Why we need more women in technology

With International Women’s Day just around the corner, there is no better time to consider the future of women in technology. Traditionally, the world of tech has always been dominated by men, but as technology becomes more and more part of our everyday lives it’s imperative that women play a bigger role. Not only do we need technology to be designed with women in mind (we do make up half of the population afterall) but we need more tech-capable workers to meet future workforce demands.

Research suggests that only one-in-six tech specialists in the UK are women and only one-in-ten are IT leaders. And, despite significant growth in the number of women working in IT roles, female representation in the sector has stalled over the last ten years. The big names in tech, Facebook, Google, Intel, and Apple have pledged to improve the the future of women in IT but according to a recent World Economic Forum report, the global gender gap will take about 100 years to close at the present pace of change. We need to get a move on.

Without the input of women, tech teams are making mistakes and missing opportunities. Take this shocking example: when Apple launched its Health App to track our body’s daily functions it managed to completely omit a tracker for women’s menstrual or reproductive cycle. This would never have happened if a woman had been on the team. Another example of the value of a woman’s perspective is seat belts. As soon as women started driving and carting kids around, they refused to do it without better safety measures, hence the introduction of the seatbelt. Basically, input from women made cars safer for us all. So, we need women to increase diversity, which in turn will increase creativity and innovation, an absolute must for the technology of the future.

According to a report from Nominet, The UK economy would benefit from an extra £2.6 billion each year if we increase the number of women working in tech to fill the prevalent IT skills shortage. The core benefits most likely to come from hiring more women in the workforce are improved communication skills, innovative ideas and boosted morale. But how do we make this happen?

Addressing the pay gap would be a good start. According to a 2017 study by Mercer UK the average gender pay gap in the UK is 18%, but in the technology sector it is 25%. In fact, at job interviews for tech positions women are offered between 4% and 45% lower starting pay than men for the same job. Again, big tech companies are starting to insist on gender equality in financial terms and the likes of Intel and Salesforce.com are pledging to pay the same wage to women and men doing the same work, but is this enough to encourage women into the sector?

Women need to know that there are good career progression opportunities in this male-dominated world. A recent survey suggests that Silicon Valley is positively changing its attitude to recognise and reward female workers: of 1,500 women working in technology more than half aged between 18 and 39 reported good opportunities to advance their career. This is encouraging.

However, one of the biggest problems for women in STEM careers is an unrealistic work-life balance. More than 43% of women quit their jobs when they have children, as they can’t afford childcare. As the way we work is changing, it’s more important than ever to make sure all employees, including women, have the support they need to succeed. Flexible working conditions are a must if we want to tap into women’s much-needed expertise and skills.

But we need to start early if we’re really going to make a difference. In the UK, a report by the Observer in 2017 found that 74% of young girls expressed an interest in STEM subjects and computer science, but only 25% hold computing jobs and this has declined from 36% in 1991. We need to do more in the classroom to encourage and inspire future generations of women. And then give them the support to pursue it by studying computing and technology at school and going on to do apprenticeships and degrees.

The good news is that the tech sector is beginning to wake up to the value of women. But there needs to be cultural shift on a global scale, and not just in technology. Women make up half of the world’s population and yet represent a staggering 70% of the world’s poor. Educating and empowering them could be the only way to meet the demands of the future and break the poverty cycle.

A balanced world is a better world. Find out about International Women’s Day here.