That the IT industry is not exactly teeming with women should come as no surprise. But listen to this: though the gender imbalance in IT is present throughout Europe, it is even more prominent in Britain. Less than 16 percent of those employed by software companies in the UK are women, according to a recent study by BCS, the chartered British institute for IT. How has it come to this and how can we make a change? Read on to find out.
Female Tech Careers Nipped in the Bud
Could it be that women are naturally less adept at tech-related activities? Not really. According to the aforementioned study, even as early as A-levels, girls consistently outperform boys in computing – that is, those few girls, a mere 6.5 percent, who opt to take the exam. Other sources confirm that while girls don’t lag behind boys in math and science skills in elementary school, there is a significant gap in their levels of interest. This difference may well be due to the expectations of society, the often unconscious pressuring by parents and careers for girls to abandon interests deemed too masculine – like the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields.
Although driven by the best of intentions, this mindset is in fact quite harmful: it’s bound to hurt the economy in the not-so-long run. As the need for tech talent skyrockets, it will be more and more difficult to fill the vacancies without all those science-minded women in the industry.
Recruiter Blunders: Pigeonholing Women
Fortunately, some of the more progressive software companies in the UK have realized that workforce enriched with the special strengths and values of women is more productive and versatile. However, in trying to achieve the noble goal of hiring more female talent, these very companies often end up discouraging or even offending women.
One of the most common counter-productive initiatives, according to HR expert Matt Buckland, is setting a quota and thus lowering the bar for women. The female tech professionals he asked about this “didn’t want women only interview days, they didn’t want woman-targeted advertising and they didn’t want to be commoditised with the offer of increased referral bonuses for female candidates”.
Another recurring issue is falling into the trap of stereotypes. Viewing female IT professionals as decorative props to attract their male counterparts is just as bad as creating job ads for female prospects in pink, lipstick-and-heels clichés – and Buckland mentions examples of both.
Needles in the Haystack: Finding Women Takes More Effort
For software companies in the UK as elsewhere, gender should be more than just another item on the diversity checklist. But even if the intentions are genuine, it can be hard to find talented women in tech, as there are precious few of them around.
In Buckland’s words, the idea is to look for the best people, regardless of labels: “The adverts I place aren’t for ‘Ninjas’ or ‘Rockstars’ or other ‘brogrammer’ terms, they are for software engineers, for people who like solving problems and who like having their work make an impact.”
As for finding a healthy gender balance in new IT hires: since women are a minority within the overall tech population, software companies in the UK just have to browse through more candidates to find them. It’s undoubtedly more tedious than skimming off the first few search results, but well worth the effort.
What do you say? Wouldn’t your business benefit from more female talent?