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Article by Mary Connaughton, Code Institute

A little less conversation a little more action is clearly needed when it comes to women in tech. For the past decade we’ve had more platitudes than progress – 11% of UK software developers are female – zero change.

Long-term, the economic and professional impact of this on women’s livelihoods will be disproportionately negative given the acceleration in digitisation and the hardening link between marketable tech skills, earning potential and job security.

When leaders talk about gender balance in tech, they often speak about it in a very broad sense, early intervention at primary and secondary school,  mentorships and resource groups at an industry level. Too often the focus is simply on discussing the benefits of having more women in the tech space rather than considering why this aspiration is not being realised.

Currently, 9% ( 3 million people) of the UK workforce are employed in the tech sector,  yet only 26% of these are women and  at 11% the percentage in coding or developer roles is less than half that. As the sector rapidly expands,  the gender gap is widening as fewer female graduates emerge and those that do continue to leave the sector in greater numbers. There are long standing, fundamental  barriers that need to be addressed if anything is to chage.

A practical, hands-on approach

A cohesive approach involving education, industry and learners themselves is needed, particularly to inform policy and to  create more opportunities for women who are already in the workforce or returning to the workforce.  It’s not realistic to go back to college for three or four years to get these skills – the barriers remain the same.

To that end, Code Institute hopes its Coding Careers for Women initiative provides a faster,  more practical solution. The first cohort was run 2021/22 as  a joint initiative between Code Institute, Limerick and Clare Education Board, the Mid-West Regional Skills Forum and Limerick For IT representing local industry.

Twenty women who were unemployed or out of the workplace from the Limerick and Clare region participated in the initiative that included a nine-month diploma in software development and a three-month work placement. The online, flexible delivery of the  programme bypasses many of the barriers women can face particularly the ability to travel and attend classroom based training around other commitments; the all-female cohort is less intimidating for participants; while the opportunity to use skills in a workplace setting while being mentored is a game changer for those changing careers into the tech sector.

The tech companies who backed the initiative committed to providing worplacements, many of which led to full-time jobs. A progressive alternative to traditional graduate recruitment and one which these companies see real value in according to John Cormican, General Manager, Vehicle Engineering, Jaguar Land Rover, Shannon, “This is a fantastic way to give back and, personally, learn different aspects of mentoring. The project is a huge learning curve for the mentees and really helps build their confidence after such a lengthy career break – as it can sometimes be quite challenging to go back into the workplace.”

Why an all-women cohort matters

The course is made up of an all-women cohort, which facilitator Kasia Bogucka said is important for creating a safe, supportive environment.

“Women often feel intimidated by the competitiveness, sometimes aggressive approach of some males in this industry, hence they may feel inadequate,” she said.

“This feeling is not aligned with these women’s abilities. My first female cohort I worked with was a group of women who immediately came together and created a safe learning environment. One without arrogance and so-called chest-thumping, which often may be observed in male groups.”

Bogucka added that members of the group bonded as teammates. “Students became colleagues and almost friends as they were all working as a whole team – a team of women in coding.”

Siobhan Gorman is a graduate of the Coding Careers For Women initiative, having joined after she had taken a career break to raise her family.

“If the course hadn’t mentioned targeting women I would not have considered it – I liked the idea that the course would address the particular constraints facing women who want a career in tech,” she said.

“With an all-female cohort, we understood where we were all coming from with respect to the particular demands and constraints on women, especially after taking a career break or juggling looking after children and working. Women are very supportive and we formed a tight-knit team who shared problems and found solutions together.”

Gorman’s placement is  with Jaguar Land Rover, R&D Software Engineering Centre in Shannon, Co Clare, which is helping build her skills every day and where she is mentored.

“My ambition is to work in a company like Jaguar Land Rover in a team as a junior developer with a view to becoming a scrum master possibly after some more experience in an agile team.”

We know what the barriers to women in tech are, we’ve talked about them long enough. Actual change requires actual action by a network of allies with the will and determination to create the opportunities for women to succeed. As Coding Careers for Women shows, it can be done.

About the author

Mary Connaughton works with Code Insitute on tech sector education initiatives with strong employment outcomes. These include initiatives to tackle gender imbalance in the tech sector and tech skills programmes for unemployed people and those whose jobs are at risk. These involve bringing together stakeholders from government bodies, digital skills partnerships and employers to identify the skills needs of a region and deliver a response that meets those needs in an accelerated timeframe.

If you’re interested in moving the dial on women in tech and would like to discuss partnering on a Coding Careers for Women cohort please contact [email protected].