Statistics from Gov.uk show that women account for 52.7% of the total UK workforce, yet they only hold 26% of jobs in the technology industry. Additionally a recent PwC study indicated that only 3% of women say a career in technology is their first choice and only 16% of them have had a career in technology suggested to them. These statistics are shocking yet unsurprising when you hear that, 76% of the respondents to a 2023 Women IN Tech UK survey said that they have experienced gender bias or discrimination whilst working in technology at least once, and 79% agreed that there is a gender pay gap in the technology sector, with men earning a higher salary.
In honour of International Women’s Day 2023 and the UN Woman’s theme of DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality, we wanted to speak to some of the women here at Engine B and ask them about their experiences as women working in tech. This three-part series will explore some of the challenges women in tech face, ways in which we can strive to make change, as well as advice for other women considering careers in the technology industry.
What do you think are some of the biggest issues women in tech/business are facing today?
I don’t want to be too negative, because there are huge opportunities for women in tech, and tech companies, like all businesses, do better when they have gender balanced teams. But we can’t pretend there are no issues. One difficulty with tech particularly is women are less likely to have studied technology or tech-related subjects like maths or IT at higher levels. For some jobs that kind of study is of course an absolute must, but I see a lot of places hiring for jobs that I am absolutely qualified by experience to do (I’ve done all the responsibilities before!) but I would be screened out if I applied because they are demanding a degree in IT I don’t have. That immediately reduces the jobs available to a lot of women, especially career changers. Once you get past that, often as a woman in a tech firm you’ll be joining a male-dominated environment and it can be tiring being the only person in the room who isn’t a man. Not to mention that there is still sexism in many places, and an assumption that while women might make good UI designers, they don’t make great engineers, or data scientists, or leaders. Tech firms can often not be brilliant on things like parental leave either, especially smaller companies, which makes them less appealing to people with caring responsibilities, who are overwhelmingly more likely to be women.
Have you been, or witnessed any women you work with be treated differently solely because of gender? If so, do you have any advice for women who have experienced this?
I’ve had jobs in a variety of fields, from charities to tech, to accounting, and I don’t think I’ve ever worked in an industry where you don’t sometimes see women being treated differently purely because of gender. I’ve heard procurement people asking a contracting organisation ‘how do you handle the nightmare that is maternity leave?’. I’ve seen (and experienced!) direct sexual harassment from colleagues and clients. I once started a job and within the first week had a manager explain to me that the reason the organisation had a significant promotion gender gap was because you couldn’t really do a senior job part time, and once women have a family they just didn’t really want to be at work. But then, women are treated differently because of gender out in the world, so why would we expect work to be different? That said, company culture does make a huge difference, and as a lot of tech companies are challenging other work norms there are real opportunities to build more egalitarian cultures.
What advice would you give to another woman wanting to begin a career in tech?
My advice would be to go for it! There are so many roles, so many opportunities, and different things to do you will definitely find something to suit you. I know tech can have a bit of a sexist ‘bro’ culture image, but that’s just not representative of the entire industry. So many tech firms are flexibility-first, forward thinking, and trying to build a better culture from the inside out. Working in tech will give you the opportunity to develop all sorts of skills, even skills which don’t exist yet! And we need more women if we’re going to build tech that works for everyone. So, if you’re considering retraining or taking on a new challenge, I would thoroughly recommend it.
Why do you think diversity in the workplace is so important?
I think diversity is so important as it gives the company access to multiple different views. This is especially relevant to my field as we’re currently working on models related to natural language processing, and people with different backgrounds can often provide unique perspectives on how to process and analyse language data. More generally, I think when we’re able to engage with colleagues with different perspectives, skills and ideas, we can more successfully achieve our overall goals.
In the near future, what positive changes would you like to see take place for women in the workplace?
I think lots of great changes have been made for women in the workplace, but we still have a long way to go! Some of the positive changes I think should take place are:
Is there a woman who has positively impacted you in your career? What is one lesson she taught you?
Yes! Wendy, who I met during my postgraduate helped me a lot when I first entered the coding field. She was the one who was willing to repeatedly explain those complicated algorithms to me and encouraged me when I was stuck. One lesson I learnt from her was “no pain no gain” and that coding needs practice. She spent 5+ years being good at it and I’m so lucky to have known her when I started programming, she made the process far less painful and also made me want to keep improving myself.