Will 2016 be worse for women in tech?

By Kitty Knowles 13 January 2016
Things could get worse for women in tech in 2016 say Deloitte. Pic: iStock/kieferpix

This year things won't get any better for women in tech, they might even slip backward...

In the same week that Martha Lane Fox championed women leaders with a new business  competition, a new report predicts more bad news for gender equality. The number of women in digital will not increase in 2016, and we could even see a drop in numbers, financial services firm Deloitte predicted today. 

By the end of the year, fewer than 25 per cent of digital jobs will be held by women, the report states. This is about the same as 2015, and may even see a decline by the end of the year.

Why is this worrying?

The lack of gender diversity in tech roles is both a social and an economic issue.

It goes without saying that women should should have equal opportunities in the workplace, but inequality also comes at a price. According to one study, the gender gap costs around £2.6 billion every year, as hiring bias means less skilled staff and lower company productivity.

The long road ahead

While gender inequality has been recognised in the field for around a decade now, progress is slow.  In the UK, the percentage of women in digital jobs increased from 17 percent to just 18 percent between 2010 and 2015. Over in the US, the number of women in tech has fallen slightly. 

Deloitte commented:

“Initiatives are under way to depict more positive female IT role models in the media. But even if real progress is made immediately in improving gender parity in science, technology, engineering and maths it may take time, possibly decades … for those improvements to translate into IT job parity.”

Graph charting the number of women in tech across the US, Sweden, Canada & the UK. Pic: Deloitte.

What are the hurdles to cross?

There many reasons that a 50-50 tech workforce is so far off.

There is the educational aspect. In 2013, only 17.1% of the UK’s computer science students were women, down from the year before. It’s a problem that starts in early education. In 2012, 84% of girls had learned no computer coding in school at all, and it simply is not good enough.

Tech firms aren’t hiring women

There are not enough women applying for digital roles. A recent survey found that only one-in-twenty tech job applicants were women.

This is, in part, the result of off-putting job descriptions. Both men and women are twice as likely to hire a man for a digital role as an equally qualified woman – a result of conscious and unconscious bias in the workplace – while another barrier can be unnecessary tenure-related requirements, some of which needlessly ask for 20 years of experience, drastically shrinking the pool of female candidates.

Martha Lane Fox has already called out unconscious bias against women in tech.

Forced out in the first year

It’s not just getting women into the building that’s a problem, it’s keeping them there.

Women in digital jobs are 45% more likely than men to leave in their first year, the Deloitte report observes. Reasons for this range from a lack of suitable maternity leave, to a lack of female support within the company, and a failure to fairly pay and promote women.

We know that despite salary increases, women in digital still earn just 90p to the male £1. And up to 37% of British women working in tech have been passed over for promotion because of their gender, another survey found.

A “hostile or sexist ‘bro-grammer’ culture” is another part of the problem, suggest Deloitte. 27% of women cited discomfort over overt or implicit discrimination, as a factor in why they left their IT job.

What can be done?

Change may come slowly, but it is vital. Recruiters, tech bosses, and employees must address the issues that stand in the way of equality.

When you draw up a job description, do you use non-gendered language?

When you hire new staff members, do you ensure there are both men and women present, and do you ask the right questions to make sure your decision is based purely on candidate experience?

Do you pay your employees and fair wage and consider them fairly for senior roles?

Are you supportive and accepting of your colleagues needs regardless of their sex?

We know that wise VCs invest in women, make sure you do too.