Given that a scarcity of tech skills remains a pressing issue globally, upskilling and reskilling employees is an absolute must if employers want to start plugging those ever-widening gaps, writes Michelle Hainsworth, Managing Director, Client Services, AMS.

A report by the World Economic Forum estimates the global deficit to be 85 million tech workers.  Promoting diversity and increasing the number of women in tech roles is one of the obvious routes to remedy the problem.

While the onus is certainly on employers to ensure that they are creating opportunities for – and supporting more – women in tech, there are ways that female professionals can facilitate the transition into tech roles or different tech fields. It requires confidence and commitment but the rewards for both employees and employers are significant

A long-standing issue

The shortage of woman in tech roles and STEM subjects is staggering.  Women make up only 24% of the tech industry’s workforce globally, according to the World Economic Forum, and hold only 5% of leadership positions according to the Woman in Tech Report by HackerRank.

Historically, the path of women into such careers has not been easy as a result of the inherent bias and expectations that women should go down certain paths. This has nothing to do with women not being able or not having an interest in science and tech – quite the opposite, in fact. The narrative is starting to shift, but not quickly enough. We know that a big part of the solution lies in promoting these careers to girls when they’re still in school and encouraging them to pursue these subjects during those formative years, essentially fostering an interest and developing skills far earlier in their academic journey.

You don’t need a computer science degree to be a woman in tech

Now of course, it’s more acceptable and easier to facilitate a move into tech even if you don’t have a background in the STEM disciplines – largely due to the sheer scale of demand for these skills. There is also a shift in perceptions and an acceptance that individuals may have multiple careers and reskill over their working lifetime.  There are plenty of tools that can assess a person’s aptitude and ability, and with the UK Government committing to growing the country’s standing as a tech leader, more support is being funnelled into the reskilling agenda. But the problem for women in particular is that they will find it harder to pivot later on not because of a lack of aptitude, but largely due to the confidence issues which stem back to their school days and those assumptions that I mentioned earlier. So many potentially talented tech females are put off and lost because of the pre-existing confidence blockers that have been instilled in them for far too long.

Both employer and employee have a role to play in an effective upskilling and reskilling programme. Employers need to consider what steps they can take to support female colleagues and enable their tech progress.  Building confidence is a huge part of this, allowing the time and space for transition periods and collaborating with employees to create thoughtful and effective career paths. Women on this journey must also be given the right tools to have effective honest and open conversations with their employers, taking a firm grip of their own career paths and opportunities.

It’s time to shed that impostor syndrome and develop effective and open dialogues between employers and employees.

Mentoring is key to developing women in tech

So, what can women do to improve their success rates in tech jobs? The first point to make is that they should embrace and try different types of work, for example contracting, which will provide exposure to different employers and cultures. ‘Returnships’ are also a great way to gain experience in other areas when coming back to work after an extended career break. Taking this approach will not only increase subject matter knowledge but will allow for a far ‘softer landing’ and reducing the stress associated with a return to a new working world.

Secondly, having a mentor and champion to guide and share their professional wisdom is invaluable. Many organisations will have established mentoring programmes so it’s a case of discussing what’s available and what you need. But equally you can also look outside your organisation for mentors, so again have the courage to join and get involved with STEM or women in tech networks. Going to events will open doors and you’ll be able to meet other more experienced women to find out more about their career paths and suggestions for development. People are generally only too happy to offer their time and help. And remember to pay it back once you’re in a leadership position and help to mentor and guide other women who are looking for advice in their tech career.

It is imperative for those who are new to upskilling to have these frank conversations with their employers. Broadening networks is an essential part of reskilling, especially for those wishing to return to a new role. Learning and Development teams can be a great source of advice and knowledge if there’s a particular area of a business you’re interested in. Seize the initiative, consign the imposter syndrome to history and drive your career in the direction you want it to travel.

A positive company culture and increased profitability

Research proves that women in tech roles bring a wide range of benefits to companies, from improved innovation, better team dynamics, a positive company culture and increased profitability.  Women bring unique perspectives and experiences which lead to more innovative and creative solutions.  The competition for attracting tech skills to organisations doesn’t show signs of easing anytime soon.  Supporting more women to upskill and reskill is a solution which benefits all parties.