There are more women in tech than ever before – but it’s not exactly time to celebrate writes Grace Tattersall, Partner at Anderson Quigley.

A report by Deloitte published last year revealed female representation in tech is on the rise. Globally, women gained 11.7% representation in technical roles from 2019 to 2022. Women are gaining ground in the industry – yet when we zero in on leadership roles, we see what progress is being made is slight, and far too slow. Only 25% of senior tech positions are currently held by women.

Tech’s reputation as a male-dominated sector persists

Women are still struggling to break down the barriers to senior leadership, continuing to be underrepresented, underpaid, and too often overlooked in the field.

I work in the public sector appointing tech and IT leaders to a range of charities, NGOs, housing associations and universities. I’ve always known my success appointing women in these roles happens more frequently than in their equivalent private sector positions.

Yet even in the public sector women continue to be underrepresented as leaders. Neither side is winning this race… so the question is, how do we implement purposeful change and win together?

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

A fundamental challenge in tech is there simply aren’t enough women entering the talent pipeline. This is a primary barrier to improving gender equity in the field.

Recent research by PWC with over 2,000 A-Level and university students surveyed, revealed the gender gap in technology “starts at school and carries on through every stage of girls’ and women’s lives”. A mere 27% of female students surveyed said they would consider a career in technology, compared to 61% of their male counterparts, and only 3% said it would be their first choice.

The power of representation cannot be underestimated – it has an incredible impact on the education and career choices each of us makes.

If you are not exposed to a particular sector, or do not see someone who looks like you in a given line of work, you are less likely to see that as a desirable or even viable career path for yourself.

This is an ongoing challenge in STEM – and something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. A persistent lack of female role models reinforces the outdated perception that technology is a male profession, and not something girls should consider or pursue. The sector’s gender representation does not improve, and the cycle continues.

In order to bring about real change, we must support and develop the talented women already in the sector to progress and achieve their leadership ambitions – then champion them far and wide to inspire our youngest generations of women to enter the profession.

Lessons from the nonprofit world on gender equality

Globally, women represent 46% of the public sector workforce compared with 33% in the private sector.

This is in part due to the public sector’s long reputation for offering flexible working models that support people with parental duties – most often women – to balance their professional lives with childcare.

Parental responsibilities are a key factor preventing many women progressing in their careers. We can remove this barrier by offering flexible working models and placing higher value on a work-life balance for employees. Flexible and hybrid modes of working were widespread in the public sector even before the pandemic. Part-time roles and job shares have long been a norm. Recruiting women into the charity sector has always been easier because of flexible working.

The pandemic only solidified this trend – and triggered its mass adoption in the private sector too. It’s a simple development that is generating real results. Across the tech space, there are more women being appointed into board level positions than ever before, increasing by over six percentage points between 2015 and 2019, and hitting 20.1% in 2021.

In my work, I am seeing an increase of women in mid-managerial and directorial roles, however there is less progress moving further up the ladder to chief operating officer or chief executive.

There is still clearly work to be done, but the direction of travel is promising.

Getting more women into tech by removing hiring biases

Offering more flexible modes of working won’t see us achieve our goals alone. Unconscious bias also play a crucial role in keeping women out of the top positions. At Anderson Quigley we work with organisations across the public sector, appointing talented leaders to drive their missions forward.

Ensuring an unbiased hiring process is a key element of our support for clients. We work with each organisation to examine their processes and ensure the language in job adverts is neutral, men and women are considered equally in HR policies, and flexible modes of working are offered wherever possible to ensure the widest candidate pool.

We often take a blind recruitment approach, removing gender-specific language and any other identifying details from CVs and applications. It helps the client to evaluate people on their skills and experience, instead of other factors that can lead to biased decisions.

Achieving real equality impacts us all

Organisations with equitable representation of men and women are proven to be more inclusive, have better rates of staff wellbeing and retention, and experience greater profitability due to the wider talent pool they draw from and the competitive edge awarded by consumers. But placing more women in senior leadership roles should not be a performative, box-ticking exercise to help your organisation appear more diverse.

The desire to improve gender equality – and diversity characteristics beyond gender – should stem from a genuine recognition of the value a diverse leadership team offers. One of the themes of International Women’s Day (IWD) this year was ‘to elevate and advance gender parity in technology and celebrate the women forging innovation’.

True gender equality in tech is still far from reach. We need better support, more allies and inspiring leaders to achieve a momentum that will truly take on a life of its own.

About Grace Tattersall, Partner at Anderson Quigley

With over twenty years’ recruitment experience Grace specialises in executive search and selection for C-level and senior technology leadership appointments within the public and Not for Profit sectors. Actively supporting clients to reduce barriers to recruitment and to promote diversity in the workplace, Grace brings tailored solutions for both permanent and interim leadership roles.

Grace joined the AQ team in 2022 to further expand our work in technology & digital and data appointments; prior to joining the team she built an impressive track record recruiting mid to senior level roles for global charities, UK membership bodies, central and local government and leadership teams within the higher education sector. Grace works with personal integrity, vision, energy, and passion to support her clients and candidates through the recruitment process and beyond.