Tackling gender diversity in the tech industry

October 3, 2018

While ‘women in technology’ stats remain worryingly low, one North East organisation is defying the odds

The technology sector is one of the fastest-growing in the world, in the UK growing around 2.6 times faster than the overall economy. While this is great news, the industry is still struggling with its levels of diversity. For a sector that is facing a severe skills shortage, attracting more women into roles could be one of the solutions.

A recent report found that women currently account for only 15 per cent of employees in STEM related fields. Even more concerning is that this is unlikely to change any time soon – only 15.8 percent of undergraduates studying STEM subjects are women.

Yet Sunderland Software City – a regional business support and innovation agency that has been supporting the North East tech sector for the past decade – has found itself with a more than 60 per cent female workforce. And this was no accident.

Laura Richards, head of communications, says: “The factors that contribute to low levels of diversity in any sector are multiple and complex, making them difficult to address. But there are still practical steps businesses can take when recruiting to attract a wider range of applicants.”

Studies have shown that women are less likely to apply for jobs that they feel under-qualified for, while men are more likely to apply for ‘stretch roles’ (i.e. where they do not fulfil all the employee criteria).

Laura continues: “We make a conscious effort to ensure our recruitment campaigns are inclusive, from the way we word job descriptions to the way we manage the interview process. We typically hold open days before asking candidates to apply for jobs and ensure that we have a mixed gender team there on the day.

“This simple step has significantly increased the number of women applying for roles that they might otherwise have deemed ‘too technical’ or beyond their current skill level.”

Further research has highlighted that young women want to work with employers with a strong history of inclusion, diversity and equality.

Many women see the low number of women in tech and choose to enter other fields – only 3 per cent of female students cite STEM as their first career choice and 78 per cent can’t name a famous female working in technology.

It’s important therefore to recognise the importance of role models – something Software City actively promotes.

Laura says: “As a team we all feel a responsibility to improve the sector we work in. It can feel a bit weird or embarrassing to call yourself a role model, but it’s important that women are visible in the industry. As a company we are working hard to help inspire future generations – not only through our school engagement activities but by giving all our team (regardless of gender and role) the opportunity to talk at events, write their own blog posts, and take part in careers days.”

To celebrate some of the incredible women that have inspired the Software City team, here they share some of their own personal role models.

Naomi Morrow, head of innovation
“I recently attended the Game Changers Summit in the House of Commons and I was lucky enough to sit on Aimee Chapel’s table (previously MD for UK Health at Accenture). Aimee talked about saying yes to everything (within reason) – that way you learn what you’re good at and what you enjoy, and you find you can do more than you might initially think is possible. I’ve since tried to apply that to my decision making and it has definitely allowed me to explore some interesting opportunities.”

Jenny Lang, programme engagement manager
“Dr Sue Black has overcome adversity and personal challenges to become a leading tech evangelist, digital skills expert and social entrepreneur. Passionate about inclusion, she believes technology can empower and change individuals lives for the better.”

Sophie Craggs, programme engagement manager
“Someone I rank highly on my list of inspirational people is Emma Watson. I love watching how someone so close to my own age uses her public platform to speak loudly and strongly about important issues, such as gender equality, by being a UN Women Goodwill ambassador, and helping to spark important campaigns like MeToo, TimesUp, and HeforShe.”

Laura Richards, head of communications:
“I’m lucky that in recent years, I’ve found myself surrounded by women who are building incredibly successful companies. My role model today is Sarah Hall, MD of Sarah Hall Consulting and president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Sarah is one of the most supportive business leaders I’ve met, offering advice and mentorship to others in the industry. She’s also a fearless advocate for gender equality, putting herself in the firing line if that’s what it takes to stand up for what she believes in. It can be daunting to make yourself visible but Sarah inspires me to keep working for what you believe in.”

Jill McKinney, head of skills and training
“Sherry Coutu’s passion for wanting to make a difference to the lives of young people is incredible. The work she has done to date with Founders4Schools is phenomenal, providing a clear route for education and industry to build relationships. I have been fortunate enough to meet Sherry on a number of occasions and I am excited about working more closely with her and the Founders4schools initiative going forward.”

Jeni Banks, business support specialist
“I like to find the best bits from different people and make them something I aspire to be: Leonardo Da Vinci for his inquisitive mind and creativity, Emma Watson for her fierce feminism, Jason Knights for being bold in business and taking risks, Tracy Chandler for her ability to build global brands by being herself, and my big sister for starting her life over and generally being an all-round bad ass.”

Laura Kennedy, operations manager
“Although a fictional character, Clarice Starling was the first female character that I remember seeing as a teen that was entirely unashamed of her intelligence and strength. In a completely male dominated environment, she faces prejudice and sexism from almost every male character – including her boss, but at the end, she singlehandedly takes down the bad guy.”

Jordan Hewitt, events and engagement coordinator
“My colleagues make decisions every day that impact businesses, individuals and have a real impact. We lead on innovation, we develop training and we support SMEs and the women on the team do all of this without apologising for being experts, for knowing more than the men in the room. We are often one of a few women in a sea of suits, and my colleagues inspire me every day to push myself, ask the questions, and do it with passion. That is why I consider the women in this team to be my role models.”