International Women's Day 2018: Why The Tech Sector Needs Innovation

The nature of uncomfortable truths is that they eventually need confronting – writes Ricky Nicol, Chief Executive of Commsworld.

International Women’s Day (IWD) 2018 has been well and truly elevated, so what better day to highlight our own industry’s most embarrassing, frustrating and deep-rooted problem?

And it really is a problem that affects us all regardless of gender. The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) sector is still too hampered by inequality – and urgent action is needed.

Image Problems

While businesses could always do more to help turn the tide, it is clear that perception is a huge issue that we need to overcome.

Despite some brilliant work by the likes of Girl Geek Scotland, STEM is still seen, on the whole, as male-oriented and unwelcoming to women.

Recent research by PwC paints a dire picture: IT and tech roles appeal to just 27% of female students, while tech careers are the first choice of just 3% of the 1,102 women currently taking A-levels or doing a university degree.

In contrast, the report, called Women in tech: Time to close the gender gap, found 62% of the 1,074 men PwC surveyed said they would consider a career in tech, with 15% making the industry their first job priority.

In Scotland specifically, just 16% of people taking university computing courses are female and 18% of technology professionals are female. 

It is, from the outset, a staggering disparity.

Progress is Key

In the current age, tech firms are defined by the progress they make. Businesses that stand still will almost certainly wither and disappear.

It is completely irrational that the sector – and businesses – would self-harm so evidently, by losing so many bright and creative women to other industries and restricting the talent pool.

At Commsworld, we are proud to say that we improve on the averages, with women representing just under 30 per cent of our permanent staff.

Of that, we have some brilliant minds in our senior positions, including Joan Nicol (Company Secretary), Christine Byrne (Head of Billing), Martina Corr (Head of Marketing), Lorraine Hutchinson (Senior Project Manager), Jen Wilson (Service Delivery Manager), Jane McVey (Senior Account Manager) – to name but a few.

We are under no illusions that these figures could improve and we firmly support gender balance.

Call to Arms

Recruiting talent and employing professionals based on merit is the only way to go. But the fact remains, we desperately need to encourage more young women at school and university into tech careers - by celebrating those that have fought the odds to the top. 

A great example of this in action is courtesy of Scotland IS, which has been posting mini-blog posts throughout IWD with interviews with a number of high-power women working in IT in Scotland.

Polly Purvis, Chief Executive of ScotlandIS, which represents businesses and organisations creating and delivering digital products and services, spoke to us earlier to discuss some further great initiatives taking place right now. 

She said: "The industry is acutely aware of the gender balance issue, and may businesses are taking steps to address this. 

“Women in the tech sector have come together around groups such as  Scottish Women in TechGirlGeekScotland, and Women who Code, to highlight the challenges and work together to address them.

“Many of the schools initiatives supported by Digital Xtra, such as CodeDoJo, CodeClubs, Apps for Good, and Young Engineers & Science Clubs Scotland have a clear focus on getting girls involved in coding from a young age. So whilst there's a long way to go till we have a balanced workforce a lot of effort is going into achieving this goal."

This great work needs to continue apace. It’s the right thing to do, morally and for the future of the UK’s tech sector. Creativity is at its best when we have people from all manner of backgrounds contributing.  

I’d like to now call on my colleagues in the sector to continue this important conversation – and confront this uncomfortable truth.