Marianne Kolding
Marianne Kolding (VP, European Skills Practice)

For more than two decades, the IT sector has been struggling to solve the problem of attracting more females into the IT profession — partly to embrace diversity and inclusion in the workplace, but primarily to change how society sees IT professionals.

IDC first wrote about the issue in 2001, and we have since seen a variety of initiatives aimed at increasing female participation in the IT workforce. These have passed over from how to get females more interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) studies, which may then lead to an interest in IT, to how to get women returning to the workforce after maternity leave and to consider a career in technology. So far, no one seems to have found the silver bullet.

The State of Diversity: Women in UK Tech

IDC estimates that there were 1.7 million technology roles in the UK in 2020. According to the Office for National Statistics and a report by the UK Chartered Institute for IT, however, only 16%–17% of these are held by women. Despite efforts to turn the tide, female participation in the IT profession has stubbornly been sitting around that level for several years.

Bridging the COVID-19 Tech Skills Gap

COVID-19 has impacted employment, and in the tech workforce we will continue to see a lack of critical IT skills over the next few years. If anything, the pandemic has brought into focus organisations’ dependency on technology and how technology is critical to create an agile and resilient organisation, as well as accelerated digital business transformation.

As new technologies are adopted and legacy technologies are retired, the IT skill mix is changing. Of course, there will still be a need for heavy-duty specialist tech skills, but we’re also seeing greater demand for people with solid business skills that can be reskilled to take on technology roles.

Many organisations are taking the reskilling route because of the pandemic: rather than making a lot of people redundant, they’re assessing who can be retrained to take on the critical digital and tech roles needed. Others are recruiting from outside the tech industry — hiring from digital marketing, IT recruitment, and academia, for example.

Is COVID-19 Closing the Technology Skills Gap?

For those unfortunate to have been furloughed or made redundant, IT may also be an alternative new career. According to research from CWJobs (published in November 2020 and based on a survey of more than 2,000 professionals in the UK), 56% of non-tech workers were planning to change careers and around half of these were considering a tech-based role.

The research doesn’t say anything about how these numbers play out from a gender perspective, but this bodes well for more diverse recruitment. A key element of this is for tech companies to talk about the breadth of roles available in the tech industry, as much as the emphasis on attracting young female talent to STEM.

More needs to be done to break down the misconception that a successful career in technology means being an engineer or developer. Of course, those roles are critical, but the technology industry also offers a real diversity of roles and plenty of career opportunities related to business and creativity.

One can only assume that with the broadening aspects of tech roles requiring more business-related and soft skills, women will find a tech career more attractive. For those with children, the new reality of much more remote and flexible working environments will also be attractive. It also extends the potential talent pool outside of commutable distance to a physical office.

Having said that, we think role models are also an important element in demonstrating to women (of all ages) how exciting a career in the tech industry can be. It’s often easier to recruit females when there is a female leader in the organisation. They can motivate, lead, guide and coach, and show female employees a career path.

Our Testimonial

We have both spent well over 20 years in the technology sector, in different roles, and in different types of tech companies. It’s true that it’s still a male-dominated industry — but it is slowly changing.

To drive change even faster, it’s important that women that do have successful careers in tech speak out about how exciting it is and provide support and mentoring to other women just starting out. But it’s also important that organisations put in place programmes to attract women into tech — and, importantly, also focus on retaining them once there.

Diversity and Inclusion at IDC UK

Here at IDC UK, we’re proud to say that 42% of our workforce are female — and that women are represented at senior as well as junior levels. Yes, our jobs may not be your traditional “tech jobs”, but we have an important voice in the industry. When we make keynote presentations to hundreds of people on technology subjects, we play a role in changing the perception of women in tech — we have an impact.

We’re also proud that IDC UK has become a signatory of the Tech Talent Charter to work with other like-minded organisations to drive diversity and inclusion into the workforce. While a lot of attention has been on gender equality in tech, we have much to do to increase diversity in other ways as well: ethnicity, orientation, neural diversity and disability. We all have great ideas of what can and should be done to achieve this — and it will happen faster if we work together.

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