According to recent research from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, women make up just 26% of the UK’s digital workforce. These figures are even worse across some of the world’s biggest technology companies; according to an article published earlier this year, “Apple has 20% of women employees in technology; Google has 17% of women in its workforce, while Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter have 16.6%, 15% and 10% respectively”. Even though these figures may be disputed, they point towards a dearth of women in technology.
So, where are the women? In attempts to address the issue of gender disparity, some of the world’s biggest technology companies have tried to implement a series of female friendly policies, from egg-freezing, to paternity leave, to spending millions to achieve equal pay. Whilst the competition for female talent in technology is rife, their role is said to have stalled and, in some cases, even declined. According to a Reuters study, less than a third of the technology executives surveyed stated that their groups had no women in leadership positions.
The growth in new jobs in the technology sector is predicted to outstrip that of other sectors. If women want to be at the seat of power in the future they need to sit at the technology table, especially as leaders in technology are being promoted to roles of increasing seniority and have started to take CEO positions. But with accusations about the sexist culture still pervading the industry, and an increasing lack of girls studying STEM degrees, especially Computer Science (despite a high proportion of female university students and graduates), will the balance ever be redressed?
Better female engagement in technical education and the abolishment of workplace sexism aside, there are, perhaps, some very clear steps that can be taken to address the issue in today’s existing workforce: Women should be promoted into senior leadership roles. One of the world's leading global public relations firms conducted a piece of research, which shows that women are more likely to become CEOs if their current CEO is a woman. So there is a precedent to suggest the promotion of female talent will be self-perpetuating. Furthermore, a detailed piece of research conducted by Credit Suisse shows that companies with more women on the board of directors are more successful, in very quantifiable terms. So there is further evidence to suggest the promotion of women into senior leadership is a very positive step, indeed.
Whilst the aforementioned female friendly policies being introduced by some of the world’s major technology companies are ground-breaking, they ignore a key group of female talent: returners. Women who have taken time out of their careers to raise children or travel with partners can too easily be forgotten and in danger of struggling to return to work despite being top talent.
[Draft version of an article written on behalf of JD Haspel and published on Executive Grapevine, June 2016]