Women in tech: the £150bn advantage of increasing diversity
Ursula Burns, chair and CEO, Xerox.

Women in tech: the £150bn advantage of increasing diversity

To mark International Women’s Day – 8 March 2018 – Guardian technology journalist Joanna Goodman sets out not only the size of the challenge of increasing diversity in a male-dominated industry, but also the enormous advantages.

A recent Women in Technology World Series roundtable identified five fundamental challenges that need to be met to achieve gender diversity in the technology sector.

The essential changes are closing the gender pay gap – to ensure that the industry values women and men equally – and, importantly, engaging men to champion gender equality in the workplace.

Doing this will demonstrate the value to businesses, and to the entire tech industry, of recruitment, promotion, and reward being determined by merit, rather than by outdated preconceptions.

Removing barriers to entry

The figures are stark: women make up just 14.4 percent of people working in science technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) careers in the UK, according to research by Deloitte. This figure is even less than the 17 percent reported last year by robotics organisation UK-RAS at UK Robotics Week.

The research also finds that 70 percent of women with STEM qualifications don’t go into those industries, despite girls outperforming boys in every STEM subject at A’Level. This discrepancy has been linked to a lack of confidence, leading many businesses to change their approach to recruitment.

Kate Miller, chief commercial officer at City Pantry says, “Often when jobs are advertised, businesses automatically lean towards a certain candidate. We’re actively employing a strategy to make sure our job applications and descriptions aren’t biased towards a certain demographic.”

The other side of the coin involves encouraging girls into STEM careers. Deloitte suggests that businesses need to engage with schools and colleges to reduce the engrained differences in the skills that women gain and develop. In short, improving confidence removes the barriers.

Closing the IT pay gap

Despite years of campaigning, the gender pay gap in the tech sector – 17 percent – is much higher than the nine percent disparity found across all industries collectively.

Research by Hired found that, on average, technology companies offer women three percent less than men for the same roles, and that 69 percent of the time, men receive higher offers than women for the same roles.

“Until women get paid the same as men, it’ll always be women who have to step down from their careers and into the primary caregiver role,” explains Sereena Abbassi, head of Culture & Inclusion at M&C Saatchi Group.

However, the pay gap is lowest in seed-stage companies, suggesting that startups recognise the benefit of a diverse workforce. So the question then becomes: can diversity and pay parity be sustained as companies grow?

A significant factor in wage disparity is the ‘expectation gap’, which again links inequality with confidence. Hired found that as the ratio of men to women in a role increases, so does the wage gap, which means that the expectation gap is wider for more senior roles.

This highlights the importance of offering equal pay early on, as salary discrepancies will be compounded by time and seniority.

Overcoming unconscious bias

“Unconscious bias is not just present in hiring; it’s present throughout our careers,” says City Pantry’s Miller. “I have young children and in one of my previous roles, I travelled a lot. Every time I volunteered to go abroad for a project, one of my colleagues – with good intent – would volunteer to go in my place.”

That may be bias or social conditioning, but unconscious bias has been cited as a contributing factor in why, for example, 91 percent of investment over the past year has gone to companies with no female founders.

It may also contribute to the fact that male managers are 40 percent more likely to be promoted than female managers, which exacerbates the gender pay gap, according to the Chartered Management Institute.

Awareness is the first step toward overcoming unconscious bias. Mentoring programmes and broadening the variety of workplace networks are among the solutions to raising awareness of the problem.

IBM CEO Virginia Rometty, who has refocused the company on cognitive services

Addressing imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is the feeling of inadequacy that has been experienced by many female technology leaders, including Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg.

“When I looked around the office there were a lot of women, but not many leaders,” explains Intuit’s marketing leader, Alicia Skubick.

“Imposter syndrome can be a real barrier to qualified female candidates applying for leadership positions, or seeking a promotion, or a step up in their careers. This is why we’ve set up a networking group and a mentoring programme. We coach on imposter syndrome and fear of failure.”

Skubick encourages women leaders to inspire and support others. “If female leaders are passionate about promoting their peers, we will start to see a real impact,” she says.

Engaging men, as well as women

According to Tech Nation 2017, digital tech jobs are being created twice as fast as non-digital jobs, with six percent of UK employees working in digital tech roles – a total of 1.64 million jobs. Similar statistics are to be found worldwide.

McKinsey suggests that bridging the UK gender gap has the potential to add £150 billion to GDP forecasts for 2025, and could translate into 840,000 additional female employees.

So the message is clear: there are significant economic benefits to be gained for the UK and for the wider tech industry by encouraging more women to work – and lead – in the sector, and by increasing workplace diversity.

But genuine gender equality in the workplace means engaging everyone: women and men. Technology director for Platform at Expedia, Nasreen AbdulJaleel says, “We’re building more confidence to ask for, and expect more, from our male colleagues. And the response is really encouraging.”

“The onus can’t just be on women; we need to work in tandem with men in order to create greater gender equality.”

However, the fact remains that gender diversity in technology needs to start long before childcare considerations come into the picture – it needs to be a priority in education, when students are deciding which subjects to study and which career direction to take.

It’s then about encouraging female STEM graduates into tech roles in a 21st century workplace with female role models and a culture of support and equality.

Female tech leaders are in the vanguard of change, engaging male and female colleagues to overturn unconscious bias and the preconception that entrepreneurs, leaders, and managers are male roles.

The best way to change women’s expectations is by creating a workplace where men and women are valued – and paid – equally.

Internet of Business says

Despite years of campaigning for gender equality and diversity in society, it’s both depressing to read the statistics for the tech sector, and inspiring to see the change bubbling under, as described in Joanna Goodman’s report.

The UK’s AI industry is in the vanguard of that change. At the recent Westminster eForum event on public AI policy, many of the leading speakers were women, including Dame Wendy Hall, techUK’s Sue Daley, and Dr Rannia Leontaridi and Gila Sacks, who are joint heads of the new Office for AI in Whitehall.

Elsewhere in the industry, CEOs such as IBM’s Virginia Rometty, HPE’s Meg Whitman, and Ursula Burns of Xerox – the first black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company – join Facebook’s Sandberg at the very top, along with the many senior academics in AI, tech policy, and robotics who are women.

But all too often tech industry events neglect to invite women to participate, or resort to featuring them in ‘womens’ panels’. This is frequently an expression of unconscious bias rather than an indication that there aren’t enough women to invite.

Fostering and encouraging change is one thing, but sustaining it is another – especially when this is a global problem. For example, it’s extraordinary to report that, in 2018, only one country in the world has 50 percent or more representation of women in parliament: Rwanda. Most Western nations are a long, long way behind.

Let’s work together to not only talk about change, but put systems and policies in place to make it happen and to sustain it into the future.

Internet of Business is committed to fostering diversity in every way and to featuring as many women in the technology sector in our stories as possible, not in the sense of positive discrimination, but to reflect the fact that women are frequently leading or involved with programmes at senior level.

Despite that, they are frequently overlooked by IT publications who default to ‘man in a suit’ photos or pictures of technology. Over time, this reinforces perceptions than can easily be changed.

• Joanna Goodman is a freelance journalist who writes about business and technology for national publications, including The Guardian newspaper and the Law Society Gazette, where she is IT columnist. Her book Robots in Law: How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming Legal Services was published in 2016.

Read more: Women in AI & IoT: Why it’s vital to Re•Work the gender balance