Women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, the gender pay gap has widened and it seems that gender parity has taken several steps backwards over the past year. Now a report has revealed that the fastest growing sectors are vastly underrepresented by women. Emily Buckley from WaveTrackR investigates why this has happened and what we can do to reverse the trend.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 has highlighted another casualty of Covid and it comprises half the world’s population. The impact of the pandemic has been disproportionately felt by women and nowhere is this more starkly illustrated than in this report, which reveals that the time it will take to reach global gender parity has increased by an entire generation, from 99.5 years to 135.6 years. The report also found a marked decline in women being hired into leadership positions (just 27% of managerial positions are held by women worldwide), despite the fact that numerous reports have proved that gender diversity at leadership levels leads to greater business success. The other big ticket finding is the dearth of women in fast-growing sectors, in particular tech. Why are women so alarmingly underrepresented in tech sectors and what can we do about it?
Tech sectors are booming right now. WaveTrackR’s Recruitment Trends: Lockdown Report found that IT & Internet posted the the greatest number of jobs of any industry in 2020 and received the second highest levels of applications. With the ever-increasing digitalisation of the world, tech businesses were growing quickly pre-pandemic but measures to protect the population from Covid-19 have fast accelerated the trend. When the work from home order was mandated and businesses across the globe were forced to quickly adopt remote working strategies, digital demand exploded. As the world moved online, IT & Internet was integral to us all being able to carry on, for work and for play. As we begin to gradually emerge from the grip of the pandemic, the general feeling is that remote working will continue for many in some capacity and consumer behaviours developed over the last year, such as online shopping and streaming television and movies, will continue. The tech and IT & Internet sectors will be massive employers for some time to come.
And yet the Global Gender Gap Report found that just 14% of the Cloud Computing workforce and 32% of those in Data & AI are women. Furthermore, an indicator in the report developed in conjunction with the LinkedIn Economic Graph team shows that women are far less likely to transition to tech fields; the job-switching gender gap in Cloud Computing, for example, being 58%. How has this happened? We can look partly to education, the fact that female students are often not actively encouraged to pursue a career in technology. Research undertaken by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that just 3% of girls want a tech-based job and only 16% have had a career in technology suggested to them. Just 5% of leadership roles in the tech sector are held by women and 78% of students – male or female – can’t name a single famous female working in tech. It’s possibly no surprise therefore that recent UCAS data has revealed that just 19% of all students studying Engineering & Technology and Computer Sciences are female.
Therein lies the root problem and the first barrier to entry for women in these professions. Right from school age girls aren’t encouraged to pursue tech careers and are sometimes not even aware of the opportunities in tech. There needs to be systemic change in order to increase female interest in STEM subjects at school and encourage them to study a tech-related degree or train in tech, whether as an apprentice or by enrolling on a tech course. There also needs to be an effort to eradicate unconscious bias in the hiring process and look at mid-career reskilling.
With the rapid creation of new jobs in these growing fields comes new opportunities for talent, it’s just that the majority of that talent isn’t female. Ensuring that women have access to fast developing roles in growing sectors so that they are not excluded from a significant part of the jobs market is important but there is potentially a more worrying consequence of the underrepresentation of women in tech. As digitalisation accelerates and tech is integrated into every area of our lives, it is vital that women help to shape the products and services grown from it or the technology that we all use will have been developed and deployed from a predominantly male perspective.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) offers three recommendations as an attempt to reverse these damaging trends. Firstly, as a way to help more women in general to remain in the workforce, a focus needs to be placed on long-term solutions such as greater access to childcare. The OECD found in 2018 that the UK has the most expensive childcare system in the world and a report by the Coram Family and Childcare Trust released earlier this year revealed that the cost of childcare in the UK has risen 5% over the past 12 months – double the rate of inflation. The huge cost of childcare has given rise to great swathes of the female workforce taking enforced career breaks because paying for childcare becomes financially impossible. Over the past year, school closures have forced some mothers to either reduce their hours or leave their jobs to take on extra childcare. Affordable childcare for all to allow mothers to return to work is essential.
Secondly, the WEF recommends that structures are put in place so that fast-growing tech-centred roles must be filled by a greater percentage of women. Thirdly – and this is where recruiters can lead the way – mid-career reskilling for women and unbiased hiring is vital. It is also therefore crucial that we look beyond traditional routes into tech sector jobs. We can only tackle the low numbers of women pivoting into tech from other industries if we can accept – and encourage clients to also accept – that a fresh perspective and other skills can be a boon and training on the job is entirely possible. We need to look beyond formal qualifications and direct experience and focus on transferrable skills and untapped talent. We have a skills shortage in tech, IT & Internet and filling these growing roles will take a step outside the box.
It is not impossible to redress the gender balance in fast-growing tech sectors. In fact, if ever there was a time to tackle the issue, it is now when new roles are being created and the foundations for the technology of the future are being laid. We simply need to enable it via early education of the vast possibilities for females in tech, unbiased recruiting and helping women to think about and act upon a career shift into technology sectors. Recruiters can play a huge part in reversing a decades-old gender imbalance in tech and that is pretty exciting.
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