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The tech sector is an exciting career choice for women – but it needs more of them. We look at how to support females in the workplace and be an ally.

Tech is becoming one of the most profitable and competitive sectors. In the US, for example, Forbes notes that “information technology is one of the fastest-growing industries, and technical innovation will play a crucial role in almost every sector” of its economy. It’s a similar story in the UK, with the rate of tech GVA (Gross Value Added) contribution to the economy growing on average by 7% per year, a report by Tech Nation revealed. Yet only 5% of leadership positions in tech are held by women, according to PwC. It’s imperative that women feel supported in the tech environment, with the ability to advance their careers with the same ease as their male colleagues. So what can be done to overcome some of the barriers to a better gender balance?

Following on from our spotlight article on female role models in tech, we talk to Abigail Parker, Sales Team Manager at Computer Futures, and Maria Rua Aguete, Senior Research Director at Omdia, a leading research and advisory group focused on the technology industry, about what can be done to better support women in their sector. Rua Aguete has been working in the tech world for 22 years, and Parker’s role focuses on all things technology, working in the heart of the tech space too.

Barriers to overcome

For Parker, a lot of the obstacles begin early on in life, often during school years. “There is a stereotype that certain roles are for certain people,” she says. Unfortunately, this is then perpetuated post-school, with tech being a “very male dominated environment”. Combined, these issues create a real barrier for women entering the sector.

It is often said that women tend to only apply for a job if they feel totally confident they have all the right skills and experience. The Guardian notes that “as in other industries, women in tech often won’t apply for a job if they don’t feel they’re 100% qualified or have exactly the right experience,” which can affect career progression. A LinkedIn report found that females apply for 20% fewer jobs than men too. Similarly, according to Harvard Business Review “women are less likely to promote themselves compared to men.” Therefore, better support for women earlier on could help to boost confidence.

For Rua Aguete, a lot of the barriers centre around the stereotyping of women and what they offer in a business environment. Stereotypes of leadership exist in the sector, as in many others – with what she calls “serious, quick and logical” traits idolised traditionally, which don’t consider other skills that are equally important in leadership. This creates obstacles for women entering tech, she warns.

Trying to get women to follow these traditional traits is not appropriate, says Rua Aguete. She describes herself as a “warm, social and empathetic” individual and leader, which is sometimes seen as a negative in business. But, to her, “those skills or traits allow people to make very good and logical decisions”. She feels organisations should take responsibility for reforming these stereotypes.

It is well established that a more diverse workforce benefits both staff and the business; with a diverse collection of minds naturally offering different perspectives – vital for innovation and problem-solving. As Forbes notes: “Men and women see things differently and bring unique ideas to the table. This enables better problem-solving, which can boost performance at the business unit level.”

Supporting women in the workplace

This needs to start early on, in schools and universities, urges Parker. Businesses should ensure young people are aware of what the tech sector can offer and are marketing the sector in a way that will attract a better gender balance. It’s important to make women feel that tech really is an environment for them, with roles they can enjoy.

This means companies need to promote themselves. If they are a progressive business, they can set a precedent in how they do this and attract even more talented women to their workforce. “It’s about really promoting and marketing,” says Parker. For Rua Aguete, it’s about “helping women in the early stages to build confidence, to be kind to themselves and prepared for failure”.

Managers play a particularly important role in supporting women and being an ally at work, according to Parker, who adds: “It’s all about the manager engaging that person and managing them to get the most out of them, whether they are male or female.” Companies must help managers be aware of the importance of individual goals – so that all staff are getting the most out of their potential. For Rua Aguete, allyship comes from not putting people into boxes, but by allowing them to be themselves in the workplace.

Best practice

One initiative to support women in the workplace at Computer Futures is the IdentiFy+ programme – which offers internal coaching to individuals who take part. The six-month progamme works hard to match women up to coaches who are the right fit for them and offers tailored mentoring. Parker is among the women at Computer Futures who have gone through the scheme. She says it allowed her to “explore some difficult topics and challenges”, making her a better manager but also enhancing her skills. Beyond the programme itself, IdentiFy+ creates a cohort of women who meet regularly to talk about any workplace challenges.

At Omdia, Rua Aguete runs internal training for both the men and women in her office. This training is based on her experiences – allowing both genders to hopefully learn from these and to progress. For her, it’s about offering growth opportunities to all her staff. If anything, she hopes that internal training and openness will spark change, meaning we will see more leaders with non-conventional leadership traits, therefore shifting the barriers to entry and making women feel more comfortable in tech and business as a whole.


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