Businesswoman using her laptop while sitting on stairs outside, woman in tech

Article by Ayshea Robertson, People & Culture Director at Zen Internet

As it stands, women make up just 19% of the tech workforce, and there is a continued perception that tech is a ‘male’ industry with stereotypes of certain roles ingrained from a young age.

While this is being tackled now in schools, there is an historical backlog to overcome to break down those barriers. There is still a long way to go until we have equal representation of women and men in the tech industry.

The reality is that most senior figures in this profession are male, so there’s an automatic assumption that you’ll eventually hit a ceiling where you’re unable to progress or develop in your role. Acknowledging the perceptions and their drivers is the first step in removing the imbalance, and from here organisations and individuals can work together to make tech a more attractive and inclusive industry for all.

Identifying the root cause

There is a lack of understanding surrounding some roles that can exist in the tech sector with many believing they are predominantly mathematical and driven only by technical skills. While this type of role exists and there are very capable women that can perform well in them, it’s important to understand there is a breadth of other opportunities requiring all kinds of skillsets available in the sector as well. Similarly, a stereotype exists that men perform better in STEM related roles and this has resulted in a reluctance in women entering the industry as there are few role models to look up to – which ultimately has a self-perpetuating effect.

This then affects the career decisions of young girls, as having limited female role models means they’re unlikely to have the desire to follow in their footsteps and study these subjects. Fewer women are studying technology-based subjects at school and university, so employers have a smaller talent pool to choose from when recruiting. Breaking this cycle requires efforts on multiple fronts – whether it’s initiatives like Step into Tech programmes such as the ones we run at Zen, or mentoring schemes for young women in schools, to make career advice and support more easily accessible, and opening opportunities to explore a career in IT.

Changing how tech is taught in schools is another crucial factor if we’re to close the gender gap across the tech industry. Increasing awareness and sharing the opportunities the sector could offer women will over time help change perceptions. Many tech companies and large employers already have close working relationships with further education establishments, and this is something that should be encouraged, not only to create role models but to provide a means of sharing advice and experiences.

Addressing issues from within

As well as these early interventions, there is also a great deal that technology employers themselves can be doing. Designing roles to make them better suited to retaining or attracting those returning to working life is one action they can take. ‘Returnships’ is something a greater number of employers are offering in order to make this transition easier, with benefits such as maternity payments, staggered working hours or remote working. This can all help with overall job satisfaction and therefore retention and productivity. Women make up a demographic that can in many cases offer a completely different set of experiences and this can be of huge benefit to a business. More organisations must recognise this.

Retention also comes from creating spaces for support, discussion and mentoring. Women in Tech groups can help people feel comfortable in sharing and addressing specific issues they may be facing. They can also provide a means to start acting as a collective, as well as apply pressure to create changes in areas like the gender pay gap. We have a number of diversity networks at Zen, and they’ve proven to be popular and useful across the company.

Sadly, nearly all (91%) large organisations in the tech industry admitted to having a gender pay gap between male and female earnings. Women working in the sector occupy just 23.5% of the top-paying jobs, while men occupy the rest (76.5%). At the other end of the pay scale, women occupy 39.3% of the lowest-paid jobs in the tech industry. We must build better pipelines for women to enter the industry and advance through levels of experience and seniority, just like their male counterparts.

The future workforce

The technology sector has dominated all of our lives for more than twenty years, and it’s home to some of the world’s largest and most valuable companies. What our industry develops has the ability to impact each and every one of us, which is just one of the reasons why it’s so important that the workforce is representative of wider society.

Tech’s impact on society is only going to grow. Maximising the benefits and opportunities for all starts with equal representation across the whole sector.