When technology firms struggle to find talent, it may be due to internal issues with hiring and culture, according to an expert panel.
Speaking at the 2020 virtual Women in Business Expo, women from the technology sector said that there’s a wealth of female talent in the technology sector, but firms need to make sure they search for it in the right places and have an inclusive internal culture in place that retains talent.
Jane Frankland, director of Women in Cyber Academy, said in many cases the blame is placed on women when firms can’t find female technology talent, with companies often saying they either can’t find female talent or that women don’t apply for roles in a company.
But Frankland said this is down to hiring and culture within a firm: “Those two things need to be really addressed to get the women in [and] enable them to succeed.”
Where are the women?
The lack of women in the technology sector has been hotly debated for a number of years, with recent BCS research finding that women account for around 17% of IT specialists in the UK, a figure which has only grown by 1% over the past five years.
Charlene Hunter, founder of Coding Black Females, who began coding when she was just 10 years old, realised after a significant amount of time already in the sector she “hadn’t met any other black women who were software developers”.
There can be a number of barriers during the hiring process in technology firms which mean under-represented groups either don’t apply or aren’t considered for roles, including poorly worded job descriptions, always searching for candidates from the same talent pool, requiring certain experience or qualifications for new hires, only hiring new talent from within your own network, non-diverse interviewing panels, and unconscious bias in hiring decisions.
Hunter said that companies wanting to hire diverse talent need to ensure job specifications are right, “accept people’s differences” and make sure the culture of the business is open and inclusive.
“You need to make sure you have the right environment in place,” she said. “You need to make sure that you’re representing things correctly and you’re opening the market up to make sure people feel comfortable in your spaces.”
People perform better when they feel like they can bring their whole selves to work, but Hunter said that she tried to adapt herself to fit into a white male culture when she first entered the industry, and has since realised being herself at work brings more benefit to both herself and the business.
Advising other women in the sector to bring their whole selves to work, she said: “Be yourself. It doesn’t matter if you speak differently or if you’ve had a different background. It doesn’t matter, use it to your advantage.”
Work in the pandemic
Jobs and recruitment during the coronavirus outbreak, both inside and outside of the tech sector have been plunged into uncertainty, with Hunter pointing out that, in many cases, women have been hit harder than some other groups.
But there has also been an increased interest in digital skills as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, and when it comes to women entering the tech sector, Hunter said: “I’ve seen so many people turn around and retrain overnight.”
Claiming women in general are well-suited to change, Women in Cyber Academy’s Frankland said soft skills such as communication, problem solving and being a fast learner are the skills of the future.
“Tech is moving really fast, so the faster you can learn things and adapt and pick up things, the more able you’re going to be for the future,” she added.
Some have said the increased amount of flexible working during the pandemic, paired with the increased need for empathy in a difficult time, might lead to companies changing their hiring approaches in the future.
Beckie Taylor, co-founder of Tech Returners, said firms may look more kindly on CV gaps as a result of the pandemic.
Having “underestimated the challenges” of returning to work before becoming a mother, Taylor said that those who are aiming to return to work after a break might have the skills and experience, but companies are “not providing accessible opportunities for them to come back in”.
More than half of women in the technology sector leave their careers at mid-senior level, according to Taylor, who said there’s no point focusing on bringing in talent if companies can’t then retain it.
“It’s a leaky bucket,” she said. “There’s masses amount of talent we just need to create those access routes back into tech.”