What can we do about gender bias in the tech industry?
Despite several initiatives set up to boost female participation in fields like coding and computer science, only 26% of the tech workforce is made up of women. That's right, a five-trillion-dollar industry that continues to be made up of predominantly men.
But things are changing. Our industry is more actively seeking female employees than ever before, as demonstrated by the recent partnerships formed between huge companies and organisations like Code First Girls. It’s a great first step, but we’re asking: what else can we do to balance the scales?
Bethan McGrath, Product Designer at Neverbland, explains: “The tech industry can look intimidating from the outside, especially startups. In the past ten years, it seemed like men who talked a big game and made big promises were rewarded with investment, but now people are realising that approach isn’t always successful in the long term. The shine of this traditionally masculine, bullish leadership style is wearing off.”
How did we get here?
The reasons why so few women are working in tech are nuanced and multifaceted, starting with how we choose to educate women. In 2020, the number of girls choosing to study computer science at GCSE was 16,919 – just over 21.4% of total entrants in the UK. Only 9% of female graduates studied a core STEM subject in 2018, whilst just 3% of women say a career in technology is their first choice career. From the get-go, whether it be consciously or unconsciously, we teach girls that tech is not for them.
Women are not provided with enough awareness and opportunities in the early stages of their education. Perhaps if organisations partnered with schools, providing young women with role models within the industry, we could see an increase in female interest. Even offering more extensive career counselling that introduces opportunities within the tech sphere could help balance the scales. If girls were encouraged to engage with STEM subjects from the get-go, we might not be experiencing this gender imbalance today.
But let’s say you jump that first hurdle and land unscathed. You made it! Congratulations! You are a woman that works in tech. Now you face the looming issue of female employee retention within this male-dominated industry. Girls Who Code found that half of the young women who work in tech leave their job by 35, citing “non-inclusive company culture” as their reason for changing their careers. Not only is that concerning on a surface level, but we’re faced with a future without any female role models for young women who could be interested in a tech career. And the vicious cycle continues to spin.
How do we break the cycle?
Some major players have taken steps to balance the gender scales in their organisations, with the financial sector leading the charge towards female empowerment. Just last month, Starling Bank and Lloyds Banking Group became the most recent additions to Code First Girl’s lengthy client list. Code First Girls is the UK’s largest provider of free coding courses for women, encouraging women and girls of all ages and backgrounds to build careers in tech.
Anna Brailsford, CEO of Code First Girls, said: “There is a glaring gender gap in both the tech and financial services industries, which becomes even worse when you look at senior teams. These industries are critical for the UK’s economic competitiveness and innovation, but they need to diversify to better reflect the UK and benefit from female talent. Through partnerships with companies like Starling Bank and Lloyds Banking Group, we are helping women break into the industry by linking amazing talent with businesses globally.”
Even with initiatives being set up to boost female participation in coding and computer science, there still aren’t enough women carving out a career in the industry. In the UK, only 18% of computer programmers and software development professionals, web design professionals, and data analysts are women.
How can we make the workplace female-friendly?
Over half of the women working in stem-related roles have felt some sort of discrimination based on their gender, whilst one in five of these women reported that their gender has made it harder for them to succeed at work and receive promotions. If companies want to improve gender equality, not just with a quick female hire surge but to retain their female workforce, there are steps to take to ensure that women feel equally valued as their male colleagues.
The ability to receive growth opportunities is a key ingredient when creating an equal workplace, yet 40% of women in tech say that they’ve missed out on a promotion. Instead, a less qualified male colleague was handed the opportunity. The same women reported that they hadn't been offered an opportunity to progress, and wondered if they would have to leave their employer in order to be promoted.
As well as promoting women, we need to ensure that they are paid correctly. That means ensuring all people, regardless of gender, are paid the same for doing the same job. You’d think that one should be obvious by now, but here we are.
Creating space for a healthy work-life balance is important for all genders within the workforce these days. 71% of women working in tech make scheduling time with their family, friends and partner a high priority. That's 71% of women who want to achieve a healthy balance between working and living.
“Without equal maternity and paternity leave, affordable childcare in the UK, and a culture of flexible working, it will always be harder for women to get to senior leadership roles.”
“At Neverbland, my male colleagues sometimes need to leave early to do the school run, or their children make a guest appearance on team calls. It’s great to see men in tech with childcare duties - I think this is what the future of the workplace will look like.” This flexibility is crucial to ensuring the delicate but essential balance between work and personal priorities that keep people satisfied at work.
Historically, women have been forced to play the man’s game; be that engaging in lad-ish antics to gain entry into the exclusive boy’s club, or down-paying their feminine traits to ‘blend in’ better. It's time we rewrite the rulebook for what makes a good leader. Gone are the days in which women were considered weaker, or too meek and mild for the business world. We empower feminine traits with every hire, every promotion, and every celebration of women in the tech industry.
“I’m not interested in ‘leaning in’ and mimicking an old-school, masculine style of working” echoes Bethan. “Stereotypically feminine traits are what can make someone an effective leader or teammate - things like listening to understand, taking time to deliberate on decisions, and tapping into the emotional temperature of a team. Those are the skills I’m trying to work on.”
And it’s those skills that will transform the face of the tech industry. Investing in women is investing in the future of technology. As Karen Spärck Jones, the pioneering British computer scientist and campaigner for gender equality used to say, "Computing is too important to be left to men.”
So, what is Neverbland doing about it?
When I first joined Neverbland I was a fledgling writer who was pretty tech-phobic, to say the least. I found myself working in a digital product studio by total accident, without really knowing what one is and what it does. The closest I had come to coding was customising my Tumblr theme back in the day, or thinking I was proper-techy for using the ‘motherload’ cheat code in Sims 4. As I nervously awaited my first day in the office I envisioned a real boy's club waiting for me. I have never been so delighted to be wrong.
What is truly refreshing about Neverbland is that we have never shied away from the discussion of gender equality within the workplace. From the moment I started, I was made aware of the steps that Neverbland was taking to not only ensure more representation of women within the workplace, but how NB was creating space for women to revel in what they do. Now we have more female employees than ever before - including project managers, designers, and developers. As we strive to eliminate gender bias in our studio and the wider technology industry, we will continue to make the necessary changes to empower women in the workplace.
“I passionately believe that a diverse business is a better business,” explains Scott Lenik, CEO of Neverbland. “There have been some positive steps taken by tech sectors recently, but we still have a long way to go before we’re the best in the class. Neverbland is committed to increasing diversity across not just our business, but uplifting all underrepresented people across the industry. Diversity and equality is the future of tech.”
It’s time to make a conscious and concerted effort to balance the gender scales within the tech industry. Don’t get me wrong - it isn’t a quick fix. Creating gender equality in tech requires the undoing of years of gender dynamics and oppressive workplace habits, but it's a necessity to unlock the tech industry's full potential.
Empower women, and empower the entire industry.