The digital tech industry is doing well. Really well. Last year, in fact, it grew at six times the rate of the UK economy as a whole. 2019 saw a 40% increase in the UK digital tech workforce to 2.9 million – and even though the COVID-19 pandemic means 2020 has been completely uncharted territory for businesses, this particular sector is certainly weathering the storm. Since June this year, vacancies in digital and tech rose by 36%.
This is all promising stuff, but while the industry itself is thriving, the same can’t necessarily be said for women in tech. And there aren’t very many of them at that.
The reality is that this sector evolves and progresses at lightning speed – but not when it comes to closing the gender gap. At the very top of the UK tech space, a mere 5% of leadership positions are held by women, while just 1 in 6 UK tech specialists are female. It’s a similar story in the US, which takes the lead when it comes to tech companies valued at more than $1 billion. Let’s consider Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft: women make up only a quarter of America’s top five tech companies.
So, what gives? First, women have always been underrepresented in STEM in general. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are traditionally male-dominated fields and girls are still less likely to study STEM subjects at school and university. It’s an instance where the stats really do say it all. Tech is a sector where early engagement is crucial, and only 16% of females (as opposed to 33% of males) report being encouraged to consider a career in technology. So, it’s no surprise that just 3% of females aspire to a career in tech, in spite of the vast growth this industry is seeing.
But what about women who are already in the tech sphere? From some women in tech – and despite the recent efforts of the #MeToo movement – there have been worrying reports of harassment. A study by non-profit organisation Women Who Tech found that no less than 41% of female tech firm founders had experienced sexual harassment at work.
Many other women, meanwhile, report having worked in a tech company with a pervasive ‘bro culture’. They might not have dealt with out and out harassment, but they’ve experienced other forms of hostility in mostly-male work environments which can foster misogyny and gender discrimination. They may have found themselves sidelined by their male colleagues, had their professional capabilities called into question, or been overlooked for promotion. Former Pinterest COO Francoise Brougher has even coined a phrase for this – she calls it “She’s Not Strategic” (SNS) syndrome.
Clearly, there are cultural problems in this sector which need to change. Women won’t want to get into – or stay in – the tech sphere if they don’t feel respected or valued. But there are also certain practical considerations that can make digital tech a more welcoming space for women. We’re talking pay parity and workplace benefits that work for women – both crucial if we’re to see more women pursuing and progressing in digital tech.
The introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting has certainly helped matters. Beyond this, however, many tech firms just aren’t prioritising the right measures to attract and retain female talent – perhaps precisely because this sector is so male-dominated in the first place. But there’s no getting away from it. From flexible working to post-maternity support, female-focused initiatives and policies are a serious consideration for the majority of women when it comes to choosing a potential employer.
Organic’s own measures
So what are we doing to address the issue, redress the balance and attract, retain and support women in our digital agency? The answer is a few things, although pay parity is already a given at Organic, and we’ve been careful to nurture a company culture where female talent is respected and valued.
We’re now in a position where 50% of our senior management team are female, and we have a greater proportion of women at Organic than we did this time last year (up from 27% to 35%). And this isn’t all about us simply filling a quota – there’s a body of evidence to show that a better gender balance serves to boost businesses.
However, while we’re on the right track when it comes to striking this balance, what did need to be looked at was our maternity policy and our female-focused workplace benefits. Because it’s all very well us hiring outstanding women, but we want our female talent to stay with us in the long-term too.
That’s why we’ve chosen to enhance our maternity and adoption package. It goes without saying that this is a huge consideration for many prospective parents when it comes to their chosen workplace, and a good maternity or adoption package provides reassuring financial security.
But having the right support upon returning to work is important too – particularly as a third of women consider handing in their notice once they come back. So we’ve chosen to focus on two things here: flexibility and progression.
Flexibility is already embedded in Organic’s company culture. We know our people have busy home lives, family commitments, and a rigid 9-5 working day just won’t always work – and we also know that flexibility is especially essential for any new parent.
So, from work schedule changes to fit around childcare responsibilities, through to actively supporting homeworking and holding monthly check-in sessions to review hours, we’re making sure our employees can work for us in a way that works for them.
And when it comes to working for us, we prioritise our employees’ progression. Lots of women worry that taking maternity or adoption leave will set them back on the career front. But not at Organic. Returning employees will have monthly meetings with their line manager and our People Manager, not just to check-in on their work-life balance but to devise a career plan.
Plus, we’ve also got an entirely separate training budget that’s set aside for new parents so they can make up for any time they’ve taken out of the business on parental leave.
Digital tech is on the up – and having the right measures in place will help more women to enter into and succeed in this flourishing, increasingly significant sector, creating an industry that’s more balanced, inclusive and universally appealing.