On International Women’s Day 2020, Alexis Kelly, Senior Software Tester at BJSS – Digital City Festival’s Lead Tech Sponsor – explains the necessity to push tech forward and tackle the underrepresentation of women in the sector.
It’s been well over a century since Ada Lovelace became the world’s first computer programmer; 70 years since Cicely Popplewell led the Manchester Mark 1 delivery; 50 years since Margaret Hamilton wrote the software that put Neil Armstrong safely on the moon; and 35 years since Radia Perlman introduced STP for our mass-market Internet.
But while these vital advancements were made by pioneering women, the tech sector still struggles to attract female talent. In the UK, less than 17% of all technology roles are currently filled by women – an appalling number given that tech is one of the most creative, rewarding and fastest-growing sectors there is.
To achieve imaginative, creative ideas, the tech industry needs people from many different backgrounds. We simply can’t afford to waste the diverse set of perspectives that come from gender balance, because having groups of similar people from similar backgrounds breeds similar ideas. Innovation becomes stagnant, creativity gets lost forever, cutting-edge ideas are missed, and problem-solving gets stifled.
We must become better at applauding the accomplishments that female technologists have traditionally played in our industry, and we must do more to celebrate the millions of trailblazing women who advance the technological landscape every day.
It’s time to inspire and welcome many more women to the technology sector. And crucially, if we want to cement Manchester’s status as a major tech hub, we need to find ways to conquer the barriers to recruiting and retaining female talent.
Manchester: take action for equality
Manchester was identified in the CompTIA UK Tech Town Index as the top city in Britain to have a career in IT. It’s hardly any wonder why; our city plays host to over 100,000 high-performing people who work in our world-class tech companies and innovative start-ups.
We can add to this by making our tech sector an appealing and viable career destination for women too. Companies should look critically at their existing culture and working practices, and then plan for meaningful improvements. Do we really need people to be glued to their desks between 9am and 5pm every day? Are we certain that the culture we promote makes everyone feel welcome, inspired and included?
The evidence from companies that have already gone through this process shows that improvements are possible without major structural changes. For example, in just over a year, my company has enhanced its flexible working policies. We’ve implemented generous improvements to our maternity allowance, and we support mothers returning to work too. We’re even enthusiastic supporters of programmes like TechUP, a wonderful initiative that retrains women – many from underrepresented communities – into promising careers in tech.
Initiatives like these lead to balanced companies that are more profitable, resilient and innovative. And the benefits are often universal. All employees – not just women – reap the rewards.
Things are improving, but we still face the challenge of appealing to school-going young women.
Thankfully, there are now plenty of opportunities to learn the fundamentals of coding, but it is also crucial that they know that they can have successful and impactful careers in tech without committing to a lifetime of programming.