A role in tech is becoming increasingly common for women shaping their careers in 2023. Yet we still only make up 28% of the industry, writes Michaela Hinton, Delivery Lead, Great State.

With little shift, it’s clear the tech landscape is still an uneven playing field, especially in leadership-leaning roles. Yes we need to see more women in senior tech roles, but more specifically, for me, we need to see more women who are Black or of a minority ethnic background (BME) in the industry, full stop.

I never thought I would work in the tech industry, it wasn’t even on my radar! I graduated with a degree in PR and Marketing, with a dream of living the ‘Ab Fab’ lifestyle. I then joined a PR agency where I started working on social media campaigns, and I just fell in love with digital.

From there, I properly started out in a boutique agency in Cardiff that consisted of the Managing Director, a Designer, one Front-End and Back-End Developer, and me the Client Manager; the only woman, and the only person of colour. I think this role subconsciously prepared me to accept that I might be the only BME woman in this type of environment, and I wasn’t going to let it hold me back.

Visibility and the lack of BME women in tech leadership roles

There’s an on-going issue with a lack of racial diversity at management level in tech, especially that of BME women. Last year’s Women in the Workplace report found that BME women comprised only 14% of the workforce. It is a large-scale problem which is multi-layered and has no easy answers. Certainly, some of the cause can be filtered down to a recruitment level and the exposure BME groups have to tech.

Recruitment aside, not everyone lands their dream role through consultants. When looking for a new job, it’s off-putting to not see yourself represented. I remember looking at agency organisation charts and thinking well, there’s only so far I can go here’, imposing a negative bias on myself based entirely on a projection of an agency’s diversity.

As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve witnessed the gender disparity (slowly) starting to level, but to date, I am yet to work with, or even meet any BME women in senior leadership roles.

It is so important to be able to see someone like yourself in a role that you aspire to be in. In your own company or in others. Role models are fundamental for women in tech, across both junior and senior positions. It can be really empowering for women to see other inspirational women not just leading, but owning the field.

Knowing I can step up into a lead role as a BME woman is empowering; I get to be part of a changing wave. Lead positions need more BME women across all sectors, not just tech.

The different paths to a career in tech

There is the misconception that you need a specific skillset or certain qualification to start a tech career. There are many routes into tech and, moreover, there are so many different job roles out there now. A career in tech doesn’t mean a career in coding; the majority of roles within any digital agency require softer skills; project management, client services and marketing are all integral to tech agencies and can appeal to a broader spectrum of people. But even on the more technical development side, there are a lot of self-taught coders that come in at entry level. With most roles, there is so much you can learn from being in the driver’s seat and learning on the job.

Being in a leadership position, one of the main differences I’ve observed is the confidence with which men carry themselves compared to women. In the tech industry, men can often come across louder in their opinion, but in a passive ‘let me mansplain so that you undertsand’ type of way. Men tend to take up space and as women, specifically BME women, we need to make sure we’re doing the same. We deserve a seat at the table too.

Sometimes when I think about how the lack of diversity in agency world should be tackled, I find myself going around in circles; a career in tech may be offputting because of the lack of diversity, which in turn exacerbates the problem. But by taking a step back, what message are digital agencies putting out? Culturally fluid agencies will attract a wider breadth of cultures. Agency world is a competitive landscape for talent. Most commonly, they try to keep up with trending culture in order to catch the eye of prospective employees. But perhaps agencies and tech companies should be more mindful of the cultural signals they’re giving out – one size will certainly not fit all.

Looking towards the future, starting now

So, things are changing for the better, but there’s still a way to go. If you are reading this and sit in a senior leadership role in the tech industry, my advice to you would be to put a concerted effort into promoting the other roles available to a wider audience; ask your recruitment team to switch up their paid strategy, place ads in online communities, generate assets that feature equal amounts of BME representation and be mindful of the cultural indicators you’re hanging your hat on.

Until you’ve achieved a greater level of diversity in your agency, be mindful of the imagery you’re sharing. For example, take down headshots on organisation charts that feature only white senior management teams, and be concious of producing content which projects a singular cultural norm. Instead, focus on creating visibility and pathways for BME people inside and outside of your business.

If you’re interested in the opportunities a career in tech offers, spend time finding out about the other roles available in tech agencies, ask to speak to the HR team, find out the lay of the land. Whilst you’re on the phone, plan a visit to the office. The culture presented on the website or their socials might not be truly representative of the culture within the agency – you might be surprised.

Also, join networks – we have a women’s network at Great State where we meet once a month for a long lunch and to talk about how we’re feeling, what barriers we’re facing, how we can overcome them and what we can collectively do as an agency to lift each other up.

And if you’re a woman of colour reading this piece, I hope that I’ve been able to demonstrate that there is a space for you in the tech industry, and that you deserve to be here.