Women Trouble? - What Tech Companies Need to Do to Attract More Women

08/03/2016 10:47 | Updated 08 March 2016

The tech industry has women trouble. By the end of this year only 25% of tech jobs will be held by women. But in the cyber security industry where I work this ratio would be a dream come true - only 10% of information security professionals are women.

Why is this a problem? The digital economy in the UK is growing three times as fast as the economy in general and cyber security is a key growth area. It will also have 1.5 million fewer people than it needs in the next four years. So the status quo hurts women, industry and our economy - we need to fix it.

A key reason for this is the low visibility of women in the industry. Media spokespeople, conference speakers and panellists are frequently those at the very top of the industry - and they are almost all men.

This is why leading tech companies have recently launched a mentoring programme for female sixth form students who are interested in STEM subjects and careers. I am one of the mentors on this programme. I signed up because of the huge difference that mentors have made to my career, helping me to realise and articulate my strengths, aim high and set realistic goals to get there. I want to help others do this and to show young women the fantastic possibilities that a career in tech or cyber security can offer them.

But this really is just the beginning. Here are four further ways that we can support young women in the STEM space:

Make STEM subjects more accessible in school

In the UK, the government is doing a lot to modernise the curriculum and encourage more girls to study STEM subjects at school and university. But as businesses it's our job to make sure we attract talent to our industry. Tech companies are developing resources such as a 'code club in a box' a starter kit for any employee who wants to work with a local school to set up a coding club.

Challenge perception that computer science is a boys club

We need to persuade more young women that studying computer science and related courses at university will lead to an exciting career post university so we need to get out and about into schools promoting this message.

Support those already studying STEM

For those who are already on the journey, we need to get alongside them and offer support (be it through mentoring or other means), offering clear entry points into the work place, exciting career pathways and opening up our networks to them.

Spotlight the best of the industry

Finally, we need to do more to retain and promote women in the industry. Gartner estimates that only 14% of CIOs are women. At the moment, young women look at our industry and see no one who looks like them or a role model for them. Unless we can change this we won't attract more of them. We need to make more effort to mentor the women who join us and to network them with others in our organisations. Why not start a women to women buddy system for new joiners? Or encourage your female employees to speak to industry, the media and young people instead of always choosing the same male faces?

This is not a job for government it's a job for us. If we want to be market leaders in a dynamic, growing industry we cannot continue to ignore the fact that nearly half of the UK's workforce does not see our industry as an attractive option for a career. As companies and individuals it's up to us to invest our time and resource into attracting more talented women to join us.