Reflections on gender in the Technology industry
By Sabrina Castiglione, Chief of Staff at Tessian and WISE Young Women’s Board member.
I moved into the technology industry about two years ago; as someone who’d always had a strong STEM streak and spent time in the science and maths areas (and been – to say the least – not thrilled, but to a degree, normalised to the level of gender balance in those fields) entering the technology industry was a shock. The Professional, Scientific & Technical industries have about 35% representation, however, the Information & Technology industry representation drops to 24%, with ICT/IT specific roles around the 17-19% mark (See the 2017 Women in STEM workforce stats). As an understatement: it was noticeable (and I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like as a professional engineer where there’s only 11% representation).
So two years in, what has been the key takeaway?
Apart from the obvious – that numbers are low – one of the big realisations has been that whilst there’s quite some way to go in all industries to reshape workplace attitudes and (mis)conceptions about gender, that there’s not a lack of demand in technology for a greater gender balance. To phrase it in economic terms, there is a profound issue with supply. I’m yet to meet a modern technology company that doesn’t profess a want to have a greater gender balance, and anecdotally, the stage at which I see companies taking diversity seriously is earlier than I’d have (perhaps cynically) expected. There are a great many Women in Technology groups and meetups, and I’ve seen the crammed depths that comprise the LinkedIn inboxes of female software developers. Companies want to hire women into these roles. However, right now, the number-count of qualified women is not there – not in the roles that make technology companies technology companies (software developers and architects & so on).
Asking why that would be the case, it seems clear the problem is starting before women are entering the workplace.
Whilst there are encouraging trends in STEM subject uptake, only 10% of Computing GCSE entrants are female (WISE 2018 A-Level analysis). In such a specialised and technical field, chances are, that if someone isn’t doing the GCSE, they’re not doing the A Level, then not doing the Degree, and ultimately not going into those careers.
For me, this was a core driver in involvement with WISE, that we need to first work to change STEM role model visibility, attitudes to STEM, and perceptions of STEM subjects early in order for the impact to flow through to the workplace – and to what are compelling, rewarding, and financially attractive careers. And secondly, that we need to recognise the importance and – let’s be frank – scarcity of female STEM professionals. We need to be doing what we can to encourage and facilitate retraining into STEM (although this is admittedly a lot harder for smaller companies with fewer resources and training capacity), and we need to be making meaningful and effective efforts to reduce attrition out of STEM, making STEM industries viable for return-to-work professionals, and ensuring we create workplace cultures that recognise and respect the value of their female employees, and encourage progression and promotion.