is required. And Middle Management must be monitored and measured to ensure compliance as this is a key area where so many comapanies trying to implement gender diversity are failing.

    http://www.womenssatnav.co.uk

  3. Diane, you neglected to mention when you refer to ‘studies’ (the study also depends on who paid for it and what their agenda was) that many women do not take up jobs such as engineering, maths and computing because…..*shock horror*, they simply don’t want to. Many want other careers. It isn’t about not getting opportunity. There are countless recruitment drives that simply don’t work. As the saying goes, you can lead the horse to water but can’t force it to drink. Those that do take up the work, *and are good enough*, make the grade. Those that aren’t good enough scream equal opportunities. You make the blanket assumption that all women are as good as if not better than their male counterparts, which simply isn’t true. I have witnessed huge incompetance in both genders.

    When you refer to male culture, male cultures get on with the job. That’s what men do. Have you ever worked in an environment dominated by women? I’m long enough in the tooth to have experienced both and I can assure you that a womens workplace culture involves covertly knifing each other in the back, creating factions and wasting lots of time. You’re really barking up the wrong tree here.

    • John, The studies I refer to are those published in peer-reviewed psychology journals which conform to scientific rigor and the additional gender-ethics framework introduced into the discipline some 30 years ago to prevent bias in analysis, in findings and in publication.
      You are also wrong about the reasons why women don’t take up careers in STEM industries at the rate that men do. Fortunately some of the biggest engineering organisations and their professional bodies do understand the real reasons and are working with schools to help them address the myth that girls aren’t as good at or as likely to enjoy the related subjects and the careers they lead to.
      Clearly, recruitment drives will struggle to be successful if the pipeline from education is limited, so that is what is being addressed by a range of brilliant initiatives.
      I’m not sure where you get your evidence from to suggest women ‘scream equal opportunities’ if they don’t get on. It’s actually some of the most respected global consultancies that have evaluated the question of slower progression and fewer women at the top that have identified the (mainly unconscious) bias in decision-making that contributes to men being advantaged from an equal level of capability – not a lack of ambition, of talent or potential.
      I’m afraid that you are also showing classic in-group prejudice and distortion of facts when you say that male cultures get on with the job, inferring that women don’t. Sadly your extreme position exemplifies the nonsense women still face when they choose to do the stuff they love in these industries.
      However, we are here for them and will address such prejudice with facts and demonstrate the truth about the value to businesses and to economies of enabling all talent to be valued and developed.

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