Another year, another International Women’s Day and already the talk has turned to the tech sector as Amazon announces a new fund aimed at encouraging more women into the industry.
Undoubtedly, this is an excellent initiative and inspiring girls and young women to consider STEM careers is an important step in increasing diversity within tech roles. Amazon aren’t the first to do this sort of thing; there are many other such measures in place across both the public and private sector which have successfully ignited a passion for tech in many women.
With so many projects in place, pushing women through the funnel at junior level, it seems like only a matter of time before the industry as a whole becomes more gender balanced. In 2017, just 17 per cent of roles in the UK tech sector were occupied by women, so although there seems to be a bounty of talent available at entry level we are losing female workers as they progress through their careers.
It seems as though the first leak in the pipeline occurs at university level; only 15 per cent of computer science graduates are women. Whatever encouragement they are receiving at school is evidently not translating into long-term career goals.
By no means do I speak for another gender on the matter, but there have been plenty of reasons given by women for not wanting to progress into tech, from the perceived ‘brogrammer’ culture to concerns over work-life balance, but university is not the only pathway into the industry – and even graduates without a STEM degree can be a valuable asset to tech companies. As developments continue to be made in fields such as artificial intelligence, women with experience in economics, politics and anthropology are essential for broadening the effect machine learning can have on wider society, as well as counteracting bias.
Women are also leaving the tech sector after starting a family. This may not be an industry-specific issue, but it is one that is having a huge effect on tech in particular. Skills shortages mean that we need to retain workers with specialised knowledge, and as women make up 47 per cent of the workforce, it seems a huge oversight not to support new mothers on their journey back into work.
While encouraging women into STEM subjects is an important first step, it’s vital that this is not the only step. We need to ensure that the needs of everyone within the workforce are met, not just those who already perfectly fit the mould.
Time and again, the business case for diversity has been made, but just to drive the point home businesses with women in senior roles make 15 per cent more than those who don’t, and the untapped labour potential of women could be as much as £12 trillion. Inclusvity in tech is crucial to ensure that the progression of new technology leaves no person behind. It might start at school age, but by no means can we afford to end it there.