Where next for women in tech?

The statistics are, at best, concerning. While women make up half of the total workforce across Europe, only 22 per cent of the people employed in the continent's tech industries are female. And 77 per cent of tech leaders are men.

oung woman Hand holding virtual Global Internet connection metaverse. Business global internet connection application technology and digital marketing, Financial and banking, Digital link tech.

*New!* Out now, the Winter 22/23 issue of Think Global People magazine

And a survey conducted in the US by technology platform TrustRadius found that 39 per cent of women working in tech cited gender bias as a barrier to promotion and that more than a quarter found themselves regularly outnumbered five-to-one by men in meetings.Add to this research published in January by the Vienna University of Economics and Business, which revealed that a majority of tech investors only wanted to back entrepreneurs if they fitted a stereotype of being white, young and male.

Related reading from Relocate Global and Think Global People

Think Women 23 Intext NEW

Investing in women and their innovations

Dr Sonja Sperber, who led the research, said the “uniqueness” of female founders should be important to investors, but did not play a significant role in persuading them to part with their cash.“While women founders need to be as different as possible in order to stand out from the competition, studies show that being female leads to a lot of deviation from the already established norm,” she said.“As a result, women founders are not able to prove themselves in the first place because they are denied the opportunity to do so, or funding from investors, regardless of their education or experience.”In the UK, the Financial Times last year found that less than one per cent of venture capital funds went to all-female founder teams.Tech Nation, Britain's network for entrepreneurs, commented: "Compounded by the male-dominated nature of the sector in which they work, the fund-raising gender gap can have an effect on women’s sense of legitimacy or credibility, as some of our founders point out. To remedy this, they emphasise the need to know their subjects like the back of their hand, to network, and to leverage their so-called 'feminine' skills."In research published last month, global management consultancy McKinsey branded the fact that women occupied fewer than a quarter all European tech roles, "a stunning statistic" at a time when technology was underpinning so much of the innovation and growth in the world."Addressing this shortfall is about much more than doing the right thing; it’s an economic necessity," said McKinsey, whose analysis indicated a tech talent gap in the EU of between 1.4 million to 3.9 million people by 2027.The research uncovered a significant drop in the percentage of girls and young women in STEM classes, both during the transition from primary and secondary education to university, and during the transition from university to the workforce.And while the rate of women working within tech companies (such as social networks) was closer to parity, the rate of women actually working within tech roles — such as developers and data engineers — was much lower."The problem is likely to get worse. Women’s graduation rate in STEM disciplines during higher education is declining," concluded McKinsey. "Furthermore, the share of women in the workforce is lowest in the tech roles that are growing fastest, such as DevOps and cloud."This is a tough problem to solve. However, although there are no silver bullets, four interventions — redressing bias in the workforce, improving retention rates, reskilling women into tech roles, and bolstering girls in STEM classes earlier in their educational process— can have a significant impact."

Creating truly inclusive workplaces where women thrive

The sometimes chaotic nature of working in a start-up also means a strain on work-life balance, which must be addressed to create a diverse and inclusive work culture, according to Tech Nation. To meet this challenge, the organisation said that tech founders had highlighted the need to ensure that women were given flexibility or a range of benefits that empower women to be successful at their job while taking care of their other important responsibilities.Unfortunately, after a decade of helping thousands of entrepreneurs and tech migrants, Tech Nation will cease to exist at the end of March following the withdrawal of key government funding from the non-profit organisation and switching it, somewhat controversially, to Barclays’ independent tech incubator, Eagle Labs.The bank said Eagle Labs, created in 2015, had a "passion" for innovation and growth, and consisted of a network of member businesses, partners, investors, corporates, mentors, banking expertise "and so much more".A recent report from rival bank Lloyds said there was a plethora of reasons why the UK business and technology sector would benefit from more talented women developers, IT specialists, engineers and data analysts."Firstly," the report said, "the more diverse the workforce, the more varied the perspectives and the higher the likelihood that challenges will be approached and tackled in new and creative ways."Similarly, the more women there are in technology roles, the more products and services will emerge across every industry with them in mind – that suit their specific societal needs and desires. It follows that women should be involved in decision-making from the very start of the process."Lastly, the more women leaders there are across the tech industry – and the more exposure they have – the more role models there will be for future generations of young women. It’s vital that women leaders get more exposure and are able to communicate an inspiring and positive experience to girls and women across the UK."

Encouraging girls into STEM careers

Action across the globe to right these wrongs is finally being taken by many governments, businesses and action groups.A report to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos this year cited various organisations dedicated to empowering girls and youths to follow tech careers, including Girls Who Code, which is "working to close the gender gap in entry-level tech jobs by 2030 in the US, Canada, UK and India". The report said: "Initiatives such as these are essential to empowering girls into STEM and ending gendered bias in the industry."Separately, Sam Burman, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles - an international executive search firm headquartered in Chicago - told WEF delegates: "Diversity targets for the technical function are useful, but with a disparity of gender balance in STEM subjects, talent development needs to start before women reach the workplace."Sending women tech leaders into schools, universities and sponsoring schemes that promote tech careers to female students can encourage girls to pursue STEM careers and step onto the ladder towards chief technology officer or chief information officer."With this in mind, the US Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, a division of the State Department, has launched TechWomen, which aims to "empower, connect and support the next generation of women leaders" in STEM subjects in Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East. Programmes are already underway in more than 20 countries."Through mentorship and exchange," the bureau said, "TechWomen strengthens participants’ professional capacity, increases mutual understanding between key networks of professionals, and expands girls’ interest in STEM careers by exposing them to female role models."Other organisations bent on improving the lot of women already in the industry include the likes of London-based WeAreTechWomen, which offers mentoring and careers guidance both at home and abroad, and the global Women in Tech organisation, which is "on a mission to empower five million women and girls by 2030".Many businesses worldwide - notably in the finance sector - have also embarked on their own schemes to improve the tech abilities of existing staff and new recruits.Nimmi Patel, head of skills, diversity and talent at the industry trade body techUK, said it was "excellent to see that many companies, including techUK members, are now exploring ways to support ethnic diversity, social mobility, and disability in the workplace, alongside their gender imbalance".But she added: "More needs to be done to bridge the gender gap as we are still nowhere near where we should be now. To do this, industry must support more resources for women to enter and thrive in the tech sector."

How to bridge the STEM gender gap

TechUK sees success in supporting businesses correcting their gender imbalances by:
  • taking action in the community to inspire the next generation
  • attracting talent through the recruitment process
  • getting workplace culture right
  • progression and development of talent.
All of these are equally important to close gender gaps in the workplace.Marc Benioff, co-founder of American software company Salesforce, once observed that "the only constant in the technology industry is change". Indisputably, that change right now needs to involve many more women and girls.

Subscribe now to Think Global People magazine and read more on workplace equity and inclusion in the brand-new winter issue

Subscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all the latest international assignments and global mobility news.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.

Related Articles