Lack of women in Tech is the tip of the iceberg

Erica Yates

Head of People at Cloud Technology Solutions, Erica Yates, discusses how the tech talent shortage goes far beyond the evident need for more women in tech.

Gender imbalance, with regard to tech and digital skills, is one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today. It’s no secret that many organisations, businesses and aspiring ‘techies’ feel there aren’t enough women recruited in the industry and also not enough women interested in such a field in the first place. In addition to this comes the issue that, even once successfully getting their foot in the door in a technology career, many women find they’re still operating very much in a ‘man’s world’.

Whenever we think of tech role models in business, we nearly always think of men – and this is something that needs to change, particularly with the likes of Diane Greene heading up Google Cloud, Marissa Mayer heading up Yahoo, Sheryl Sandberg operating as the COO of Facebook, and countless other women taking the helm in huge corporate businesses across the globe. We’re all very much in agreement that the lack of women in tech is a problem that must be addressed immediately – no one is likely to dispute such a fact. The shortage of females in the industry however, stems from a wider issue that affects not just women, but anyone aspiring to achieve in a modern-day business career. That issue is the much-discussed digital skills gap.

It’s no secret that the digital skills gap is widening and we live in an age where this affects not only the technology industry, but the business sector as a whole. Businesses that can’t keep up with the rapidly expanding digital realm face the threat of lowered productivity, higher recruitment fees, increased competition and a resulting reduction in profit margins. Firms in various different industries need tech-savvy employees to stay ahead of the game, but we face a shrinking & outdated home-grown talent pool – which is why it’s more important than ever to get more females interested in the sector.

To encourage more females into the industry we first need to tackle the skills gap as a starting point. And I think the answer to this lies in an interconnected partnership of responsibility between the education system and UK businesses. The way we educate people, both male and female, when it comes to tech is still outdated and – while coding and digital skills are now part of the curriculum in some schools, and we’ve introduced new qualifications such a T-levels – it is not reflective of where the industry will be in years to come. In many cases the opportunity to study digital topics in any business-applicable detail isn’t available to youngsters until university level, by which time most of them have already decided on their chosen career path. Tech-related university degrees themselves aren’t relevant enough when it comes to teaching students about real-life application in the business world. And the industry is moving so fast that the curriculum of a three year university course becomes outdated before the student has even managed to graduate.

On the flip-side of the coin, we have recruiters and HR managers who aren’t tech-savvy enough themselves to truly understand where and how the gap needs bridging. This can lead to huge recruitment costs for businesses while sourcing talent that perhaps falls short of what’s needed. Not only that, but there’s also the issue of unconscious gender bias when it comes to recruitment, so that those females who have developed an interest in the field from a young age end up falling short of opportunities when it comes to the business world.

To address the problem, we need to take it back to the education system and look to introduce children not just to the world of tech, but how it is applied in business. The educational system needs to take an agile approach to tech-learning that is backed by relevant businesses, creating a seamless environment in which children can learn and apply their skills in the business world throughout their education. This means making computer courses available to children at school through sponsorship from partnering businesses. It means allowing tech businesses to have input in the curriculum of university courses. It means creating an overlap between educational courses and working in industry, to create a young talent pool in both men and women, whose skills can be applied in business, rather than just in theory.

Not only will this garner more interest in tech from a young age and prepare young people with the skills needed to pursue a business career, it will also encourage more tech-savvy females into the industry by introducing them to the digital career path from the very beginning and allowing them access to wider opportunities throughout their education. As such, bridging the skills gap as a wider issue will positively impact on the number of tech-savvy women in the sector, as well as positively impacting the future productivity of UK businesses in a digital age as a whole.

At Cloud Technology Solutions, we’re already breaking through the boundaries when it comes to nurturing tech skills across all potential talent pools by investing in our people and attracting some of the most talented individuals in the industry to mentor those teams. As a business, we aim to look beyond the CV, casting our net wider to reach and train raw talent. Not everyone will be a tech high-flier, particularly when the educational opportunities haven’t been available to them – but some applicants possess the tenacity to become fantastic tech role-models, whether they be men or women. Businesses need to take the time to nurture these people and thereby build upon their own internal talent pool across both genders.

An ideal scenario exists where the education system facilities the interests of young women with a passion for tech, and businesses create environments that better facilitate both genders. Those firms with industry leading training programmes, as well as maternity and childcare support policies, for example, are more likely to attract the best talent. The answer lies in businesses and the education system taking joint responsibility in order to bridge the skills gap and create a more attractive digital industry. If we first look to change the way we educate and nurture people in the tech world, the rest will follow.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine