A recent survey by Women in Technology, of over 500 women working in technology-related jobs, highlights the ongoing challenges faced by women in this sector. The survey aimed to gain insights into their experiences, thoughts and opinions on gender diversity in the tech industry.
The survey results make depressing reading. 76 per cent of the respondents reported experiencing gender bias or discrimination in the workplace, an increase of 24 per cent from the previous survey in 2019. This starts from imbalances in hiring women to lack of promotional opportunities.
There are also huge pay differentials in the sector. According to the Women in Tech Survey, the gender pay gap stands at 16 per cent in the UK, higher than the national average of 11.6 per cent. Black and Asian women face additional discrimination.
A wake-up call
Gemma Edgar, Women in Technology’s Research Manager, told us: “The survey results are a wake-up call for the tech industry. It is unacceptable that gender bias and discrimination continue to be a widespread issue, and we must take action to address this.”
The gender gap
Currently, only 26 per cent of those working in technology are women, compared to 50 per cent in the labour market as a whole. Perhaps unsurprisingly, London and the south east have the highest proportion of women working in tech industries. Women remain highly under-represented in software engineering and computer science-related jobs.
The picture gets worse if you look at senior roles: only three per cent of chief technology officer or technical director roles are held by women and only 0.6 per cent of chief operating roles.
Far from a glass ceiling, Sam Daley of Built In calls this situation “the broken rung.” Women find it hard to break into the tech sector, with tech companies seemingly caught in a cycle of hiring the same employees, i.e. largely white males, so disadvantage and discrimination are perpetuated.
Inequalities start young
A 2017 study of over 2,000 A-level and university students showed that the gender gap in technology starts at school and is further reinforced through women’s lives. Fewer girls take science and technology (STEM) subjects, apart from Biology, and they find it hard to name women in the technology sector.
Young women are less likely to consider technology careers because of lack of information and positive role models. We’ve all heard of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, but how many of us know about Grace Hopper, a pioneer of computer programming, or Marissa Mayer, an IT executive?
Similar findings in the Women in Tech Survey indicate that not much has changed in the last five years. Edgar commented: “Early misconceptions from a lack of education in young girls is cited by 22% of respondents as the main reason for the lack of female IT professionals.”
‘Phased out’ of computing
This was not always the case. The sad irony is that from WW2 until the 1960s, women took on crucial roles in the burgeoning computing sector – think Bletchley Park. Technology historian Marie Hicks has charted how initially computing was seen as “unskilled, highly feminised work” and women were seen as “low level drones…for jobs that were critical and yet simultaneously devalued.”
Hicks explains that, as the computing industry grew in the ‘70s, women were “systematically phased out and replaced by men who were paid more and had better job titles.” If women had continued to occupy central roles in computing, the tech industry would look very different today.
Positive change is needed
On the positive side, recent statistics from Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) show that the number of women engineers and science professionals is increasing.
In addition, 61 per cent of those responding to the Women in Tech Survey reported that their organisation is actively working towards gender balance in their workforces. The most popular ways they are doing this is by recruiting more women in computing and technology-related roles, working on the professional development paths of women and introducing flexible working.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, more people are working from home and work/life balance is being re-evaluated. Women reported that they would be more likely to apply for jobs if flexible hours and working from home were available.
Returnships: routes back
The availability of ‘returnships’ was also seen as beneficial, giving women routes back into work after a career break and enabling experienced professionals to return to their roles rather than lower-skilled jobs.
Groups such as WISE and Women in Technology are working with employer partners who are committed to increasing gender diversity in the tech industry and creating a more inclusive work environment for women. Edgar is determined to bring about change:
“By showcasing more female role models in the industry, we can inspire young girls to view IT as a realistic and desirable career path.”
Women in the technology sector need supporting throughout their careers, not just at the beginning, and the industry needs to make big changes to enable half their potential workforce to succeed.