Returner and retraining schemes key to closing the gender gap in tech says WISE

WISE, the campaign for greater gender balance in science, technology and engineering (STEM), is urging employers to implement returner and retraining schemes to speed up progress towards closing the gender gap in STEM, and in particular in technology and digital roles. There are now over 1 million women working in core STEM roles, however, in technology women represent just 16% of the IT profession. 

WISE CEO Helen Wollaston 

Helen Wollaston, Chief Executive of WISE, explains: “We have an enormous tech skills gap and with employers struggling to fill these roles, it’s time to do something different. There is a huge untapped potential of women who have so much to bring to technology; communications skills, people skills, problem solving, and business experience. Creating opportunities through returner and retraining schemes for women to move into these roles offers a perfect solution and help to fill them quickly. If we scaled up these schemes across the UK, we could also speed up progress and close the gender gap sooner.” 

Research shows that 45% of women on career breaks would be interested in returner programmes, 45% of women would be willing to retrain to acquire new technical skills, and 97% say technical skills are fundamental to the future of the UK economy. 

Helen adds: “We are already seeing some employers embrace this opportunity and run successful schemes, we want more to recognise the benefits not only for women, but for their businesses.” 

WISE points to the BBC’s Step into Tech programme as an example. The part-time, three-month programme provides training and a route into software engineering for women with the overall aim of improving the gender diversity in the division. The pilot programme kicked off in November 2018 and resulted in 11 female Associate Software Engineers working across the BBC’s Design + Engineering division after completion. Programme 2 commenced in November 19. 23,000 applications were received and 8,000 of those were submitted for the 16 places available. 

Sue Mosley, Programme Lead, BBC Step into Tech, says: “It’s essential that organisations make positive interventions to take on the challenge of gender diversity within the technology sector. This programme has had such a positive impact and has been truly life changing for many of the students. The women all came from non-tech backgrounds and were drawn from a range of professions including teaching, law and customer services; the majority of them believed that there were no accessible routes for them to get into the sector.” 

Lloyds Banking Group has been running a Returner programme for six years, to support their goal of increasing representation of female senior leaders. The programme is open to anyone who has been on a career break for 2 or more years, and it has attracted high calibre of both male and female applicants. To date, the Group has employed 95 returners and recently introduced a new technical and digital programme which received 400 applications for the 10 roles available. 

Fiona Cannon, Group Responsible Business, Sustainability and Inclusion Director says: “To achieve our goal of having more women at a senior level, we knew we had to do something different. Through our Returners programme, our aim is to help women return to work at the same level as they had been prior to their career break.” 

WISE has a number of case studies to help employers understand the benefits of returner and retraining schemes with advice from organisations that are running successful schemes.