How businesses can get more women into technology roles

- Leadership - Aug 18, 2016

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that the technology sector is struggling to attract women into its ranks. Take the US for example: a study by the National Centre for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) found that while women make up 57 percent of the professional occupation in the US workforce, only 25 per cent of computing workers were female.

Women earn roughly only 18 percent of the Computer Science degrees awarded. There’s no inherent reason for that discrepancy.

We see several key areas that need work: early exposure to the joys of Computer Science, seeing tech as a tool to solve problems rather than tech as an end in itself, female engineer role models, women-friendly cultures in CS departments and tech companies, and mentoring and coaching, from pre-university through to leadership roles.  

Dispelling the stereotypes and convincing women that they belong in the industry is crucial. The recent Twitter campaign, #ILookLikeAnEngineer, is a great example of how the industry is changing, with female developers and programmers sharing their experiences and showing the next generation of girls that women truly do have a place in tech.

Part of the problem is that computer science is not taught broadly enough within secondary schools. Students – of either gender – are only able to access a course of basic, and fairly dull, IT skills. Perhaps if a compulsory programming class was added to the curriculum then more women could gain exposure to the world of coding, understand its huge potential for application in the wider world, and begin to cultivate an interest.

One solution could lie in how we talk about technology. It’s important to show that computer science and IT skills don’t exist in a vacuum, they can be paired with any number of issues, topics or disciplines: technology now affects everything from climate change to fashion; medicine to entertainment. It’s incredibly useful no matter what you’re interested in, and this is what we need to be telling more women.

Coding culture is changing, and the industry must change too. It’s no longer about one man pulling a 20-hour shift to write code in isolation. Coding is now a team game – we work hand in hand in multi-discipline teams to share knowledge, skills and expertise.

Working at Pivotal has been a real eye-opener; it’s a brilliantly open and collaborative environment. There is no culture of blame and developers are encouraged to experiment and innovate, to make mistakes and learn from them.

Of course culture doesn’t just happen. It needs direction from top, as well as encouragement and nurture to be maintained. At Pivotal, we work hard to create a healthy and accessible atmosphere. We have frequent conversations with our dedicated Diversity Team, and are discussing a potential code of conduct for the industry: one that is open, supportive, and promotes mutual respect.  

If you’re breaking the mould as the only woman in a team, it can be a lonely place. Mentoring and coaching can support women in tech both daily and longer term in facing challenges, troubleshooting, navigating career choices. The earlier coaching comes into play, the fewer women drop out of the pipeline.

The results speak for themselves: research by the Anita Borg Institute found that Fortune 500 companies with at least three women directors enjoy a higher return on sales by over 42 percent. Ultimately, the industry is moving in the right direction – we just want to see it get there faster!

By Therese Stowell, Product Manager, and Maria Ntalla, Senior Software Engineer, at Pivotal

Read the August 2016 issue of Business Review Europe magazine. 

Follow @BizReviewEurope

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