The next step for women in tech; why female collaboration is so important

Written by Hannah Waddington | News | Blog | Candidates | Clients | Technology | Posted 14/03/2019 11:57:48

Hannah Waddington, Sanderson’s regional manager for the South Coast, discusses the ongoing challenges facing the industry with a group of female technologists.

Following a round table discussion in Southampton on the 1st February initiated by our Southampton consultant, Lucy Garrett, we look at the ongoing challenge of the lack of females within the tech sector.

The only female

Rebecca Granger, former Board Member and Head of Digital from Nuffield Health, kick started the meeting.

Rebecca started her career off with a business degree and initially went into the hospitality industry where she was successful in numerous promotions. Rebecca had successfully managed innovative technology projects within the hospitality industry and transitioned to the clinical world, joining Nuffield Health in 2005.

Working within a new industry, her confidence levels were lower and like many men and women, she had initial fears that her skill set did not match the role in question and that ‘someone was going to find me out’ (a frequent manifestation of Imposter Syndrome).

Luckily, Rebecca found herself in an organisation with an excellent culture, a diverse workforce, and some ground-breaking projects to deliver on.

Rebecca was appointed to the Board in 2013, as the only female. Working for a proactive organisation such Nuffield Health, who made a conscious effort to develop top talent, she was quickly assigned an external female mentor.

This was significant; “As a female with family and children, it’s often difficult to divide the two. They work in partnership; it’s a challenging environment to work within.” Having daily concerns at both home and work and having someone to put things into perspective for you, can be crucial.

Things are changing, slowly.

There is a significant lack of female role models and mentors within technology, at all levels.

Studies have shown that children start to be ‘programmed’ from the age of seven, so the challenge can often start at school. The group agreed that technology taught at school can be dry and boring. As we know from working with our clients every day, technology is anything but boring. So, why is this not translating back in to our schools?

Attendee Anita James, Head of IT Strategy and Architecture at Kingfisher Plc, is a trustee of a local work experience charity, EBP South, who help young people achieve their goals.

Her findings through this charity suggest that the material available to careers advisors is extremely dated, which is not surprising given how quickly things move within technology.

How can we ‘demystify’ technology as a career choice? How can we give teachers the necessary tools to teach technology in a fun and exciting way?

Things are changing, slowly. Jennifer Muskett, Head of Computing at Solent University, compared it to turning the Titanic.

Deborah Avery leads the course on Games Development at City College in Southampton; a traditionally ‘male-heavy’ course, even by technology standards. There are currently three females on this course.

Even though this is still a high minority, it is a start.

Recruiting women into tech

However, both Jennifer and Deborah emphasised that learning the ‘soft skills’ is just as important as technical ability. If a student has achieved something which is technically advanced, but cannot communicate this in an interview or a presentation, they will find moving from education to employment very challenging.

As recruiters, we find this on a daily basis when recruiting for certain roles. If a candidate has the right technical skills but culturally or personally will not be able to manage their stakeholders, then they will not be right for the position.

The increasing emphasis on ‘soft skills’ could potentially be advantageous to women.

An additional challenge that cropped up many times around the room, is that many talented females start their careers in technology, only to leave and not only for the, often assumed, reason of starting a family.

Within male-dominated environments, such as board rooms, development teams and IT leadership teams, there can be certain expectations which may not play to female strengths or ways of working.

The question is; who needs to change?

Aileen Edwards, Director, Lead Architect at Barclays, made the point that it is important that organisations have a strong ‘mission statement’ or set of values that truly permeates through the organisation. That way people are measured on how they perform against these values (not just on getting the job done).

It should not be a surprise to find a woman in a senior technology role anymore.

Many around the table have heard, when walking into meetings, ‘you were not what I was expecting!’

This sort of unconscious bias can fuel the fire that is ‘Imposter Syndrome’, which may be another reason for the short lived careers of some talented women within technology.

It’s fair to say that women in the technology field still come across some sort of bias and that that bias is often perpetuated as children. However, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

As more women enter the industry, more is being done by companies to facilitate these issues; shared maternity/paternity leave, flexible working, improving company cultures, educational charities helping young girls get involved in the industry, and much more.

The industry is changing, slowly.

We are looking forward to exploring all of the topics above in more detail at future ‘Women in Technology’ events. It is a vast, complex topic with no easy answers. But those answers lie with both men and women across the industry, as well as the education sector.

We will be holding future events throughout 2019 and will be looking at the following topics in depth:

  • Women supporting women – getting more female role models within technology.
  • How do we demystify technology in education?
  • Organisational culture and the effect on gender diversity within technology.

Are you a woman working in the tech industry? Do you agree with the issues raised in this article? Please let us know!

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