“We want to build technology that everybody loves using, and that affects everyone." Larry Page, co-founder Google
The world’s first computer program was written by Ada Lovelace in 1843. And the term ‘software engineer’ was coined by Margaret Hamilton, who also happened to be the woman responsible for the software that landed Apollo 11 safely on the moon. In fact the history of tech is studded by brilliant women. Yet just 26% of today’s tech workforce is female. So what’s going wrong, why does it matter, and what can we do about it?
This is an issue with implications that extend beyond fairness of opportunity, (though this is of course fundamental). The technology industry is driven by the desire to make life better, and to solve problems for all of humankind. So it’s something of a paradox that half the population is largely excluded from the business of creating and developing the solutions we need.
At a basic level, it means that tech firms are effectively missing out on a huge swathe of potential talent (against a backdrop where there’s an acute coding skills shortage worldwide.)
In an industry that is by nature so completely invested in the future, it seems weird that it lags behind on inclusivity. The problem is undoubtably complex and multi-layered. But at its heart, lies a strikingly simple truth: Women don’t believe that tech is an industry for them, and therefore far too few women enter the career funnel.
Stereotypes about a male-dominated coding world remain, aided and abetted by contemporary tropes about the silicon valley ‘bro culture’. And rightly or wrongly, the typical pathway to the industry continues to be via traditional science, computing, and math subjects, in which female participation at higher education level remains low.
Those women who do enter the industry continue to face challenges. The gender pay gap remains very real, while the culture, availability of training and mentorship, and attitudes to flexible working can be anything but female-friendly. All of which limits career progression, and leads to high levels of drop-out. In fact estimates suggest that fewer than 10% of C-level tech leaders are women*.
*Source: TechNation. Diversity and Inclusion in UK tech
Tech is changing. We need to change perceptions.
First and foremost, we need to radically transform perceptions of careers in tech. Noting that the problem is accentuated for women from many minorities, it is clear that women need role models – to see ‘themselves’ succeeding and thriving in the industry. Part of this is about opening eyes to the new reality (the industry is far from perfect, but it has moved on). And we need to think differently around qualifications and access.
For example, one of the leading tech companies runs a program where 16 year olds can get training and work experience – providing an opportunity to see different tech roles at close quarters, and also gain ‘credits’ for their college applications. 79% of girls who have been on the program now say they’d consider a career in technology.
The fact is that the nature of tech, and the jobs within it, is changing fast. Already, 41% of code is generated through AI. Gen Alpha is the first tech-native generation, and let’s face it, nowadays ‘everything’ is tech. So the future opportunities are around what we can do with technology – connecting, creating, and integrating solutions for our daily lives.
Forward thinking organizations are looking to harness diversity in order to design solutions that work for everyone. For example, a global electronics firm re-imagined their structure, building multi-skilled teams with tech-savvy women at the core, in order to deliver new products targeted at global female consumers. Similarly, a French Local authority is working hand-in-hand with young people and students to prototype and test innovative initiatives for their youth strategy.
At BearingPoint we are fully committed to change. As well as advising and supporting clients with strategies around diversity and inclusion, we have firm-wide initiatives aimed at increasing diversity in all its forms. Currently we are reviewing the entire career lifecycle from recruitment onwards. In 2022, 42% of new hires were female, and we are setting inclusivity goals, looking at family-friendly policies, highlighting role models, and supporting active and empowered women’s groups across our practices.