In light of the MCA’s Year of Diversity, and forthcoming Boardroom Breakfast with Sarah Wilkinson, Home Office Chief Digital, Data & Technology Officer, we take a look at women in digital.
Sarah works at the heart of one of the most challenging and important Government Departments – the Home Office – which she joined in 2015 as Chief Digital, Data and Technology Officer and where she has already introduced a step-change in approach. Previously she had worked for more than 20 years in Financial Services, including at Credit Suisse and HSBC. Sarah has been picked as of the top most influential women in IT by Computer Weekly in 2015 and 2016.
So, how many women operate in the digital/tech sector? Currently, 25% of IT jobs in developed countries are held by women according to Deloitte Global. In the US, this figure signals a 10% decrease in women in IT jobs since the mid-1980s. Furthermore, the percentage of female computer science undergrads has stagnated since the mid-2000s. For the UK, it’s even worse, with just 17% of tech jobs being held by women.
We explore five reasons why there aren’t enough women operating in the digital sector, and why this needs to be rectified:
The stagnation of tech-related further education for women is a key factor contributing to fewer women in tech jobs. But the issue starts earlier, figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications show that boys outnumber girls in tech-related A-levels. Boys make up 61% of Maths participants, 71% of further Maths, and almost 79% of Physics in 2014.
A study of 700 startups in the US found that 50% of male founders thought the main reason there are so few women working in tech is because there are too few women entering the industry in general. Whereas, female founders thought unconscious bias was the biggest reason.
The “Brogrammer” culture has pushed women away from the tech industry. A recent study of 160 female engineers found that 55% of respondents who had left an employer in the last five years said that a hostile culture toward female engineers had played a role. Similarly, ‘lab-coat cultures’, ‘hard-hat cultures’, and ‘geek workplace cultures’ that were identified in a 2014 study also have a marginalising effect on women in the industry.
Digital’s image moulded by popular culture
TRON, Wargames, Swordfish, The Matrix, Mr Robot – films and TV series dominated by male leads and tech-savvy male characters have influenced the way we perceive the tech industry. Utilising a dataset of male/female dialogue in films, we can see that on average 84% of dialogue is male in tech-related flicks. Does a heavily male-dominated tech culture discourage women?
Like other professions, many women leave the tech industry to start a family. A recent study found that over half of women in tech jobs said motherhood was the reason they left.
Management consulting firms need to celebrate the gender diversity of their digital cohorts. Findings from Consulting Excellence Staff Survey show that 26% of women operate in the digital and technology service line, followed closely by men (25%). The Young MCA Survey found that 39% of women, and 36% of men work in the digital service line. This not only shows that women are marginally better represented in digital consulting than men, but that the new cohort of female consultants are increasingly involved with digital advisory (a higher rate of increase in comparison to men). The Young MCA survey also found that the number of young consultants that undertook a STEM-related subject at undergraduate level has increased marginally since 2011.
Why does this matter?
- More women in tech brings us closer to overall gender and workplace equality.
- Diversity leads to better products and results (e.g. different approaches to thinking, problem-solving, more creativity etc.)
- A report from Deloitte highlighted that women are the largest single economic force in the world when it comes to consumer spending, totalling almost $4.3 trillion. This accounts for almost 85% of purchasing decisions. Businesses need to ensure that their workforce mirrors their consumer in terms of diversity to secure and retain customers (Paul, et al., 2011).
- The UK tech industry needs approximately 750,000 new workers by 2017, and around one million by 2020. Once the UK leaves the EU, it will become increasingly important that more women decide to follow a career in digital. The UK economy can simply not afford a digital skills deficit at this critical stage.