Women in tech: challenging the barriers

Agata Nowakowska at Skillsoft explains how employers can and must challenge barriers to inclusion

The transformative impact of COVID-19 has further exacerbated the UK’s tech skills shortage. Forced to shift at speed in response to the pandemic, digital transformation has become the name of the game for organisations operating in every industry sector.

Yet a growing mismatch between demand and the availability of talent with the necessary advanced digital skillsets is threatening to derail the recovery ambitions of many UK firms.

According to a recent global report, 67% of senior British technology decision makers say a skills shortage is preventing their companies from keeping up with the pace of change, with the biggest shortages being experienced in cybersecurity (42%), big data and analytics (36%) and technical architecture (33%). Meanwhile, an acute shortage of developers is hampering the ability of firms to create new digital products and services.

Unsurprisingly, the intensity of the current skills crisis is forcing organisations to rethink their approach to talent retention and acquisition. Yet, our research reveals that business leaders will need to take action fast if they are to address the barriers that are impeding women from pursuing tech-related careers.

Close the gender gap

Despite decades of progress towards workplace equality, women continue to be under-represented in the UK’s technology workforce. Indeed, 72% of women working in UK technology roles report being outnumbered by male colleagues at a ratio of two-to-one or greater.

When it comes to workplace culture, the women we surveyed report encountering persistent inequity, condescending treatment and scepticism in their abilities from male peers. Which may explain why it’s taking them longer to climb the corporate ladder; the highest percentage of men in leadership roles have 15-20 years of experience versus 26 or more years for women.

Worryingly, 37% of UK women working in tech say the lack of pay equity with male colleagues has proved a top challenge, while a third (33%) confirm having been excluded from career advancement opportunities.

Determined to contribute and build credibility within their organisations the women we surveyed have stayed the course, despite being outnumbered and frequently undermined. Over half (54%) hold mid-level management roles, while 38% operate at a senior director or C-level executive level.

Their insights into how organisations can challenge the barriers to inclusion should serve as a wakeup call for any firm looking to tackle the tech talent shortage and encourage more women to enter the sector and take on leadership roles.

Create a level playing field

Making a concentrated effort to reduce gender bias in STEM is just the start. Alongside eliminating issues like the gender pay gap and doing more than just paying lip service to the creation of a culture of diversity and inclusion, organisations will also need to alleviate the unique on-the-job challenges that women face.

Today’s hybrid working realities means that firms need to do more when it comes to aligning the employee benefits they offer with what resonates strongest with their workforce. For UK women working in tech, the lack of a work-life balance (43%) proved a top concern. Which explains why paid time off, flexible working hours, and the opportunity to work remotely were ranked as the top employee benefits they’d like to encounter.

Significantly, professional training and development opportunities were also viewed as a top employee benefit by UK respondents (38.5%), as were coaching and mentoring opportunities (29.5%).

It’s easy to understand why. Professional development and training is highly prized by women in tech. Indeed, 50% of UK respondents say gaining a certification has earned them greater responsibility. For others, the acquisition of a new qualification had resulted in a salary rise (36%) or promotion (34%).

Provide more training opportunities

Women want greater access to training and development opportunities that will put them on the pathway to high paying roles and enable them to enter fields where demand for talent is high and will be sustained for the long term.

Asked which areas they’d most like to gain certifications in, UK women working in tech identified business analysis, analytics/AI/machine learning, leadership and management, cloud computing and cybersecurity as their top picks. All of which are key fields where organisations are experiencing significant skills shortages right now.

If firms are to successfully harness and develop this latent talent to fill skills gaps, they’ll need to ensure the certified training they deliver is timely, topical and personalised. Asked to identify which factors mattered the most, women working in UK tech wanted:

  • the freedom to schedule the training they need, when they need it
  • courses featuring subject experts and opportunities for hands-on-practice
  • a choice of delivery formats (instructor led virtual classrooms, on-demand)
  • tailoring/course customisation to meet organisational needs.

It’s time for action – pragmatic ways to make it happen

Our Women in Tech 2021 survey reveals how current efforts to improve diversity are doing little to improve the realities of working life when it comes to encouraging more women to enter and stay in the sector.

Organisations need to move beyond simply mandating shortlists and quotas and address the bedrock issues that continue to disincentive women from entering or pursuing a career in technology. That includes creating a truly equitable and inclusive working environment, featuring mentoring initiatives and highly visible female role models that are the key to attracting more women across the organisation to consider re-skilling for a tech role. Or encouraging newly recruited young female talent to stay and grow to its full potential.

Empowering female employees to acquire the certifications they want and will need to thrive in this field is also essential. Similarly, initiating targeted succession and learning programmes that will help women overcome gender biases and support women on their career path so they can assume more responsibility and leadership roles will also prove a crucial agent for change.

If UK firms are serious about building more inclusive, equitable and competitive businesses that are fit for the future, they’ll need to harness the talent that lies within their existing workforce and create an employer brand of excellence that puts it’s money where it’s mouth is where gender-diverse teams are concerned.

Going beyond the rhetoric means addressing the gender-related discrimination that still exists in many of today’s male-dominated tech environments, ensuring that equal pay and promotion opportunities are open to all, and that appropriate support is in place to help support women achieve an appropriate balance between work and life.

Agata Nowakowska is AVP EMEA at Skillsoft where she leads the field operations, to include enterprise and small & mid-market, as well as channel sales/strategic alliances across Europe, Middle East and Africa

Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com

© Business Reporter 2021

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