This article was originally published in CITY A.M
The UK has been crowned the “tech unicorn capital of Europe”, by virtue of the fact that we have more billion-dollar-valued tech companies than any other country in the EU.
But the next generation of unicorns, which include the likes of Just Eat, Deliveroo, and Purplebricks, could well be under threat if the tech industry, government and other stakeholders don’t do a better job of selling the virtues of a career in tech to women.
While women are flying in digital marketing and PR, the same cannot be said for developers and engineers – the creative minds behind the software programmes that power these companies.
There is no doubt that women have the aptitude and creative skills to make some of the best developers and engineers. I know this from my own experience.
But historically, women have struggled to push through in engineering roles, whether because of inflexible maternity options or a lack of female trailblazers to follow. Some will simply choose to take their skills elsewhere, namely to sectors where men don’t predominate at senior level.
These issues are not exclusive to technology. But with low levels of girls studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (stem) subjects, and a perception that developer jobs are the preserve of men, tech roles end up being heavily male-skewed.
Society is aware of these wider issues, and female leadership is being proactively championed in virtually every area of life.
Specific to technology, there have been recent signs that things are getting better. Computer science is growing in importance in the school syllabus, and more women are signing up to university courses in related subjects – so the longer-term talent pipeline is looking up.
But this does not remedy the short-term issue that there are simply too few women coming through the door. We have to work harder to attract talent into our industry.
Here at MMT, we realised that we had a problem – we had just six female developers in a team of 80. So we are leveraging the strong relationships we have with local universities De Montfort and Nottingham Trent to sell a career as a software developer to students.
We are making progress: two of our five university developer placements this year are women.
Through our mentorship programme, we recruit from universities, as well as taking on bedroom coders and junior developers.
We have tweaked our job adverts to disabuse the notion that this is a male-centred industry and make them inclusive to all genders. We have also launched an Instagram page to help change the perception of developer and engineering jobs.
Organisations like the British Interactive Media Association and other industry trade bodies are investing in campaigns and education to showcase what technology has to offer.
However, we would like to see more support from the government to encourage more experienced women to enter the sector – even if you can’t code, there are many non-engineer roles on offer.
Plus, sometimes developer work can be done remotely, often part-time, suiting a flexible workforce.
Initiatives like tax breaks on tech training could help incentivise more women to take that path.
The future is certainly looking brighter for women in technology, but we need to do a better job of promoting developer and programmer roles to women, and do more to encourage senior talent to code.
If we can meet these challenges, women will begin to flourish across all facets of tech. And this will benefit the entire industry.