It’s not new to say that the tech industry is demonstrably lacking women in its workforce – and it’s not due to a shortage of talent, writes Gill Cummings, People Development Consultant at Zen Internet.

This imbalance often stems back to as early as childhood, with many girls and young women not feeling a career in technology is for them – perhaps due to a lack of visible female role models in this space – and not pursuing further as a result. Historically deemed a traditionally male-dominated career, young girls may be closed off to opportunities in tech for one reason or another, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.

This perception often follows women specifically when they are taking the first steps in their career, disregarding jobs in tech as unviable or undesirable options for them. Needless to say, this is a real loss for the industry, who are missing out on exceptional female talent joining the workforce.

Closing the gap in female representation is absolutely necessary to help address the overall shortage of tech talent across the UK, as well as enhancing the overall performance of teams, with research suggesting diverse teams outperform those that aren’t.

An industry-wide problem with an industry-wide responsibility to change

This gender imbalance cannot be attributed to women not putting their hands up enough or failing to throw their hat in the ring. In reality, women often don’t have the space or aren’t provided with the same chances to take up such opportunities. In fact, research suggests that only 16% of females have had a career in technology suggested to them, in comparison to 33% of males.

Equally, women may unfortunately undervalue what they can bring to tech, at no fault of their own. It’s up to the industry to address and facilitate ways to overcome these barriers. There are several ways in which this can be done:

Spark interest early

Sparking enthusiasm and interest in tech roles among girls from an early age is critical to encouraging people to see these roles as accessible opportunities where they can thrive and add value. Companies undertaking workshops, talks, or interactive experiences at schools, colleges and universities is a great way to engage with the younger and future generation.

At Zen, we have an annual coding club for youngsters to pick up new tech skills, and we have also matched four female IT and Business Studies students in their second year at a local college with four mentors in various roles within the business. As part of Zen’s ‘Step into Tech’ programme, plans are also underway to launch a graduate and apprentice program specifically geared towards female talent.

Mentoring programmes for those in higher education can help school leavers bridge the gap between leaving education and landing that first job. Having role models in the industry to turn to and offer guidance at entry-level is key and can be instrumental in navigating your career onwards. Graduate schemes, paid internship and apprenticeship programmes, and other entry-level initiatives are all invaluable, provided there’s a suitable level of support and training underpinning them.

Value transferrable skills

When recruiting for tech talent, we all have our biases, whether conscious or unconscious. We can select in our own likeness, and potentially find ourselves prioritising traditionally ‘similar’ attributes to ourselves. Traits like confidence or self-assuredness can often be associated as more ‘masculine’, which generally isn’t always the case.

In reality, having a successful career in tech is not solely about hard skills or technical qualifications, transferrable skills such as communication, customer service, problem solving and project management can be equally as important as the tech. This means that candidates, irrespective of gender, who may not be technically qualified with a traditional degree or background in tech, may well have considerable potential to get into the industry with the right support.

This is why our Step into Tech programme has been so important and successful, as we combine technical and transferrable skills and recognise that both can be learnt. By providing the training and resources to candidates who otherwise wouldn’t have been considered, and giving the opportunity to attend an interview for live roles at the end of it, we have increased the diversity of applicants and new starters into our workforce.

Having a non-traditional background also means they enter the team with different outlooks, soft skills, and perspectives that can be hugely valuable and has helped us at Zen to diversify our teams.

Reassess recruitment tactics

The statistic that men apply for jobs when they meet 60% of the job advert’s requirements, while women only apply if they meet 100% of them is not just focused specifically on the tech sector, but certainly rings true in this industry.

The missed potential talent from women who decide not to apply is reason enough for businesses to take a hard look at their recruitment tactics. Although this apparent confidence gap is a tricky one to grapple with, businesses need to make roles more attractive for women, reassessing their job adverts that may be inadvertently targeted towards male talent.  Zen’s recruitment team, for example, have revisited job specifications that may have had an unconscious gender bias within them.

Businesses also need to rethink and critically examine their selection processes to assess whether they’re considering candidates from all possible backgrounds. Looking for good communication, critical and analytical thinking, and problem solving attributes, for example, could come from anyone and be expressed in all kinds of ways. All of this can help build a more diverse – and successful – team.

Build strategies to encourage and retain

As such a prevalent issue, it’s not enough to just be a part of the conversation – businesses need actionable solutions to make tangible progress. This can be done by setting clear KPIs to build your pipeline of talent and undergoing a benchmarking review every year, thereby holding the businesses accountable. However, it’s not all about recruiting– it’s about retaining talent too. Retention and progression is critical to ensuring these groups can truly benefit.

Another solution is to create a working group dedicated to the cause. Biases can exist everywhere in a business, but given they’re so ingrained, it’s easy for them to be overlooked or unchallenged. Creating a dedicated group means there is a designated responsibility to call these out and make a change, while proactively fostering an environment that welcomes women into this traditionally male-dominated industry. Zen has a dedicated Women in Tech group to help vocalise and address specific issues people may be facing with respect to the gender diversity gap.

Celebrate female successes internally

Sadly, a staggering 78% of students can’t name a famous female working in technology, and only 5% of leadership positions in the technology sector are held by women. Although there is clearly more focus needed externally, internally people and their accomplishments, need to be celebrated. Not only will this showcase the progress that is being made to level out the gender imbalance in the tech industry, but it will provide those all-important role models for budding talent to aspire to, making such careers appear more accessible to the female tech stars of the future.