How the technology industry needs to change to provide equal opportunities for women | NTT DATA

Tue, 07 September 2021

How the technology industry needs to change to provide equal opportunities for women

Women are still notably under-represented in the tech industry compared to men. In the UK, women make up a mere 19% of the national tech workforce, and this figure drops to just 3% for black women and 5% for Asian women. Having placed such focus on boosting diversity and inclusion within our own company in recent years, the lack of progress within the sector led us to consider the state of diversity within the industry more widely.

We began to ask ourselves the important questions. How can we get more women into technology? What brings women into technology roles and what makes them stay? Why do women leave the industry and what do we need to do to increase the number of women in senior roles?

To answer these questions, NTT DATA UK conducted a survey asking women in the technology industry about three key themes: encouraging women into technology, staying in the industry, and promoting women into senior positions.

Upon analysis of the results, some interesting patterns have emerged. Although some of our findings pointed to advances made in recent years, the overwhelming conclusion of our research is that the technology industry has a long way to go. The biggest barrier to progress is the underlying gender biases that still exist, causing various problems, from discrimination and exclusion in the workplace to disproportionate opportunities for career progression.

Gender inequality

NTT DATA UK’s survey results found that due to being a woman, 59 per cent of those surveyed have been spoken down to at work and 49 per cent have experienced biased behaviour. Even more alarmingly, only a quarter of women have never had a negative experience because of their gender in the workplace and only six per cent said that tech job descriptions are inclusive of women.

Gender inequality is an issue as old as time, and with the current pace and momentum of the push for diversity, equity, and inclusion, we should be advancing at a much faster rate. The challenge here is that these problems are not just limited to the tech industry but in fact represent the much larger issue of systemic inequality that is taking place all over the world.

In my opinion, the first step we must all take here is accepting that we have a problem. Yes, we have started the journey towards a fairer future, but we must not take our foot off the gas. We must invest in more initiatives that have a proven impact on moving the dial on this issue, everything from unconscious bias training to adopting diversity and inclusion practices throughout the process of recruitment, to writing job descriptions that appeal to both genders.

Career progression

NTT DATA UK’s research demonstrated just how important it is that women in tech receive equal opportunities to progress their career. 74 per cent of survey respondents said that women aren’t given equal progression opportunities to men, and 60 per cent said that they’re considering moving to another industry. The most cited reason for considering such a career change was the feeling that there are more opportunities to progress their careers outside of technology.

This is a clear cause for concern. Considering that women are considerably more underrepresented in the tech industry than other industries, especially at more senior levels, encouraging women into the sector and progressing them into leadership positions should be a fundamental focus for technology businesses today.

One of the primary challenges to achieving this goal lies in a seemingly innocuous area: job descriptions. Our research shows that 62 per cent of respondents are only comfortable applying for the job if they have 80 per cent or above of the skills listed.

There clearly needs to be a rethink in how the industry attracts and nurtures talent in female candidates. Businesses need to rethink the language used in job descriptions, replacing words like ‘mandatory’ with ‘preferable’. Such action needs to be complemented by a comprehensive, end-to-end approach to training that encompasses in-house coaching, mentoring, and other skills development opportunities, providing them with the skills and confidence to apply for roles that may previous have felt out of reach.

To encourage more women into technology more generally, we must dive a little deeper. The most reported suggestion for getting more women into technology was increasing grassroots STEM activities to get girls into technology at an early age (77% of respondents). This was closely followed by championing more women leaders in the industry (65%). These findings highlight that this is a challenge we must address across the board. From schools through to leadership, we must create more opportunities for women to get involved in technology.

A more inclusive industry

As business leaders, our actions in championing diversity and inclusion are critical in giving prospective candidates an idea of what to expect when working here. NTT DATA UK research found that 81 per cent of respondents consider it important that their organisation champions diversity and inclusion initiatives, with one third stating that it’s so important that it’s a deciding factor when considering job roles.

Flexibility was the most prominent theme to arise from this research. 70 per cent of respondents believe more encouragement to re-enter the industry after career breaks would help bring more women into senior leadership positions in technology and 60 per cent suggested more flexibility when required. NTT DATA UK also found that greater flexibility is the biggest playing card in convincing a woman to stay in the industry if she were considering a career change.

Opportunely, this demand has been the focus of businesses everywhere for the past year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most businesses are pivoting towards a hybrid working model where employees are able to split their time between the home and the office. This affords women who may struggle to balance the priorities of work and home life to continue working remotely after having children.

However, businesses must be sure to update policies and processes wherever possible. We do not yet have all the answers, and as society continues to evolve, so must our flexible working models. At NTT DATA UK, we currently offer new mothers a return-to-work programme that allows them to work 4 days a week while receiving a salary for 5. This is to ensure that women feel supported and able to pick up their career where they left off without having to take on all their previous responsibilities at once.

The first step in our journey

Out of our research, one finding was particularly encouraging to me: 4 in 5 of those surveyed said that the technology sector has become more welcoming for women in the last decade due to an increase in diversity initiatives, flexibility, and the fact that the industry has become less male-dominated over the years.

This finding is incredibly encouraging. It shows that the more effort we put in, the more we can achieve, so we must continue to push for progress and drive diversity initiatives to bring about a brighter and fairer future. The changes we have seen over the last decade are a result of action, and this is something we should celebrate without complacency. We are at the start of a long journey, and the future is full of exciting possibilities.

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