Cast your mind back to 2019 and you might remember people talking about flexible working. Though companies were in two minds about implementing such policies, a consensus was building that flexible working could help to improve gender diversity within the tech sector. We know that just 5 per cent of leadership positions in the technology sector are held by women, and only 42 per cent of women work full-time in the industry.
Now that businesses have been forced to trial remote working, we are able to judge more clearly as to whether this truly does help working women. Is it possible that our new ways of working will improve gender diversity within the tech sector?
Pre-pandemic state of play
The data reveals two things about gender diversity in tech. Number one, there are many more men working in the industry compared to women; with 67 per cent of men in full-time employment in the tech sector, compared to 25 per cent less for women, and businesses with a higher proportion of gender diversity tend to out-perform their rivals.
Anecdotally, we know that women who are working in tech can often feel overlooked because of their gender. Alex Kowenicki, Product Owner, told us that she was regularly the only female in the majority of internal and external meetings. “I have often felt like that I’ve had to push for inclusion in discussions, to get my voice heard and prove my abilities in a way I don’t think many men have had to do.”
Shauna McDonagh, Product Delivery Manager, echoed this sentiment. “I do feel at points in my career I have been overlooked and disregarded due to my gender.” She added, however, that being a woman in tech is a “hidden power”.
“You bring a perspective that may not be there in an otherwise male-dominated team or business. This can change the path of a product or feature in development.”
The impact on wellbeing
We know that, because of the pressures of childcare, responsibilities in the home, lack of personal space and limited ability to leave the house, that some women have suffered with remote working throughout the pandemic. Research from the ONS has suggested that women have been taking on more of the childcaring responsibilities and that one in three women with school-aged children said their mental health had suffered as a result of home-schooling.
Alex shares a flat with friends in central London, which she says wasn’t ideal during the lockdown. “I was working much longer hours and had minimal space to work and live in. I haven’t been able to socialise as I normally would or be as physically active as usual and it took a long time to establish new routines and a better work/life balance to avoid burn out.”
It’s been different for Shauna, who also works in London, but commutes into the city. She was already working from home two days per week and appreciated the time saved not commuting for the other three days. “It has allowed me to focus on my physical and mental wellbeing,” she said, “I’m not on the go all the time and have been able to spend quality time with friends and family (when permitted)”.
Both Shauna and Alex would like to return to the office when it is safe to do so, but neither see themselves returning full time. “I’d like to see working from home become the norm,” Shauna said. “I’d like one or two days in the office, that way you still get the benefits of face to face human interaction, but I’ll get a better work/life balance.”
This echoes the sentiment we’ve seen in the wider workforce. Research undertaken by YouGov has even pointed to the fact that only 7 per cent of British workers want to return to the office full-time. And in Wales, there is a long-term ambition that nearly a third of people should still be working from homes, even when coronavirus restrictions have eased.
A lasting impact
For many people, the events of 2020 have given them time to reflect, adding to a growing trend of workers asking for more from their employers. In fact, research has suggested that 86 per cent of millennials would consider taking a pay cut to work at a company whose mission and values align with their own. “It has made me think that the support system surrounding employees is one of the most important things a company can offer someone,” Shauna told us.
Both Alex and Shauna think that new ways of working can help women in tech and would like to see more businesses adopt flexible working practices. Alex noted that working fathers within her organisation had taken on more childcare responsibilities, which she believes makes it easier for women to return to work after having children. This can also help to change the idea that childcare responsibilities are principally a woman’s priority, making it easier for everyone within the business.
Take Finland for example. Their new parental leave system gives fathers the same amount of leave as mothers and has been applauded by both men and women. Each parent now receives 6.6 months' paid leave with pregnant women getting an additional month's allowance. It also extends to single parents who can use both allowances. A really positive step, that can be applied in countries across the globe and benefits both parents.
Shauna agrees that flexible working practices can help men as much as women. “A person’s working preferences won’t necessarily go hand in hand with their gender, so it’s important not to frame this as something that all women or only women want.”
She also believes that it can be more difficult to include people in a virtual environment, particularly if they feel uncomfortable in speaking up. Business leaders must practice active inclusion in order to avoid this happening.
More to be done
“We need to make sure opportunities are available for girls from a young age,” Alex said. “I think hiring quotas are a good thing, as they hold companies to account, but there is more to be done.”
Shauna wants more transparency from organisations, and more inclusion. “Companies should include more than just binary genders and release statistics on pay gaps to allow people from different genders to understand the business landscape – particularly when they are looking for a new role.”
She also believes the recruitment process can play a huge part in improving diversity, and organisations need to rethink who and how they hire. Supporting initiatives such as SheCodes, Girls Who Code and White Hat can also help the industry as a whole to become more diverse. Ultimately, the more female talent in tech, the easier it is for individual organisations to improve their gender diversity.
Advice for working women
Working in a male-dominated environment can be tough, no matter how many lengths organisations go to in order to try and include women, it is not always easy to be the only woman in the room. We asked Alex and Shauna what advice they would give to women hoping to enter the industry.
“Have confidence in your abilities,” Alex advised. “Just because there are fewer women working in tech businesses compared to men does not mean that women can’t or shouldn’t work in tech.”
Both women advised others to be brave, and resilient. “Make sure you are heard,” Shauna told us. “Stand up for one another and push one another to do and be better.”
A huge thank you to Alex Kowenicki and Shauna McDonagh for contributing to this article. For more information on how develop can help you find your next role, please get in touch with us here.