diverse crowd of people, International Women's Day

How can tech organisations support women of different backgrounds into tech careers?

By Kate Daniels, Portfolio Director at NTT DATA UK

diverse group of people, international women's day 1International Women’s Day (IWD) is a time to commemorate the achievements of all women across the globe.

While the day provides an opportunity to celebrate the great successes of women in history, it is also a time to reflect on the challenges we have faced in the past and the work that we still have to do.

This year’s IWD theme of ‘break the bias’ involves challenging gender biases in both the community and the workplace. The theme is particularly important for the tech sector as it continues to address its own history of bias.

While NTT DATA UK’s recent research found the majority of men and women in tech believe the industry has become more welcoming to women over the last decade, there is still much work to be done. Our research found that 74% of women in tech have had a negative experience at work due to their gender, and only a quarter of women in the sector believe they have equal progression opportunities to their male colleagues.

The sector remains male-dominated, with only 19% of the UK tech workforce being women. To help address this imbalance, organisations have a responsibility both to ensure the sector is welcoming for women, and to provide opportunities and support for women to enter into tech careers, regardless of their background.

Provide opportunities for those who wish to enter tech

Tech organisations must be actively inclusive, promoting a culture that values all individuals, regardless of their background. Addressing underlying and unconscious bias is a key part of this, as is challenging misconceptions about the ‘type’ of person who works in tech. Even the language we use to describe tech careers can make a big difference. People assume that ‘maths brains’ make great engineering brains, and girls already tend to disproportionately think they aren’t good at maths. These layers of bias can lead young women to shy away from tech careers, so such misconceptions must be challenged.

When thinking about how we can best support women in the sector, we must be intersectional in our approach. Different women face different challenges, and the sector must be willing to address different forms of potential bias.

As well as developing an inclusive culture, we need to be recruiting from a diverse talent pool. This means providing and accepting alternative career pathways for prospective candidates. As a sector, we tend to recruit based on traditional criteria, often stipulating a university degree in a certain subject. Relying too heavily on one particular career pathway can exclude certain candidates, barring valuable talent from the industry.

To find the best talent, we must be willing to create opportunities for those who have not followed the expected educational path, or who have decided to enter tech later on in their careers. As the sector continues to navigate a shortage of tech talent, organisations have every incentive to reassess their recruitment practices to acknowledge the value of a wider variety of experiences and qualifications.

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Providing training opportunities

Making alternative training opportunities available often facilitates the recruitment of people from otherwise underrepresented groups. This has been our own experience at NTT DATA UK, through our sponsorship of the route2work digital skills academy programme. Last year, we sponsored women to take part in one of four Microsoft training programmes run by route2work. The women involved had otherwise lacked opportunities to enter tech, and the training gave them the chance to develop skills to kickstart their careers.

Similarly, NTT DATA UK’s Tech Academy, which provides training for people with a range of different qualifications and life experiences, gives participants the opportunity to break into tech regardless of their background. Those who have taken part in previous years include women returning to the workforce after having children. These women were seeking opportunities to train or retrain to enter tech. Without the right training opportunities, the industry would miss out on their talent.

Why is diversity so important? 

Diversity in any sector is not only morally important, it is also vital in terms of ensuring services and products cater for wider society. We know all too well that human-built technologies such as artificial intelligence adopt our discrimination and biases. In 2016, Microsoft’s AI chatbot Tay notoriously displayed misogynistic and racist remarks within 24 hours of interacting with people on Twitter, while Amazon’s automated recruitment bot was discovered to be biased against women in 2018.

If the teams of researchers, software engineers and data scientists that build these technologies are not diverse, how can we expect the technology itself to be unbiased? To mitigate against this risk, teams should reflect the diversity of the communities and societies they serve.

Besides the creation of better and fairer technology, there are other clear business benefits to having a diverse workforce. A combination of different life experiences and perspectives produces greater creativity and drives innovation, ultimately improving business performance.

The road ahead

Collectively, we all need to play our part in breaking the bias, on International Women’s Day and on every other day of the year. Organisations in the tech sector must continue their work to make the sector more inclusive, while also providing opportunities and alternative pathways for those from underrepresented backgrounds who wish to enter tech. Ultimately, success breeds success. We want to reach a point where organisations enter a virtuous circle with women already in the industry acting as role models for others who want to follow in their footsteps.

Kate DanielsAbout the author

Kate is a portfolio director with a breadth of delivery experience in both the public and private sectors. Kate has 25 years’ experience of project, programme and programme portfolio management including over 10 years of consulting experience – six of these in top global firms Arthur Andersen and Deloitte – and 15 years client-side. Kate is passionate about D&I and is currently Co-Chair of NTT DATA UK’s Women’s Business Network.

Young people in tech, tech careers, mthree featured

Tech careers for all: dispelling the myths around a role in technology

Young people in tech, tech careers, mthreeArticle by Hayley Roberts, CEO at specialist cyber security distributor, Distology

Despite efforts to level the playing field and encourage more women to consider a career in tech over the past few years, the figures are still nowhere near where they need to be.

Stats from the ONS in February revealed that fewer than a third of UK tech jobs are held by women and while this is a steady increase on the past few years, when you look at leadership and technical roles, the figures are far lower.

It’s difficult for me to digest these stats when I know a) how interesting, fulfilling and dynamic a career in tech can be, and b) just how much value women add to tech businesses. The stats speak for themselves. Companies with higher levels of equal representation are more profitable and companies with at least one woman on the board of directors outperform those without any women by 26%, according to Gartner figures.

My journey into tech

My own journey into the sector almost started after I graduated in business – I had the option of working on a graduate scheme for IBM or working for a toiletries company helping to run the retail accounts for the likes of M&S and Next. Contrary to where I am now, I chose the latter. Mostly due to the fact I could conceptualise where it fit and the supply chain was more obvious. IBM and what the business did other than hardware eluded me – and the IT world seemed slightly greyer back then.

But they say everything always finds its way, and three industry moves later I landed at a security distributor, after working as a head-hunter for six years (ironically setting up the Dell team in the business’ first Moscow office). I had taken some time out to focus on family after the credit crunch in 2008 and decided a change of environment was just what I needed.

Given my skill set was mainly in sales, marketing and leadership, it was transferable – and this is the message I’m always keen to convey to those who might be working in other careers and considering a role in tech. This was 12 years ago, and I became the second in command at Codework, a small but successful security distributor which predominantly focussed on Symantec. The rest is history.

Dispelling myths about tech roles

Before delving into the myths around tech roles, it’s first worth considering the educational landscape we’re operating in. The drop off in interest around tech, and more widely STEM subjects, starts in late high-school – a 2017 Microsoft survey found that young women become interested in STEM subjects at around 11 and then lose interest when they’re 15. It’s no coincidence that this is around the time when people tend to start falling into more traditional gender roles of what a male or female ‘should’ be doing.

While women are more than capable of coding with the boys, the thing is, tech careers aren’t just about sitting behind a computer inputting code – which is where the misconceptions often start. A huge myth about working in tech is that you need a computer science degree to do it, which simply isn’t true.

A few examples will perhaps better illustrate my point. Anyone with a keen interest in fashion could take up a role at an online fashion brand at Boohoo or ASOS, looking at how people shop, for example, and how to optimise the website in line with this. Or those with a love of psychology and identifying human behaviour could relish in a role in UX or UI design. In the same vein, those with a keen interest in art could make a great web or graphic designer, or those that love building relationships could become a great tech project or account manager. For these reasons, tech is also a great career to ‘switch’ into, by applying and building on transferrable skills learned in other industries.

Another huge myth is that you need to be ‘technically minded’ to succeed in a career in tech. That couldn’t be further than the truth for many roles. What drives my recruitment strategy here at Distology is hiring based on core competencies rather than pure experience. An element of interest in the technology side of the sector is of course important but, ultimately, tech is a solution to a problem and these problems all have human factors.

The final myth I wanted to cover is that tech roles are analytical and don’t offer room for creativity. Again, this is a huge misconception and the tech world is full of creatives – from web designers and content creators, to marketers and product strategists. As I mentioned previously, tech is all about solving problems and coming up with better, more effective ways to do things; now if that doesn’t involve an element of creativity, I’m not sure what does!

A sector of opportunity

As one of the world’s fastest growing and ever-evolving industries, I’m on a mission to get more people – particularly women – interested in a career in tech. For those just starting out and know tech is the career they want to get into, and equally those that are in other careers and want to use transferrable skills to switch career without starting completely from scratch, the opportunities in tech are endless and exciting. And as many skill sets in tech cross over, there tends to be plenty of opportunities to try new things out and it can be relatively simple to move over to other departments within an organisation, so you’ll find it hard to grow bored!

About the author

Hayley RobertsFollowing a 20+ year career with blue chip enterprise businesses in retail, recruitment and technology, Hayley Roberts is the founder and driving force behind IT Security distributor, Distology. The company specialises in identifying, representing and distributing the latest disruptive technology in the cyber security arena.

Hayley has carefully nurtured a unique company culture that encourages vibrancy and ambition and as a result, Distology has won various accolades including CRN’s Distributor of the Year 2019, Cloud Distributor of the Year 2020 and the Gender Parity at the Women in Channel Awards. This year, Hayley has also been shortlisted for CRN’s Women in Channel Woman of the Year and Role Model of the Year, while the business has been shortlisted for Distributor of the Year (sub £250m turnover), Cloud Distributor of the Year and Technology Incubator of the Year.

Recommended Event: 21/09/2021: Exploring Pathways into Tech Careers | WISE

WISE, London Tech Week event

New WISE research reveals how widening career pathways into Tech roles could increase diversity and address the digital skills gap.

Join WISE for a panel discussion with senior figures from UK Tech exploring the results of our latest research and what it means employers trying to close the digital skills gap. Our event will explore how non-linear career pathways into tech roles provide an opportunity for employers to find the talented, diverse people they need to futureproof tomorrow’s workforce. Year on year, WISE data has shown an increase in the number of girls studying computing, as well as the number of women employed in tech roles – 17% of the tech workforce. Although these positive trends are encouraging, WISE members are increasingly concerned about the current skills gap in tech and digital technology roles as well as the persistent gender imbalance in the tech workforce. Earlier this year WISE launched a new research project to form the first step in supporting employers to close the digital skills gap. Join us on the 21st September at our online panel event as we present the findings of our UK-wide tech research and next steps for employers with the launch of our research report as part of London Tech Week.

This free online event is open to all.


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