The day when we have bridged the gender gap and every sector has a 50:50 split of men and women is a dream for many men and women across all industries. But it’s well-reported that, in tech at least, this is a long way off. Women hold only 12.8 per cent of STEM jobs in the UK. This is a national issue since STEM is one of the fastest growing and highest value sectors in the UK, and is predicted to generate one in four new jobs in 2017. So, how do we make the equality dream a reality?
First of all, it’s important to remember that there are real business advantages to employing a diverse workforce. We must avoid treating gender balance as a “nice to have,” morally correct objective. The long term success of any organisation, particularly in fast-moving fields like technology, depends on having a diverse body of talent bringing in fresh perspectives, ideas and values. Businesses can become stilted if everyone comes from the same background, in the same way that a mixture of complementary skills are needed to produce interesting results.
On top of that, a lack of diversity can stunt a business’ ability to communicate effectively with its diverse range of clients and customers. Women represent a large proportion of customers, whether consumers or businesses, with purchasing power, in both their public and private lives. So neglecting women in the workforce could be a costly mistake.
But recruiting women into our sector has been a challenge. It’s clear that technology has “brand issues.” To many people, tech companies are still suggestive of male-dominated, “nerdy” environments where every role is highly technical with a “boys club” atmosphere. As an industry, we need to take positive steps to dispel these misconceptions, make ourselves more appealing and show what tech is really about – shaping how we live our lives.
It should also be clear that encyclopaedic technical knowledge is not needed for every tech role. I myself came to Fujitsu as a graduate in business studies. Attitude and outlook are crucial, technical knowledge can be learned.
We must also work on attracting women into STEM jobs at an earlier stage in their career. Women should be brought into the business through a range of routes, including apprenticeships, industrial placements and at graduate level. We need to inspire young women, which can be achieved through women in tech speaking about their careers.
Tech bosses must also acknowledge that they themselves need to change, to ensure that work cultures are supportive of women. One effective approach is having women sharing their approaches and challenges, and mentoring one another.
Finally, organisations should be transparent about their own diversity. To avoid being left behind, all tech companies must act to take advantage of the concrete benefits that a more diverse workforce brings. But to make this vital change, businesses need to take active, practical steps. And this means never treating gender balance as a distant dream.
Concerned with issues surrounding gender diversity in business? Don’t miss the Real Business First Women programme:
Drawing on years of the First Women movement and the phenomenal network of pioneering women the Awards has created, this programme features The First Women Awards and The First Women Summit – designed to educate, mentor and inspire women in all levels of business.
Helen Lamb is head of managed infrastructure services and executive sponsor for the Gender Diversity Programme at Fujitsu UK and Ireland.
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