Stereotyping biggest obstacle for women in tech

Despite the championing of Meta's Sheryl Sandberg and YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki, women still face barriers when it comes to entering and succeeding in the world of technology, new research suggests.

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Data obtained by London Tech Week, which takes place 13-17 June 2022, finds that 68% of respondents believe that gender perception is the biggest obstacle to women entering the tech industry. 
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Stereotypes start early

The London Tech Week survey also found that stereotyping and lack of support during schooling (60% and 48%) are the biggest barriers to entry for women getting started in tech. Almost six in ten (57%) would like to see more initiatives from companies to educate girls at school to help redress the balance.The figures correlate with a survey carried out by creative agency CPB London during February 2022. It found 60% of 1,000 UK children aged 5-11 believed that being a plumber or electrician is “a man’s job” and that 46% said "men make better engineers".Helen James, Managing Director of CPB London: "For all the progress made, it's shocking to see how deeply entrenched views can still be about women and men's roles. That tells us we have so much work yet to do to create a world where your gender makes no difference to what you can achieve."

Perception gaps and funding shortfalls 

One respondent to London Tech Week’s survey, said: “I have watched women and men join in the same roles and be treated completely differently. Men are thrown in at the deep end and challenged, women are faced with the attitude ‘I don’t want to give her anything too difficult’ from men at a lower skill level.“The perception is always that women must first prove that they are capable, and this attitude is persistent.”

Another said: “The roles are there, there just aren't enough women applying, let alone women with the right skills; these are more senior tech roles.”

Research shows women in tech are also still “light years” away from their male counterparts in terms of funding.Respondents cited a lack of role models (57%) in the industry is a huge obstacle to entering the sector, as well as negative stories – eg the conviction of former American biotechnology entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes – dampening their prospects of getting funding (48%) or launching a startup (41%)However, there are some signs that this is changing, with an improving pipeline of women-led start-ups, many of whom are disrupters and innovators in their field.

Women feel this is, in part, due to:
  • seeing more leading women in tech championed in the press (60%)
  • an increase in women-focused business events (49%)
  • more women-led funds (58%)
  • accelerator programmes dedicated to women founders (49%). 

The lasting impact of COVID-19

Women have been disproportionately affected by the impact of Covid-19 in the workplace. The tech sector has not escaped this trend.Just over seven in ten (72%) of women believe their careers in tech are still suffering thanks to them shouldering most of the burden of childcare or care of other dependants in their household whilst juggling work.Around half (48%) also say that women being forced to scale down their work and take time off to care for children has had a detrimental impact on their tech careers. The competitive post-Covid labour market is, however, providing opportunities for women in tech, as one respondent comments: “While I believe employed women may have suffered during Covid due to WFH policies and the difficulty to manage a healthy work-life balance, there have also been significantly more opportunities for unemployed women in tech, as a result of the great resignation and the current bidding war on talent.”

Breaking the bias in tech

Only 38% of women believe that increased childcare would help more women get into the industry.Instead, they would rather see:
  • equal pay (68%)
  • flexible working opportunities (62%)
  • mentorship programmes (55%).
Providing non-technical staff with the opportunity to retrain (54%), and providing clear and well-documented progression opportunities (51%) are also seen as ways of helping women already working in tech.Just under half (49%) of respondents say more emphasis needs to be placed on championing women role models.

Elka Goldstein, Interim CEO of London Tech Week’s conference, EQL:HER, said: “We are seeing huge leaps forwards in rebalancing gender in tech, but there is still lots more to be done.“We need to look at the systemic issues across the board, supporting women at just one level is not going to solve the problem. We need to be looking at solutions that start during women's school age and span across their lifetime. “Educate in schools, create visible role models, provide access to skills programmes and generate more opportunities for funding. It can't be just one of these interventions it needs to be all of them.“Society shapes stereotypes and creates biases that we need to address well before women even enter the workforce.”

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