Business inequality, gender gap vector concept with man at advantage. Symbol of discrimination, different opportunity, unequal treatment. salary. Eps10 illustration.

It all stems from our journey into education. With technology allowing educational resources to be more widely accessed by those across different societies and backgrounds, we will then eventually see a shift in recruitment, too.

In this article, we will hear from Elizabeth Ellis, Head of School of Digital Education at Arden University who will discuss how education can shift gender disparity and allow women to break the biases against them, and Chris Adcock, Managing Director at Reed Technology, who will share how these efforts do not stop post-education and the role companies have to play when recruiting and hiring.

The problem as it stands

Despite best efforts, there remains a clear disparity between men and women in the workforce. On the FTSE 100, for example, only 31 women hold executive roles in 27 companies; eight are CEOs, and 15 CFOs or finance directors.

The statistics are clear. Only 19% of UK employees think there is gender equality in their workplace, with men (23%) also four times more likely than women (5%) to have perceived leadership skills. This unconscious bias towards women creates the perception that they are less capable than their male counterparts.

This inequality stems down to the misconceptions and stereotypes against women, ones which are deep-rooted in history. Women were once solely seen as caregivers, more “nurturing”, “emotive” and “creative”, opposed to being seen as career driven, or “strong”, “competitive” and, in some dire cases, “intelligent”.  When women were given the same opportunities as men, these biases struggled to dissipate and still remain, contributing to the disparity we see today.

We can see this bias in the degrees chosen by men and women; over 80% of engineering students are male, meanwhile, over 80% of psychology and veterinary students (subjects that tend to hone in on the nurturing characteristic) are female. From this, we cannot help but ask how influential our school years are in breaking the bias toward what women can actually do (spoiler alert: the exact same things as men).

Our journey into education

Elizabeth Ellis from Arden University comments: “Less than 100 years ago, women were expected to take ‘woman subjects’, such as home economics. Even as in developed countries where gender equality is more emphasised, as women were gradually encouraged to take up more ‘professional jobs’, these were in “caring” areas such as social work and teaching. This continues to account for the subjects women lean into today, with some subjects, such as technology being deemed as “male”.

“Women working in these traditionally ‘male-dominated’ sectors, also face more difficulties as stereotypes about women being less competent in these professionals are still held. Obviously, the more women we see in these fields, the more the stereotypes will die down.

“Schools play an influential role in assisting and steering children away from the incorrect perceptions they have about certain roles in the labour market.”

Chris Adcock, from Reed Technology adds: “Perceptions are changing, however, as in a survey of more than 500 UK parents of girls aged between five and 18 years old conducted by Reed, half (51%) said that their daughters expressed a keen interest in technology both at home and in education, with three quarters (76%) reportedly feeling that technology is a good career for their daughters. Only 4% stated that they felt it was too male-dominated.

“It is reassuring that perceptions of women in technology are changing, with the next generation having more support and guidance from their parents than the previous generation. To compare, of those already taking part in Reed’s Women in Technology Mentoring Programme (i.e. women already working in the technology sector) nearly three quarters were over 18 years of age before considering a career in the sector, with 80% never thinking they’d end up working in technology.”

How changing higher education can play a major role

Elizabeth continues: “In order for the disparity to disperse, flexibility is vital. The notion that the only time to study for your first degree is when you are a young adult is outdated.

The majority of family caregivers remain women, and they provide more hours of care than their male counterparts. Such commitments, such as needing to care for their family (sometimes financially) mean women may skip higher education – or not progress as fast in their career post-graduation. Where first generation are women, they receive less support and guidance to continue their education. It is not until later they have the time, experience, money and understanding to consider working towards a degree.

With some female students often having other commitments, allowing them to fit their higher education journey around their life is appealing. It doesn’t mean they have to pull their hair out to make ends meet.

Offering evening classes is a good start. Allowing flexibility is even better. Giving students the option to pause their education journey, without having to wait until the start of the new year to resume, is the ideal universities should be moving towards. We need to realise that sometimes life just gets in the way.

Technological advances in education are also moving at a rapid pace. Being able to log on and study whenever there is time is an advantage, especially for those with other commitments. But technology offers so much more than that – it gives access and exposure to subjects outside of the classroom.

Immersive learning is great for this. Putting students in real life situations with high quality virtual reality (VR) technology will expose aspiring female CEOs to the real dilemmas their job may offer. It will give them the confidence and experience they need to thrive in their role post-graduation. It is also a way of creating scenarios in which environments are more female-rich, improving representation, albeit virtually.

The need to upskill in the workforce is also clear. It’s not easy for people to gain a foot in the door to the sector when they have not experienced or been exposed to the skills needed for the new roles technological advancements are creating. This is why flexibility in education and immersive technology can really help bring in more women to fill these roles.”

It doesn’t stop at education

Chris Adcock adds: “With organisations adopting a more flexible approach to working, women now have even greater opportunities to progress in their careers, just like their male counterparts. The gender disparity we see is often widened due to lack of flexibility, especially for working mothers – at long last, with the rise of remote and hybrid working, this could be consigned to history.

But the biases still remain, especially in the STEM field. On average, men earn 237% more than women in technology leadership positions and almost all (90%) CEOs in the technology field are men; none of the world’s top 10 largest technology firms by revenue has a woman at the helm.

Women need encouragement and empowerment to beat these biases and employers have a duty to ensure they are playing a part in helping. Mentoring is a great way to provide support and guidance for women, in male-dominated industries especially, to excel and succeed. The Reed Women in Technology Mentoring Programme, for example, connects women at any stage of their career with an external mentor – male or female – who can offer them tailored advice and direction to help them realise their potential and achieve both personal and professional goals. 

Fighting against gender inequality will result in a greater employee retention rate and a diverse workforce – and there are many ways to push towards equality. Fixing gender disparity means companies need to implement policies that promote equity, train executives and employees across all levels on biases, and engage everyone, including men, in discussions as to why gender balance is important.

More importantly, gender balance in the workplace, and specifically in leadership roles, is not merely a quota. If companies do not support women in leadership roles, or provide guidance for those in entry-level roles, then no progress will be made.

Training and upskilling are key; upskilling your women in the workforce is a great way to ensure progress is being made. Ensure you are holding regular one-to-one meetings to help them to identify areas for growth. Share regular thought leadership with them which may be useful for their development, from blog articles to how-to videos. And where possible, look to invest in training courses to complement their role and allow them to progress to the next level in their career. “

About the authors

Elizabeth EllisElizabeth is Head of the School of Digital Education at Arden University. With more than 10 years’ experience in the higher education sector, she is passionate about engaging with students to scope, design, develop and evaluate the university’s digital learning and teaching materials and takes pride in ensuring the university is utilising the very latest digital tools and platforms to provide an outstanding learning environment.

 

Chris AdcockChris has worked at Reed for over 15 years in several positions, from Resourcer to now Managing Director of Reed’s technology division. With the majority of his career focused on IT recruitment, he has opened offices, grown regions, and taken businesses through large transformations. Chris has a passion for people and their motivators and prides himself in leading a high-trust, high-performance culture.