women in tech, soft skills

Everyone knows that there aren’t enough women working in technology. This is especially true when you narrow that focus to look at the techier roles.

Jobs such as programmers, developers and quality assurance analysts are dominated by men, and all require skills that are hugely valued within the industry.

Undoubtedly, more must be done to encourage women into these roles. But many of the measures required are longer-term, and some go back as far as school and how STEM subjects are taught (and by who). Is there anything that can be done to get more women working in tech in the here and now?

Yes, there is! It’s about how we value certain workplace skills. Many women reject an opportunity in technology because they feel they lack that technical expertise when they actually possess skills that would be of huge importance. By assigning greater worth to softer and broader skillsets, more women will surely be drawn to working in technology companies.

What’s so soft about soft skills?

Soft skills in the workplace usually refer to qualities such as communication, organisation, and being structured and thorough. These skills encourage interaction and engagement in the workplace, and it’s no exaggeration to say that technology companies would grind to a halt without them.

There’s a perception that those who work in the techier roles don’t usually have these skills. This is a generalisation, but like many generalisations, it is at least partially based on truth. Communication and organisation – the priceless qualities of making things happen – are vital components of any company, so why are they perceived as less valuable?

Amidst the talk of ‘rockstar’ developers, you rarely hear of project managers and client service teams described in such terms. I would even take issue with the name assigned to these skills. The word ‘soft’ has a number of meanings. Google’s Oxford Dictionary states: ‘easy to mould, cut, compress, or fold’, and many of the words listed as associated with soft imply some sort of weakness or malleability.

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Women and soft skills

I believe that these definitions and the fact that soft skills in the workplace are more commonly assigned to women is no coincidence. There is a legacy sexism in many languages, outdated ways of referring to and describing women. This is an example of that.

Yet a subtle rebranding of these skills could help encourage more women in technology. Instead of soft skills, how about we refer to them as human skills or essential skills? Or anything else, because make no mistake, those qualities can have vast value in technology.

My own background is in creative writing. When I was at university, I didn’t imagine that I would end up working in technology, but I found a role that suited my skills and personality, and I have thrived. My work is valued, and I feel like I am a key part of the organisation, just as much as the developers.

It would be interesting to learn how many women have been put off working in the technology sector, because they feel they do not have the technical expertise to succeed. In reality, many women have highly transferable skills and should not dismiss a career in technology using them.

Adding value

The so-called softer skills have enormous value to any tech firm. They connect people, get them interacting and engaging, and play a pivotal role in fostering the kind of collaboration that is essential in bringing any technology product or service to market.

Without people managing client expectations, encouraging communication, and ensuring projects are on time and within budget, then you could have the best developer in the world and wouldn’t see the benefit from them.

These skills are transferable from sector to sector, and any women that are working elsewhere could easily find a role within technology. It’s a dynamic and exciting industry that would get even better from a levelling-up of the gender imbalance.

Lucy JuddAbout the author

Lucy Judd is Senior Client Services Manager at developer marketplace platform Deazy. After graduating with a degree in English and Creative Writing, Lucy has worked for several technology firms across the South West.