Can more be done to encourage women into digital roles?

Today is International Women’s Day – shining a spotlight on the achievements of women around the world and a chance for organisations across the globe to show support for women’s advancement.

Working with a number of inspirational women in digital, who are spearheading digital strategies in major UK businesses, presented an opportunity to not only highlight their achievements but gather their opinions on what more can be done to encourage women into the industry.

What makes International Women’s Day more relevant this year is that just two weeks ago the Manchester Digital Skills Summit highlighted the widening gender gap in digital. A skills audit found a 78:28 male female split compared to last year, while more than half of businesses surveyed said tech teams are all male.

While this new report focused on Manchester, it has once again raised the question of whether the digital industry, or businesses recruiting for digital positions, could be doing more to attract women into digital roles?

Most of the women I quizzed, all working in senior digital roles, concurred that yes, more could be done.

Sarah Jordan, a digital transformation consultant who has spearheaded digital change within Oxfam and the MS Society, said: “Explaining all the different careers that 'digital' covers would be a great starting point, as many people don't realise the full range and how creative and 'people-focused' the jobs can be; not just involving coding or technical skills.

“More buddying and mentoring schemes would be really helpful, particularly for women in the middle of their careers to help them progress to more senior and leadership positions. We need more female role models at every level in digital to help show the benefits to those thinking about coming into the industry.

“Greater flexibility from employers to help women get into new roles and gain experience, as well as move around within them, would also help.

“The more specialist or technical skills can be learnt, so don't be put off by not having those to start with - practical experience in more useful, so find some way of gaining that and just try it.”

Emma Gillings web manager for Hillarys.co.uk, believes: "Working with a large number of digital professionals – both in-house and via partner agencies – you can’t help but see an imbalance in male versus females, especially in the more ‘technical’ areas of digital. With the ongoing growth of digital roles across all organisations, I think there will naturally be more young women considering a career in digital. Key to bringing a more diverse workforce through is by sharing more in-depth experiences of working in digital – highlighting how many women are benefitting from careers in this bourgeoning sector."

Lisa Watkinson of Brother UK, who is responsible for the ongoing success of Brother UK’s websites and digital assets, says: “In more technical and software roles you can’t help but still see an imbalance with men though. I think the best way to change this is through schools and colleges making these subjects more accessible to both sexes.”

As someone working in the historically male-dominated automotive sector, and head of digital operations, Charlotte Murray of JCT600, says: “My desire on leaving education was to take a technical role, which I was quickly discouraged from pursuing. I was lucky that I managed to steer my career in a direction that now sees me bridge the gap between technical and operations. More recently, education and career advice is certainly less gender-specific, which will hopefully encourage young women to pursue their first choice with confidence; building the foundations of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Could the industry do more? The industry needs to be ready to welcome these young women with open arms!”

Sally Anderson, a lead digital consultant at Code, suggests: “Highlighting and celebrating women who are already in the industry, especially in the more technical roles, is a positive move the industry can make as it’s not always obvious from an outsider looking in at how many women may be behind a company, discipline or movement.”

The consensus is that as an industry we’re not doing enough to encourage diversity.

It is a matter of education, but moreover, about businesses being better at recruiting, hiring, retaining and promoting talent.

Part of the problem is that medium-sized businesses tend to rely heavily on peer referrals for recruitment; and ‘like recruits like’ – so if you have an engineering team that is 100% male, they are more likely to recommend their peers that are most probably made up of a similar workforce, male.

A first step to tackling the issue is by creating inclusive environments. Some simple ways to achieve this will be by

  • Ensure diversity is on the business agenda with leadership commitment.
  • Collating business data to develop a true understanding of the workforce.
  • Celebrate success stories that represent diversity and share them.
  • Support and promote networking events that advocate diversity in our industry.
  • Provide real-world knowledge and experiences in schools, colleges and universities, raising the profile of STEM industries and careers.

Begin by gaining a greater understanding of why there is a gender imbalance, especially in the more technical roles, and as a society identify why at the point when males might decide to pursue a career in digital women might not be making the same decision.

Backed by a firm belief that that diverse teams help us make better products, Code is going to be leading the way in taking steps to make such changes, introducing a number of new initiatives this year to foster diversity and inclusion. We are committed to doing our part to change the industry.

International Women’s Day is about creating a better working world, and we hope that this event might spark more digital companies to review and make a commitment to diversity.

Alex Anderson is talent director at Code Computerlove

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.

Come on in, it’s free.

This isn’t a paywall. It’s a freewall. We don’t want to get in the way of what you came here for, so this will only take a few seconds.