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How embracing citizen development can improve gender equality in tech

By Claire Sanders, Manager, Citizen Developer Partner Program at Project Management Institute

The latest figures on female representation in the tech industry leave a lot to be desired. While the topic of women in tech continues to evolve, it is disheartening to see the current percentage of the sector’s workforce that are women is just 19% (vs. 49% of total UK workers).

The urgent need for change has been well-documented, but these words must be matched with action – especially in a society where technology is omnipresent.

While this is by no means a simple task, businesses striving for positive change can look towards citizen development as a first port of call. Citizen development is the process of encouraging non-IT-trained employees to build their own applications via the use of low-code and no-code platforms. It is a concept that empowers business professionals and provides a low-cost solution to the challenges of digitalisation.

Why citizen development?

It is no secret that the UK is currently facing a digital skills gap. According to Microsoft, more than two-thirds of businesses are suffering the symptoms of a shrinking talent pool. In response, the citizen development trend recently emerged as a potential solution. According to Gartner, 41% of UK businesses are now actively deploying citizen development initiatives and 20% of those who haven’t yet, are considering doing so in the near future.

By encouraging employees to develop applications via user-friendly platforms – within the parameters of existing IT governance – organisations can improve IT literacy across their workforce and broaden the number of people who can assist in digital transformation. Citizen developers can reduce costs – limiting the need for more dev hires – and restrict dependence on the existing IT team, leaving them to focus on mission-critical and core programming.

Citizen development can also have an enormous impact on organisational productivity. According to Forrester,  citizen developers have the potential to develop  applications as much as ten-times faster than traditional methods. This owes to the fact that low-code and no-code platforms use a visual process that deploys pre-built modules. As such, businesses can be agile in reacting to an issue with a quick solution.

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Enabling a more diverse tech sector

In the UK, there is a disconnect between young women and careers in tech: PwC found that only 3% of female students say the sector is their first choice for work. This has contributed to an imbalanced industry in which 65% of the nation’s STEM workers are male. This is unhealthy for both the sector and wider society.

Citizen development can help unlock progress in this area. By introducing low-code or no-code platform training into IT studies – from primary school up to university – the UK education system can give girls and young women an early start and show them what is possible with the right skills. At PMI, we also encourage organisations to continue the upskilling process and continually refresh low-code and no-code proficiency via lifelong learning. This is the type of coherent long-term approach required to drive sustainable, systemic and tangible change.

By empowering more women to pursue careers in technology – or, in the case of citizen development, to incorporate IT activities into their everyday roles – the STEM sector can ensure its future, and impact on society, is fair and equal. More diversity in tech brings balance to the table, and ensures the industry is thinking about every part of society when developing solutions. Additionally, the prospect of emerging technologies, such as AI, institutionalising the same gender biases as society at large, risks becoming a reality if we don’t encourage more diversity in the teams developing them.

Ultimately, for the bottom line, the benefits of being a diverse tech company are proven. According to McKinsey, companies in the top 25% for gender diversity had a 25% greater chance of reaching above-average profitability. This rose to 48% when their executive boards were also gender diverse.

The next steps for citizen development

Gartner predicts that citizen developers using low-code and no-code platforms will be responsible for more than 65 percent of application-development activity by 2024.” As such, it is important that we manage the next steps of its growth with care and “ease in” the cohorts of  citizen developers. Citizen development is a revolutionary concept and with the right controls in place to address data, security and compliance risks, it can boost inclusivity in tech.

Additionally, it is critical that prospective  citizen developers have a clear, detailed guide on how they can start building and a gold standard to aspire to. This is something that PMI, has created via training programmes and certifications, but it will require widespread adoption to bring citizen development to the masses. Additionally, integrating citizen development into schools can show more young people – especially girls – that coding and IT are viable career choices once they leave their studies.

The potential for well-governed, corporate-driven citizen development is unlimited. While the benefits of citizen development can be felt throughout a whole organisation, it is the potential to help more women  develop tech skills, and the opportunities it offers to future generations, that may leave the greatest legacy.