Article by Nuria Manuel, QA Technical Lead, Distributed

Women working with computer for design and coding programThe tech industry has long been at the vanguard of opening up the world – whether connecting people and ideas to developing new tools to allow people to have successful working lives.

While tech is undoubtedly responsible for many of the innovations that have got us through the last year and increased national productivity, there remains a disconnect between the industry and the number of female workers in the sector, especially at executive level.

Currently, just 19% of the tech workforce is made up of women. Whether deficiencies in the education system, a lack of effective role models or imposter syndrome, there are a number of key reasons contributing to this imbalance. But there are so many opportunities on offer in the industry and businesses are crying out for talent.

This is not just about equality for businesses. A lack of diversity will significantly limit innovation because when the pool of candidates a firm can hire from is restricted (directly or indirectly), we naturally reduce the quality of talent and diversity of thought.

Fortunately, a silver lining to the pandemic has been the opportunity its granted businesses to broaden their pool of talent. Remote working has shown we don’t have to all be in the same room to collaborate productively and efficiently. As a result, the working world has opened its eyes to be more focused on recruitment practices that are more focused on skills rather than geography. This gives women a greater chance to work for tech companies in traditional hubs, which may not have been possible before.

Beyond the grassroots issues restricting diversity in tech, there are many initiatives and processes that can be put in place by businesses to make the industry’s workplaces more inclusive for women.

Keeping the virtual door open

Companies need to reflect on how and where they work. When a business forces its employees to work from a centralised office space, it limits the pool of talent it can choose from to just those who are within a commutable distance. That’s ruled out thousands of skilled workers that could have been suitable for the job. Ultimately, it’s bad for business.

Taking a remote first approach is a sure-fire way to increase flexibility and inclusivity in the workplace. Tech firms don’t necessarily have an advantage here, as firms across all sectors should be striving to give their staff more flexibility. More than where the workforce is located, flexibility also refers to when and how. As such, remote working offers new opportunities to groups who were disadvantaged by an office-based structure or were unable to commute, such as working mums. However, businesses must keep in mind that when embracing this model, they must still encourage a good work life balance. Normal 9 to 5 hours don’t work for everyone and it’s down to employers to give their staff the flexibility to work when suits them.

For example, as a result of the pandemic, Distributed made the decision to become a 100% remote workforce. This decision wasn’t just about saving money, it was about being a frontrunner in a new era for the tech industry and business practices more broadly.

Reconfiguring behaviour

Firms can ensure women feel as though they belong in the sector by allowing them to have key decision-making roles in the business. It’s also important to champion and celebrate key awareness days within the business, such as International Women’s Day, to show both current and prospective employees that the business fosters a diverse environment.

Throughout the company culture, organisations must also define what constitutes constructive, inclusive behaviour and highlight examples of it in action. It can be a great idea for firms to engage regularly with their female employees and gauge their opinions on what is working and what isn’t within current processes.

Embracing the wider network

To address this challenge, business leaders must encourage and empower their employees to foster a deeper appreciation of colleagues’ opinions and skills and nurture a culture of idea sharing. For example, the most effective ways that I have experienced include highlighting female employee stories and experiences within organisations – either via blogs, video or social media – and mixing up teams to bring diverse views into them.

External networking is also key, providing a platform for women to share experiences and establish role models in the industry. However, networking itself isn’t what raises wider awareness. As women in a male-dominated industry, we are very familiar with the broader issue, so the aim of networking should be to build alliances and collaborative initiatives that drive awareness further afield.

Forums, such as Ministry of Testing, Allbright and Women in Tech, give the space (physical and virtual) for female tech workers to discuss and collaborate with other people in the industry about how diversity and equality issues can be overcome. But while these forums are important for networking with other people in the industry who have the same values, they aren’t effective enough on their own to drive change – we need to shout louder.

Looking forward

The technology sector is ultimately still far too male-dominated. The crux of the issue is that not enough women even consider it as a career path in the first place, which means the pipeline of female talent is very small.

It is therefore vital that education institutions and businesses in the industry work together closely to better promote the career options available and make women feel better when they start them.

WeAreTechWomen covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in technology, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here

Don’t forget, you can also follow us via our social media channels for the latest up-to-date gender news. Click to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube