Tech Interview Featured

Top global head hunter and Founder of TECHSEARCHERS, Stacey Wilkinson shares her thoughts on Women in Tech and ten top tips, she thinks we could take to address the balance… 

If I had a pound for every time a company said to me, ‘Stacey, can you find us a woman for this role? The rest of the team is male’ I’d be a multi-millionaire!

There’s no doubt about it that the tech world – certainly in the UK – it is dominated by men, but I am sick to death of people pointing this out and not much ever getting done about it.

I see so many articles saying ‘we need more women in tech’ (I know, I wrote one!) or that ‘there’s still no women in tech for X, Y and Z reasons’ – but has anyone actually put a plan together and offered some tangible solutions? Getting more women into the industry isn’t going to happen overnight and it requires hundreds of actions, including rewiring thought processes – as I have found the UK public is largely ignorant towards tech. It seems a daunting task and (similarly to Brexit) and we have a tendency in this country, to avoid tackling issues that seem too complicated, or are likely to offend some people, so they get left to snowball.

People talk about job shortages and the truth is that there is plenty of work out there – if you’re willing to change industry, get out of your comfort zone and learn something new. Tech is a massively growing, ever-evolving industry where about 2/3 of the jobs remain unfilled.

As part of my role as a global head-hunter, in the last two years alone, I’ve had to move 71 skilled people to and from twelve countries, as there wasn’t the local available resource to fill business-critical tech jobs. So what’s going on?

People tend to act on something if there’s obvious benefits and it improves their lives in some way – i.e. makes them look better/cooler/wealthier/harder/better/faster/stronger. With this in mind, the industry needs glamourising a little, and we need to move away from this geeky, nerdy image we once had of ‘computer-based’ jobs, when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s. It still exists today…I was at a networking event last week and one of the young female attendees I got talking to said (of someone at the event) ‘the one with glasses, who looks like he works with computers.’ There’s still this ignorance about the tech industry and The IT Crowd it isn’t…

If we exposed our children (and adults) to female role models from the tech world, then that would start changing things, without a doubt. Who do our kids look up to in the UK at the moment? Reality stars from TOWIE, Love Island… where are the women who have revolutionised the tech industry? Kids nowadays grow up wanting to be the next Kardashian/Jenner, not Professor Sue Black OBE, the British computer scientist and world-renowned speaker. The content that the British media and what parents are brainwashing children with needs a complete overhaul, as it’s quite sickening, when you look closely at it. If you compare it to somewhere like India, which has one of the highest proportions of women going into tech than anywhere in the world – here you regularly see women in tech, on billboards, in magazines and in brochures, plus 85% of women working in tech in India say they chose it because of family influence. Over here, most parents don’t even know what tech really is, unless it means posting a picture on Facebook or getting a few more followers on Instagram.

It’s imperative that we get rid of this ‘geeky’ image tech has in this country and add some glamour and sparkle – show imagery depicting teams of women, have female techies/coders going into schools, giving talks and encouraging kids to get interested early. We need to get mums interested too, as they have the most influence over their children, possibly more than anyone.

With these things in mind, I’ve put together ten bullet points for employers, governments, schools/colleges and parents to take note of, if we are to bring girls/women/more people generally into tech:

Primary and high school curriculums need changing ASAP

As a matter of urgency. Schools need to employ qualified teachers (not people who have been given a computing class, as an ‘add-on’ and it needs to be a compulsory for all as well as fun.

Celebrate Women for their brain – less ‘dumbing down’

…films, reality TV, magazines… hardly any woman is celebrated for her brain anymore, in this country. Magazines should be banned from talking about people’s weight and plastic surgery – why is it relevant? It’s all I hear young girls talking about these days and it saddens me. I can’t recall when we last heard about a JK Rowling or Karen Brady type-model, of the tech world (or indeed, any world?)

Target parents!

They won’t support and encourage anything they don’t understand and unfortunately many people over the age of 45 don’t really get the tech revolution here in the UK. We are living in this exciting digital age and yet many parents are still pushing for their kids to be doctors, lawyers and other such ‘traditional’ jobs. Free workshops/drop-in centres for parents would help, as well as targeted government-funded online marketing.

Toys for kids

Toy companies can have a field day here… it’s amazing how toy companies are still allowed to produce toy guns and other weapons aimed at young boys, surgical implements and kitchen/cookery sets etc. aimed at girls, but hardly anyone has thought to create the components of a phone, computer etc that kids can put together. Good toys and techie gadgets, marketed effectively, will pique their interest at a young age.

Tech is Creative and Collaborative

This is one for the Governments and local LEAs, but we need to change public perception that working in a tech role means all you’ll be doing, is sitting in front of a computer and not speaking to anyone. It’s a highly creative and collaborative industry and this would be enhanced by holding tech-related festivals throughout the UK, involving young people, keynote speakers and other entertainers. This is a concept I’ve been speaking directly with the Isle of Man government about, as we want to bring more young people over to fill jobs the tech industry, on the Island. The world needs to realise that coders make a massive difference to all of our lives and that’s an amazing thing to celebrate in itself.

Universities and colleges need to collaborate more with tech companies…

…and get rid of this silly ‘jobs-fair’ mentality we have in this country. I get some young people have no idea what they want to do after studying, but if you know you have a job at the end of your studies, then young people will be more likely to pick that subject, stick to it and gain work experience along the way.

Following on from point 6, why not scrap university fees for tech, or make them very low. I recall the Government giving out ‘Golden Handshakes’ a few years ago, to young people as incentives to go into teaching. You would get a mass surge of young people signing up for tech courses, just to avoid the ridiculously high tuition fees. Then, if point 6 is also followed, then suddenly a large portion of the skills gap in this country is appeased.

Free drop-in coding schools might help

There are sections in society that have been traditionally overlooked industry changers – ex-army, ex-convicts, the old, the sick, the homeless even – groups that often no one wants to touch, but we really need to address the fact that there is a massive untapped resource sitting there and most of them are willing to graft.

Get passionate about Tech

If you’re going to buy your kid a phone or iPad, at least explain the benefits of it, how apps work etc… They’re not just a means of keeping your children quiet! Tech is the best industry to work in, in terms of stability and longevity – it’s constantly involving, tech firms are making millionaires out of kids these days, so remove the worry about your child ever having to find a job, by trying to rouse interest in tech at a young age.

Companies need to quit being so anal about job descriptions

Most tech skills can be cross-trained, taught and transferred. There needs to be less emphasis on matching each bullet point on a job spec and more focus on what the person can bring to your business overall. I get it though, in the past, when companies have been paying ridiculously high recruitment fees, the onus is on ticking every thing on the job spec, just to get your money’s worth. I believe this model is broken and needs to change.

About the author

Stacey Wilkinson is 39, lives in Manchester, UK and is one of the top global head hunters in the tech world and the Founder and CEO of TECHSEARCHERS – a global headhunting business for the tech industry, one which is currently disrupting the traditional recruitment market.

Stacey’s unique no-nonsense approach, has gained her an enviable list of testimonials from happy customers, as seen on her LinkedIn page.