The barriers to getting women into tech and how to break them

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Growing female representation in technology has been on the agenda for the last decade. Yet since 2020, the percentage of women in UK tech stands at just 17%.

Despite the industry focussing on Women’s Equality Day to raise awareness and media celebrating successful women in tech – such as Whitney Wolfe, founder and CEO of Bumble and Lisa SU, President and CEO of AMD – the gender balance is shifting far too slowly.

Why we urgently need more women in tech

Getting more women into tech is smart for business and good for the economy. Firstly, a more balanced representation correlates with higher returns. In 2019, research by Morgan Stanley found companies with equal representation across all organisational levels outperform less diverse peers financially by 3.1% per year.

Secondly, diverse teams develop more creative solutions. Which is why it’s no surprise technology companies with equal numbers of men and women benefit from more innovative ideas.

Thirdly, research shows that women have higher levels of emotional intelligence, which is crucial for people in leadership roles and high-stress environments.

Finally, women could help to fill a digital skills gap that is concerning global economies. This gap is already costing UK £6bn in GDP per year, according to techUK.

But how can we attract the 1 million women needed in the UK to reach gender parity in the sector?

Understanding the barriers

To get more women into tech we need to understand what’s holding them back. Having worked with many women across different tech roles and organisational levels I see two big barriers, both based on mistaken perceptions:

One, the image of tech as dry, code-heavy and void of creativity.

Two, the myth that tech is complex and mastering it requires a lot of technical knowledge.

Breaking the first barrier – an image change for tech

To many, tech equals coding – and coding has an unjustly ‘boring’ reputation. Businesses need to encourage women to look beyond the coding myth. The Firstsource Automation League pilot did just that. The focus of the programme was to take our ‘non-tech savvy’ employees and give them the skills needed to build their own automations. The pilot was attended by a 40% strong female cohort, who became some of the top pupils.

One participant, Jodi Sheneman-Pettenger, a Service Excellence Trainer, was hesitant to apply due to lack of coding experience. Fortunately, Jodi’s manager persuaded her to join. Since graduating from the programme Jodi’s view about tech and coding skills has changed and she’s adopted automation into her day-to-day, saying: “Now, when I’m working on a report, my first thought is, I bet I could build an automation for this”.

The image of tech also needs to change for women in senior roles. Currently, leadership programmes tend to focus on people management and competency skills, and there is an opportunity for programmes to feature a curriculum or workshops that train leaders on the benefits of technology. This would give women a better understanding of how to apply technology as an avenue for growth.

Breaking the second barrier – less complexity, more application

The number of technologies and vastness of the field is another big barrier. How can you start learning something if you don’t know where to begin?

One way to make the nebulous topic more accessible is by breaking it down into different technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence or explaining different software, as well as aligning the possibilities to tangible outcomes.

In the instance of Firstsource Automation League, it centred on one specific technology – automation. Before teaching any actual technical skills the programme focussed on developing an ‘automation mindset’ that would help participants identify processes that can be automated.

This approach had the benefits of once again changing perception of tech. As one participant Kim Buntyn, Senior Service Center Director, Firstsource noted: “Automation League opened my mind to so many different possibilities. And there was such a great community to support you with any questions – it was an amazing experience!”.

Creating a virtuous circle

As a woman working in tech for nearly a decade, I always struggled to find female peers to learn from. This is another challenge that Automation League helped us to address. We encourage former participants to become mentors and ambassadors to the next cohort. One of the participants, Poonam Parab, Team Leader, Firstsource is championing the programme: “Before Automation League – I was scared about automation because the association with coding put me off. Post Automation League – I see automation in a different light. I urge others to participate in the initiative!”.

The tides are slowly turning for women in technology but there’s a long way to go. To organically get women into technology, we must keep encouraging them to test the waters. Organisations must play their part with training and upskilling programmes, and a little nudge to encourage participation.

By addressing the gender diversity imbalance in the industry, businesses can reap the rewards of accelerated innovation and profitability. At a time when concerns about the digital skills gap are deepening, organisations should be treating every day like it’s Women’s Equality Day.

This article is written by Jayashree Acharia, VP – Transformation Advisory Practice at Firstsource and was first published in We Are Tech Women.

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