On the 8th March, we hosted a Breakfast Roundtable Discussion at the Burns Sheehan London HQ, bringing together a group of 16 influential Engineering Leaders, all of whom are passionate advocates for increasing female representation within the technology industry. The conversation focused on understanding why there is still a lack of women in technology, specifically within leadership roles, as well as exploring the practical steps we can take towards encouraging the next generation of female technologists at a grassroots level.
The conversation kick started by discussing why being a woman in tech is still considered ‘exceptional’? 🤔
If we asked young women today why a job in tech is not their first choice, what would the reason be? The fact that just 5% of leadership positions in technology are held by women perhaps lends itself to the assumption that a career in tech is just not for women… This lack of female representation at the most senior level unfortunately leads to a lack of female role models, presenting successful female leaders as exceptional rather than normative.
Our group of leaders all agreed that increasing the visibility of female Senior Leaders in tech is imperative to encouraging more women into the industry, as well as to inspire more women in tech to pursue leadership roles. These role models can raise awareness of the vast opportunities available to women in technology and share advice around how to navigate the path to leadership level. Right now, these role models need to be female… but in the future, we want to be at a point where it shouldn’t matter the gender, as female leaders will be just as common as male!
We then went back to the start and looked at the problem from a grassroots level… 🌱
By discussing where their technology careers started and their experiences navigating their career options at a young age, it became clear to the group that in order to encourage more women into tech roles, we need to go further than workshops, internships and talks at universities. Lack of encouragement for females to consider careers in tech starts at school, and so it’s important that we make an impact on secondary school students who are picking their GCSEs, as currently they are not always aware of the vast range of opportunities that studying STEM subjects can open up to them.
A career in Software Engineering is one of the most well-paid jobs in the market, but is there enough awareness amongst teachers and students alike as to how much opportunity there actually is within this sector? We discussed the common assumption that a career in Software Engineering involves coding all day every day, which is far from the truth. Not enough female students understand that the key skills and responsibilities for these roles can include problem solving and critical thinking, as well as thinking creativity, skills that often come very naturally to women.
We need to encourage young women to have both confidence in their competence in STEM subjects, but also to be aware of how they can utilise and apply their softer skills within technical roles. A key thinking point was how can we ensure that both parents and teachers gain an understanding of what a career in tech looks like in order to encourage more students into the field?
The group then shared insightful ideas around how organisations can attract female talent if they are lacking female representation at present… 🧲
Once the group had tackled the issues at grassroots level, they moved on to discuss how companies can overcome potential blockers when interviewing female leaders. Some companies and industries naturally attract a higher number of female applications, mainly due to either being female-founded or having a female-forward approach.
One way to attract female talent to your business is by showing that DEI is a priority for you; this could be by ensuring that your interview panel has diverse representation, or by having examples prepared for discussion around how you are actively encouraging a more diverse workforce and inclusive workplace. Having an all-male interview panel suggests to candidates that there is poor diversity in the team and a culture that they may not want to be a part of. It’s a good idea to have at least one female on the interview panel so that they can talk through company culture from a woman’s perspective.
The smallest changes can sometimes have the most impact. Interviewers tend to look for confident and direct language when hiring, which men typically exhibit much more than women. It’s important that members of the interview panel undergo interview training so that they learn that leadership styles look different, removing the preconceived idea that these skills are always presented in a certain way. Women tend to use inclusive pronouns (such as ‘my team’ or ‘we’) when talking through their achievements, but this language is not a reflection of their ability. It’s essential that candidates are given the bigger picture and asked questions based on the problems that you are trying to solve with this hire, rather than asking questions that are just based on the requirements in the job description.
As our roundtable discussion came to a close, we took a moment to reflect on what we'd covered during the session and collectively outlined three key takeaways that everyone in the room will aim to work towards within their organisation:
We have planned to reconvene in 2 months’ time to discuss progress and share learnings. Thank you to everyone that came and shared such honest & insightful ideas on how we can improve gender inequality in tech, and a special thank you to Linda Davidson for moderating the discussion. Looking forward to the next one!
If you are a Hiring Manager who is seeking advice on how to improve the gender diversity within your company, please reach out to our Engineering Leadership specialist, Grace, to book in a call! 👇