Slow progress on gender diversity in tech – but reasons for optimism

Gender diversity? In this article, Natalie Whittlesey, Director of global recruiter, Harvey Nash, shares her insight on how to have a successful career in tech, while touching on traditional blockers that affect women's progression.

On the face of it, the results on gender diversity in this year’s Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey are disappointing: there has been almost no movement in the proportion of women in tech teams or the percentage of senior women.

The results of the world’s largest tech survey – taking in the feedback of over 3,600 tech leaders around the globe – show that the proportion of women in tech teams has inched up only fractionally from 21% to 22%, while the percentage of female technology leaders remains unchanged at just 12%.

So should we be throwing our hands up in despair at this? Berating organisations to do more?

I don’t think so. While of course, it would be heartening to see more progress more quickly, at the same time I see much to take encouragement from in my dealings with clients.

Enabling gender diversity, and others

Firstly, there is a genuine commitment and determination to address diversity imbalances, both of gender and other forms. Many clients that we work for at Harvey Nash insist on gender-balanced shortlists for example, particularly for senior positions. They truly want to attract more talented women into their tech teams and know that for that to happen, they must ensure they are recruiting from a broad and balanced pool.

In many ways, the issue is a problem of supply rather than of organisations’ willingness. Tech still has an ‘image’ problem for many women and we need to find ways of attracting more – especially girls coming through education – into what can be a fantastic and rewarding career.

We need to find ways of emphasising that you don’t need to be a ‘techie’ to have a successful career in tech. Many other qualities that many women naturally possess – influencing skills, communication, emotional intelligence – are critical too, especially as tech broadens and becomes more and more about the tech team working with the business to help it achieve its strategic and operational goals.

If businesses continue to insist on recruiting from a representative talent pool, then we should see the penetration of females in tech slowly but steadily building over the coming years.

>See also: Why IT leaders can have a huge influence on increasing diversity in tech

Maternity leave – career blocker or progresser?

Another reason for optimism is that in my view one of the biggest traditional blockers to gender diversity and women’s career progression – in IT and indeed across the business as a whole – has become less of an obstacle than it used to be: maternity leave.

I believe that attitudes have shifted amongst many organisations. Where perhaps a decade ago they may have been wary of promoting or investing in women who they felt were likely to have children in the coming years, now there is a greater acceptance of career breaks.

The rise of paternity leave as a concept has helped with this too. Allied also with the growing spread of flexible working patterns in general, attitudes have moved in a positive direction.

Of course, that is not to say that taking time away from work doesn’t present challenges. There is no getting around the fact that it represents around a year out of a career. I have spoken to many maternity returners, inside Harvey Nash and in industry. Many of them have, if anything, been more successful on their return than before. But it invariably requires much determination, careful planning of time, and the ability to multi-task and juggle many priorities simultaneously. Some women have also stressed the importance of having access to a mentoring group while on maternity leave to help plan the return and to counter the self-questioning that can occur while away from office life.

What does the future hold?

Our Harvey Nash 2018 Tech Survey of over 3,200 tech professionals, found 22% of women said that having outside responsibilities (such as children, or other caring responsibilities) actually made them more efficient and driven to succeed. While 28% don’t think outside responsibilities affect their career at all. A fifth of women said they have no outside responsibilities. So these results are reasonably encouraging – even if this leaves over a quarter of women who do believe that their responsibilities will slow their career advancement.

There are no easy answers to the challenge of increasing gender diversity in tech. But the growing determination of businesses to address imbalances, and a shift in attitude towards career breaks such as for maternity, give reasons for optimism that we may see more sustained change over the years to come.

To register for a copy of the Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey 2019, click here.

>See also: Over 20% of male and female bosses discriminate against women of maternity age

About the Author

Natalie Whittlesey is a Director at global recruiter Harvey Nash, Specialising in technology C-Suite Search: CIO, CTO, CDO.

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