Why are more women not choosing technology as a career?

Posted on : 13-07-2017 | By : Aimee Rankine | In : Cyber Security, General News

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I recently attended a ‘Women in Cybersecurity’ talk at InfoSec. Being relatively new to the world of IT and thought it would be a good way to start educating myself. It was exciting for me to see so many women talking so passionately about a subject and I felt like I had made a good choice in pursuing a career in IT. Unfortunately, as I learnt during the course of the morning, not that many women agree with me.

Women make up 47% of the UK workforce, yet only make up 21% of the workforce in Core STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields. In ICT women account for less than 20% of the workforce.

As the STEM sectors continue to grow, women are not taking up the newly created positions at the same rate as men. However, it is in a company’s best interest to attract women to these roles. Research consistently shows that groups perform to a higher standard if the gender balance is even, or when women outnumber men. For example, Catalyst research found that companies with high-level female representation on boards significantly outperformed those with sustained low representation by 84% on return on sales, 60% on return on invested capital, and 46% on return on equity.

The Women’s Business Council predicts that we could add 10% (that is over £150bn) to our GDP by 2030 if all the women that wanted to work were employed. These are significant numbers, so why are STEM companies still struggling to get women involved and what can be done to make these environments more appealing?

I once read, “men are interested in things, and women are interested in people”. I put this theory to the test by looking at a group of my closest friends. One out of the five is in a STEM field, the others are all in fields such as hospitality and education, so that theory seems like it has a leg to stand on. Then I posed the question “why didn’t you fancy a job in a STEM field?” to the other four and the immediate response was “because it’s boring”. A blunt answer, but when I thought about it, STEM subjects were not the lessons any of us most looked forward to at school, and if you did not enjoy it in school why would you pursue you it as a career later on in life? Maybe that is why only 16% of graduates in computer science last year were female. In recent years, organisations such as TechFutureGirls and CoderDojo have been created to provide free courses for schools to give young people the skills they need for future careers in tech and maintain an interest in the field as they progress through their education.

Another possible contributing factor is implicit or unconscious bias which happens when our brains making incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without us realising.

In 2012, a study by Corinne Moss-Racusin was conducted where science faculties asked staff to review a number of applications which were identical apart from the gender of the name. The study found that science faculties were more likely to rate male candidates as better qualified, give them a higher starting salary’ and invest more in their development than the female candidates and overall hire the male over the female.

Women are 45% more likely to leave within a year than men are, they sight such reasons as a hostile macho culture, the feeling of isolation and lack of effective sponsors. With more women leaving the industry, senior female role models become harder to come by.

Sometimes, women often feel like they have to make a choice between having a career and having a family. In a recent study, 85% of 716 women surveyed who have left the tech industry cite maternity leave policy as a major factor in their decision to leave. Tech employers who are not supportive of their female staff and do not offer flexibility in working can only further discourage females from joining up. Allowing flexible working directly correlates with more women in management positions. Rigid working patterns can prevent women from moving into senior management positions as “presenteeism” can restrict the balance between work and childcare priorities. Flexible working is an effective means of retaining this talent. An alternative is allowing fathers to take extended paid maternity leave. If maternity leave is shared, it could blur that gender divide.

Another option for larger companies is to provide onsite childcare, Goldman Sachs provide an onsite nursery offering a few weeks free childcare then a paid service. Women are then free to pop down to see their child at any time. Some companies have introduced a ‘babies at work’ policy, where parents can bring their child to work every day, allowing them to return to work much earlier, but not tech companies.

To attract women into the tech industry, companies need to keep women interested in IT throughout education and their careers with training, mentorship, flexibility and policies that give women the opportunity to succeed.

So, to summarise;

  • Currently women make up less than 20% of the IT workforce
  • Staff recruitment and retention in IT is a huge problem, and even worse with women
  • When women make up more than half of the board, revenue increases

The IT staff resource pool is limited. Low retention increases cost. So why not kill two birds with one stone. If you can attract women that would not normally work in STEM and create an environment they enjoy being a part of, you have struck gold. High staff retention and a female presence on the board would have great impact. Offering shared parental leave and flexible working hours are just some of the steps companies can take to achieve this.