The stories of women at the top of tech are getting more and more column inches, with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Youtube Susan Wojcicki, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, CFO of Alphabet Ruth Porat, Alibaba Executive Chair Lucy Peng, Microsoft CFO Amy Hood, and President of Didi Chuxing Jean Liu, becoming better known, within the industry and without. The difference is, with exception of perhaps Sandburg, their full names are invariably still accompanied by their job titles. They have not transcended the business pages, or their positions.
The doors of perception
For many, the tech industry still seems like a daunting and opportunity-poor place to be a woman, a perception only exacerbated by recent horror stories of misogyny and prejudice within some of the world’s most prominent tech startups and VC firms.
In our recent research looking at young people’s perceptions of careers in tech, the top reasons cited by young women for not wanting to work in the industry were ‘I don’t have the skills’ (45%), ‘I don’t know anything about it’ (38%) and ‘it’s not for people like me’ (24%). It looks like we have an image problem, and there’s work to do if we want to encourage more Gen Z women into tech; but what does the situation look like at the moment?
For our Tech Nation report published in May, we took a look at the make up of the UK tech workforce. And for fun, we asked a few friends what they thought the answers might be. So here goes.
Snap back to reality
What % of the digital tech workforce is female?
A. 8%, B. 19%, C. 39%
Helen Sartory, Emerging Technologies Advisor at Lazard said “it’s B, 19% and it’s very disappointing.” Quite right Helen. 19% of the UK tech workforce is female, and 81% is male. That’s a yawning disparity. Any ideas on what can be done to improve the figures Helen? “Yeah, hire more women!” Can’t argue with that.
Most of our obliging contestants were bang on with their 19% guess, though Chi-chi Ekweozor, Founder of Assenty was surprised that the gap was as ‘little’ as it is. “As if! That’s really good. I’m probably thinking as a developer.” The 19% figure is across all roles in the tech industry, including everything from development roles to marketing, operations and finance.
AI: Artificial Intolerance
Phil Charnock from Swapbots echoed the concerns of many about the impact that a lack of diversity in the tech population will have on the population as a whole. “We need to push for greater diversity for a number of reasons, not least of all is we’re creating artificial intelligence and we’re embedding it with the same prejudices of the same white males.”
A number of public and costly mishaps with racist robots and gender biased behaviour of bots should be reason enough to heed Phil’s advice that “it’s really, really important that diversity is encouraged in tech at this point in time!”
While the straw poll of the Tech Nation Game Show found our participants suitably aware and concerned of the gender gap in tech, the community perceptions survey conducted as part of the Tech Nation Report 2018 returned that 48% of the 3,428 people queried felt that gender diversity in their local tech ecosystem was low. That’s quite a big number, but it also means that 52% didn’t. When we know that the opposite is true, it makes it all the more important that we shine a light on the numbers, and highlight for the 48 and the 52, where we’re at, and how far we have to go. (A long way.)
Passion for what is possible
It was encouraging then, that when putting together the tweet to launch this video, we hit the twitter thread cap while attempting to mention all the hard-working, passionate and inspiring organisations working to #movethedial on female participation in the tech industry. Honestly, there are so many, and we won’t have got them all, but if the numbers have made you sad, here are like a hundred reasons to be optimistic -> thread.
For our part, we’re working with Capital Enterprise, YSYS, Diversity VC, The Accelerator Network, Loughborough University and the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation on a new diversity in tech initiative aiming to double the number of female and BAME founders in three London boroughs (to begin with) by 2020.
Founder of Seekd, and part of the 19%, Fay Cannings said “We’ve got to get out there. We’ve got to solve this problem.” You said it Fay.