Removing the barriers to women in tech

COO of Curo Talent, Treesje Verlinden, discusses the gender gap in STEM and how the tech space can encourage more women and girls to pursue this path

The generation barrier

Debates in any arena have the concept of general ethics or values that provide guidance. A climate of change over many decades in the arena of women in the workforce has overseen a step change in core values, led by a deep frustration with societal bias and stereotyping in socially constructed gender roles.  

Women’s movements and other institutions have demanded change, agitating to promote inclusion and empowerment as ‘experts by experience’; no one can deny the contributions of Ada Lovelace, Joan Clarke and Sheryl Sandberg as just three shining examples.

However, we are still lagging. Empirical proof of bias comes with the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report startling revelation that gender parity is over 200 years away! So how is this bias affecting the modern workplace today?

In major tech companies in the UK, PWC found at the start of 2017, 15% of the workforce in STEM roles (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) are female and only 5% of leadership positions in tech are held by women. This research identified themes in prior educational careers that girls are less likely to study STEM subjects.

Following this through to GCSE and A-levels, Recruitment International (August 2017) cite a 12% drop in girls taking either ICT or computer science at GCSE and Tech Talent Charter (TTC) cite only one in ten women followed through to take A-level computer studies. This correlated with 17% of tech as well as ICT workers being women, reinforcing PWC’s findings.

From this point on the percentage gradually dwindles, and continues to do so even after joining the work force. Research by the Centre for Talent Innovation concluded that twice the number of women leave jobs in the tech industry than men. Just over half of women who studied STEM subjects abandoned their tech training altogether when quitting.

In major tech companies in the UK, 15% of the workforce in STEM roles are female and only 5% of leadership positions in tech are held by women.

Stemming the tide

The introduction of new bio, neuro and genetic research is creating an impasse in this debate. For example, developmental neuroscience using new technology such as live imaging is revealing a new level of understanding. Neuroscientist Professor Gina Rippon speaking at International Women’s Day 2018 claimed that “men and woman do not have different brains at birth” and that “any differences in brain circuitry only come about through the ‘drip, drip, drip’ of gender stereotyping”.  

The science behind BBC’s ‘gender neutral’ documentary No More Boys and Girls further showcases her claims. Some of the results from these types of studies are conflicting, and much further work will be required before being able to draw universal conclusions. Nevertheless, is this the start of a paradigm shift that could circumvent the 200-year gap? 

Call to action

Looking to the future, ongoing successful lobbying and debate will continue to shape inclusion and Government legislation. Business leaders in all sectors, not just technology, are taking on the responsibility of being role models in moving away from past ingrained biases and toward creating opportunities that promote a supportive, accessible and diverse workforce.

Annemarie Muntz, President of the World Employment Confederation, represented by 50-member countries globally including seven of the largest corporations in the world, reinforced this path at the recent Global Recruiter UK Summit. She advocated ‘biodiversity’ as being vital to the labour market flourishing, this for an industry that needs one million more tech workers by 2020 to keep up with demand.

At Curo Talent, part of our role in partnering with organisations seeking Microsoft technical experts to augment their project delivery is to evolve a diverse talent community.

Our own data, however, qualifies the earlier quoted disparities, with just 9.5% of women making up our community and placement of just 5.81% women over the last twelve months. So what else are we doing in advocating progress in taking on our generation’s challenge of the gender disparity?

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