Building a sustainable pipeline of female talent

By Ash Finnegan, digital transformation officer at Conga

The technology sector can be a challenging and demanding environment for anyone looking to establish themselves and kickstart their career, but there are still far too many obstacles, limitations and stereotypes imposed on women.

Despite the industry’s recent efforts, technology companies across the UK still have some way to go with regards to their diversity and inclusion initiatives and overall gender representation. According to research by Tech London Advocates, the vast majority of London tech companies still have hardly any female or BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of colour) representation at board level. In fact, industry leaders have warned that the lack of diversity will threaten the city’s reputation and over time, could cost the UK tech sector its world-leading position.

This is a collective issue and requires a collective mindset, the technology industry must come together to address this challenge. In order to establish true and meaningful change, all women must draw from their unique perspectives, support one another, and inspire new ways of thinking.

Support networks and company culture

According to a recent report by the British Computer Society (BCS), whilst the number of female senior leaders in the industry has increased in recent years, women make up just 22 percent of the technology sector’s workforce. In order to tackle this issue head on, the industry needs to establish far more support networks and foster a collective voice.

It is important for women, especially those just starting out, to associate themselves with like-minded people who they can learn from and gain valuable experience; who can share first-hand their challenges, and career journey and how they would approach things differently. The simplest way to find like-minded women and female focused support groups for those in tech is through social media sites or industry-backed committees.

There are many benefits that a diverse workforce can offer to organisations, from employee retention rates and improved client and customer loyalty, and even improved financial performance. Therefore, technology leaders should consider how their working models can be developed to attract and retain female talent across all areas of their organisation, beyond nurturing an inclusive environment or attractive work packages. Businesses should start by laying out clear personal and professional development pathways from the offset.

An inclusive culture of equal opportunity should be instilled in every employee from the board down to the sales team and practiced every day. Business should aim to inspire, encourage, and nurture new talent inhouse, ensuring every individual, regardless of their experience or age, is presented with opportunities to learn and take charge of their careers.

According to a study conducted by TechNation, men traditionally drive the culture within a company. Men should be reminded of their own responsibility and the role that they must play. It is with their help that we will be able to push for industry-wide change. However, change such as this is never easy and does not happen overnight. These initiatives should be approached carefully, but organisations must ensure that they inspire their entire workforce to become part of the process.

Another way of addressing the gender disparity is by prioritising employee experience when recruiting new talent. Today, 70 percent of employees have experienced discrimination at work in some form. It is critical for employers to gain deeper insight into what it means to engage with women from different backgrounds in both workplace and non-workplace settings.

There are a number of strategies organisations can deploy to address this. However, leaders need to be open to criticism, prioritising transparent communication, and celebrating the unique cultural differences of all their employees in order to achieve their diversity goals.

Bridging the skills gap and bolstering industry growth

The UK’s skills gap is well documented. A recent government report revealed that around 82 percent of all jobs in the UK list digital skills as a requirement. Despite this, businesses struggled to fill one-third of vacancies last year due to lack of digital competency. In fact, the talent deficit is hampering industry growth, costing the UK economy approximately £12.8bn. Addressing the diversity challenge could perhaps hold the answer and provide a way of bridging the skills gap and establishing a more sustainable talent pipeline.

The skills gap can be addressed directly within education. The talent deficit is partly due to the fact that most students are unaware of the vocational training or education opportunities available to them. A study conducted by PWC found that just three percent of female students considered technology as a career choice by the time they reach university, compared to 15 percent of all male students.

Clearly, young women need strong role models to look up and aspire to, but the pathways into industry need to be promoted in schools and colleges from an early age. Only then, can the skills gap be bridged from all sides. Government, businesses and educational institutions have a joint responsibility to educate young people on the unique career paths and roles within the technology sector.

Technology firms can provide outreach initiatives to girls and young women in schools and universities who may have not considered such a career before. This can be done by simply offering technology workshops to young people and students in an educational setting. The aim of such programmes should be to encourage students to consider a career in technology, help them to gain real life and practical experience, nurture their self-development and skills, and give them vital opportunities to learn as a result.

Female leaders must lead by example – be passionate

It is imperative that women support one another at every opportunity. Together, they must challenge the traditional ways of thinking. Developing internal support groups, for example, which focus on educating women and helping them to better navigate the career landscape offers others the support needed to becoming leaders themselves.

Ultimately, the best advice anyone could give to young aspiring women is to focus on what you are passionate about, what you love, and never stop listening to your own inner voice. Most importantly, do great work. Simply by staying focused and remaining true to yourself, anyone can make things happen, create their own career path and determine what their true aspirations are. Once they have established themselves, all female leaders must maintain this passion and drive; pushing for further innovation, constantly looking to change things for the greater good. Never stop.

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