Closing the gender gap: Women in tech have their say

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by Guest Writer

Courtney Wylie, VP of Product & Marketing at Mention Me, investigates the still-current problem of the vast gender gap in tech. Together with clients and colleagues, she explores how things can be changed.

According to Tech Nation, the UK has every reason to feel buoyant, with our tech industry booming. Yet women make up just 17% of this workforce. In recognition of International Women’s Day on 8th March, we spoke with some of the women making up this percentage for their thoughts on the current landscape and how to improve it. 

A positive observation is that talented women make up roles across every department at our MarTech company, Mention Me, from marketing and product to recruitment to engineering. But our ratio of female employees in technical roles defies the norm.

Females in technical roles are underrepresented in the UK and globally. This only worsens as you scale up the career ladder, with inconsistencies in salary and opportunities after having a family. 

According to a US survey, women held just 20% of tech jobs in 2018; a stark contrast to the 74% of girls aspiring to a career in STEM fields. The numbers are no better when looking at tech giants. Despite women making up 27% and 47% of the wider workforce at Microsoft and Netflix respectively, when it comes to tech jobs, the numbers are bleak. Women occupy just two in every 10 tech roles at the seven tech giants surveyed.

In the UK, there are 300,000 more tech jobs now than in 2009, but the percentage of female tech professionals remains stuck at 16%. Higher Education exacerbates the issue, with only 9% of female graduates in 2018 studying a core STEM subject; significantly lower than the 30% required for sustainable representation of women in tech. The attrition rate of women in STEM is also poor, with parenthood highlighted as the most likely cause. 

Celebrating the achievements of women

There appears to be a misalignment between the dreams and goals of young girls, their further education and career choices, and their career and salary expectations in the workplace. There is the possibility this may change as women like Martha Lane Fox, Sheryl Sandberg and Kathryn Parsons take prominence on a tech world stage previously dominated by men like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. 

As countries around the world celebrate the achievements of women on March 8th, and highlight the continuing struggles for gender equality on a global scale, we had plenty of questions for women currently defying the odds and working in tech.

Where does the disparity begin, how and with whom? Is it rooted in education, societal stereotypes and pressures? Or is the problem employment opportunities? What can those of us working in the marketing, tech and digital world do to bring about change?

What resonated throughout the responses is that the problem begins in education but is exacerbated later on by a lack of flexibility and an archaic mindset about a women’s role and scope after having a family. Positively, these things can be changed - and with a new generation of girls with a greater number of role models rising up - are beginning to do so. 

What we have to say

Esther St. Louis, Tech Talent Acquisition Manager at Mention Me, said: “I see the problem in gender parity beginning way before employment - there aren’t enough women graduating with engineering or maths-based degrees in the first place in the UK (it's very different in Asia). That limits the talent pool from the outset.

"From this hurdle, females in the industry tend to seek out tech companies that genuinely promote diversity - and unfortunately not many do. In addition to this, those that choose to have children often leave the industry to look for more flexible roles. It’s a frustrating situation as the issue is multidimensional, and doesn’t necessarily sit with the company recruiting.”

Anca Filip, Head of Product at Mention Me, said: “The speed of development and sophistication of technology has meant that Product as a discipline is becoming more in demand and popular, with greater numbers of women now opting to go for this rather than engineering. Whilst I think it’s positive that more women are entering this profession, it means there’s now often a balance of female product managers working in tech companies, sitting within a team of male engineers. This can reinforce stereotypes and doesn’t help to create the female role models the industry so desperately needs.” 

It’s by no means only women at Mention Me with opinions on the matter. Our client Natasha McArthur, Group Talent Director at OVO, said: "We are delighted that the number of women in tech at OVO has increased over the past year. We’ve put in place a number of initiatives to drive this, including signing the Powerful Women Pledge, having an active Women in the Tech Sphere network, rolling out unconscious bias training to hiring managers and making sure we use and discuss gender data in our team meetings.

"This has enthused the hiring teams at OVO, and having seen the improvements we’ve made to date, we’re looking forward to harnessing all that great energy to support further change."

Another client of ours is Elvie, whose founder and CEO, Tania Boler says “Elvie was founded to challenge the female health status quo and lead a movement where femtech would be taken seriously through smarter technology. 

"We quickly realised when developing our first product that the market was vastly underserved. 65% of healthcare employees are women, yet they only make up 33% of senior executives and 13% of CEOs. Male-dominated leadership in the industry has led to a lack of innovation specifically geared toward supporting women. 

"Fortunately, that’s changing. Five years ago, hardly anyone had heard of femtech. Now, it’s on the rise, with figures predicting it will be worth £40 billion by 2025. Research shows how important growth in the sector is to put women back in control of their health.

"In that context, and as we rapidly expand, hiring the right people is critical. It’s essential to us that everyone who joins Elvie truly believes in the company’s purpose to improve women’s health through technology. Each person at Elvie is motivated by a bigger goal, beyond commercial objectives."

As we enter a new decade, it’s clear that the world is ripe for change in opportunities for women in tech. As the sector rapidly develops, so too will its approach to recruitment have to, in order to secure talent across both genders. We must all do our bit to drive this change.

Be vocal, mentor in the workplace - help schools with their STEM curriculum - talk to school children about what STEM careers look like in the real world. Together, we can close the tech gender gap, once and for all.