7 ideas to help fix the gender imbalance in tech

While we wait for the next generation of female technologists to enter the workforce, what steps can organisations take now to close the gender gap in their tech teams?

Man and woman standing near ladder of success with unequal steps symbolising gender discrimination

Gender diversity is still a key issue in the technology sector. According to Deloitte, by the end of this year women will hold 25% of technology roles within large tech companies globally and this percentage is similar across each continent.

According to Nash Squared, North America currently leads the way. Here tech teams have an average of 28% female employees, while that figure is 26% in Asia and 23% in Europe and Australasia. Focusing specifically on the UK, the Tech Talent Charter reports that 27% of tech roles were held by women last year.

No one region has found the perfect solution to closing the gender gap, but there is agreement that the key is to encourage more school girls to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and then go onto a career in tech.

This should improve the situation long-term, but what can organisations do to boost gender diversity within their current IT teams?

There are several steps businesses can take to make tech roles more appealing to women, but first they should look at company culture and policy.

Anna Cohen Miller, Associate Professor at Nazarbayev University’s Graduate School of Education, points to the need for gender mainstreaming, which purposefully considers gender from the onset of organisations change, culture and policy.

She says that the first step an organisation must take is to become aware of problems of equity, inclusion and diversity. Then it must commit and take active steps to remedy them.

Stacey Hines, Immediate Past President of the Jamaica Technology and Digital Alliance (JTDA) advises companies begin by setting an internal target for diversity.

“CEOs, senior executives and managers have the power to make a decision that they will target a certain percentage of women on their team. Once a commitment is in place, it’s more likely they will be intentional about their recruitment process,” she says.

“Create an inclusive environment – many male leaders are challenged with unconscious bias, but if they can’t see it, they can’t fix it. The blind spot of what impacts women in the traditional ‘tech boys club’ is very real and employers have to decide to take a deeper look.”

1 – Challenge perceptions and stereotypes

This leads us into our first point: challenging perceptions and stereotypes about working in tech.

The tech sector is perceived to be male-dominated, technical and nerdish – a view furthered by such depictions in the media – and while not entirely untrue, should be challenged through positive messaging that promotes ways people of all walks of life can flourish and showcases relatable role models.

2 – Improve representation and highlight more female role models

Perceptions will be changed through the normalisation of women in tech roles – but these role models must be relatable, as a PwC report highlighted.

“Respondents were saying ‘we know who Aida Lovelace is, we know Sheryl Sandberg, but one’s a CEO and the other’s been dead for 100 years’. They’re simply not relatable role models and that’s the bit that’s important.

“We need to highlight more women at earlier stages of their career that others can relate to,” says Sheridan Ash, Technology Innovation Leader at PwC UK and Founder and Co-CEO of Tech She Can.

A great example of this comes from Anne Lebel, Group Chief Human Resources Officer at Capgemini.

“When we profile employees on social media, we make sure to be inclusive and show the breadth and diversity of backgrounds in our teams. Recently we profiled Sjoukje Zaal, an ex-drummer of a heavy metal band who’s now a Microsoft Azure most valuable professional. This is important so younger generations can perceive these team members as role models.”

3 – Look beyond traditional recruitment methods

Expanding how and where you recruit from can help organisations tap into different talent pools of transferable skills or experiences and may lead to more female applicants.

You could even go as far as targeting women specifically – for example, in India, Capgemini launched an initiative to train and hire rural women, providing a wealth of new career opportunities to this often-disadvantaged community.

Outsourcing recruitment to organisations that specialise in creating opportunities for women or minorities is an effective way of broadening the horizons on recruitment, points out Alison Meadows, CEO of Priority Digital Health.

“You can also do some proactive research that can help to draw in prospective employees through different routes that may have been overlooked. HR teams could also consider whether offering apprenticeships for female STEM graduates would be beneficial as often this is the ideal bridging of the gap between graduating and entering the workforce.”

4 – Embrace and highlight flexible working options

Flexible working is now more readily available due to the impact of the pandemic, which proved that working from home doesn’t necessarily equal a drop in productivity.

“This means that location and the old 9-5 are no longer key barriers, opening the door to considering new talent pools and fresh thinking,” says Bev White, CEO of Nash Squared.

While we all benefit from flexible working options, flexibility is vital in attracting more women, who are often primary caregivers in their family, says Mo Isap, Founder and CEO of IN4 Group.

“Something organisations can do today is embrace flexible working in all its guises. This includes options for part-time, working from home, job sharing as well as compressed hours and days,” he says.

5 – Consider returnships

Returnships can also be an effective way to bring more women (back) into the tech sector after a career break and employers are waking up to the untapped skills potential returners can bring to their business.

Not only will they be able to recruit individuals with either technical or transferable skills, they’re also getting people with life experience and maturity.

In today’s digital world things change so quickly that returnships give women the confidence to return to the tech sector, removing yet another barrier.

“It’s enabling them to succeed and ensuring they know their employer is there to support them,” says Dr Andrea Johnson, Chairperson of Women in Technology and Science (WITS) and VP Global Business Systems at Workhuman. “This could be by partnering with an external returnships programme like Women ReBOOT, which is designed to support women with tech sector skills and experience to return to work after a career break.”

6 – Provide more opportunities for development

Nash Squared’s most recent Digital Leadership Report found that only 12% of people in tech leadership roles globally are women, while a PwC Women in Work report found that women feel stalled in mid-level positions due to the lack of leadership and development opportunities.

The latter advises businesses to provide more opportunities for development by introducing retraining and returner programs as well as creating alternative hiring pathways to allow employees to move into different roles.

Other ideas include providing funding for career advancement courses and certification and personalised career coaching.

Not only will such steps help more women rise up the ranks, it is likely to also improve staff retention.

7 – including mentorship

One particular step companies can take to provide opportunities for growth and professional development is offering mentoring.

“If I had to choose one thing, I would recommend providing mentorship programs to females in junior roles and middle management. Get female leaders in your organisation to mentor and help them navigate their way up. They will return the favour in the future to other women, and encourage their female friends to work with them,” says Heekee Kriesler, Chief Transformation Officer, Checkmarx.

“I cannot overstate the importance of role models and support systems. From my experience, many times all it takes is someone that has a practical, real-life answer to the question a young female in a tech role will ask: ‘but how did you do it?’.”