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IWD 2024: Better together: why the UK’s tech sector needs to double down on diversity and inclusion
Thu, 7th Mar 2024

We’ve come a long way in a relatively short space of time. Seven years ago, only a quarter of FTSE 100 leaders were women. By 2021 the figure had increased to nearly a third. However, the technology sector still lags behind many others in attracting and promoting women into senior roles. By one estimate, only 28% of tech employees are gender minorities, falling to 22% of senior roles.

We need to get better at this because it’s not just a matter of morality. From a pure business perspective, greater diversity in the workplace is something every boardroom should be pushing for. It will help to create organisations where more people want to work, reduce industry skills shortages and drive innovation.

A man’s world
IT and cybersecurity have a reputation for being fast-moving, cutting-edge disciplines at the forefront of societal and economic progress. That’s true in one regard. But it’s a perception in many ways removed from reality. Women comprise around 50% of the UK workforce. Yet in tech, the share is roughly half that.

This matters a great deal to a national economy where digital contributes around 6% of jobs and 8% of total economic output (GVA). The sector has surged around 12% since the start of 2020, while economic growth overall has barely budged. It’s also a sector suffering from a serious skills gap as organisations rush to compete with digital transformation projects. The shortfall of workers is estimated to cost the digital economy £63bn each year. In cybersecurity, we’re estimated to be missing more than 73,000 workers, a 29% annual increase. So what’s going on?

The truth is that there’s a perception about cyber in particular that has historically been difficult to shift. It is of a stuffy, male-dominated industry of acronyms, geeks and certifications. The truth today is very different. But it’s a difficult reputation to shed, especially when hiring managers persist in focusing on candidate accreditations and specialised experience. The truth is that improving diversity can be challenging for organisations. CEOs often pay lip service to programmes. But they need an investment of time, money and long-term commitment to bear fruit. Unconscious bias can be difficult to shift, further slowing down progress.

This is a shame for several reasons. Most obviously, diverse teams are more likely to produce better results. This is particularly important in many technology and cybersecurity roles, where the differences in opinion that diversity creates are key to problem-solving. This is more than a mere hunch. A McKinsey study from several years ago reveals that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

Inspiring Inclusion
The theme this International Women’s Day (IWD) is #InspireInclusion. So what can we do to inspire employers and candidates to enhance gender diversity in the tech sector? It all starts with education.

Cybersecurity is such a big part of business and personal life today that it needs to be introduced into the school curriculum earlier and made available to all students. Earlier awareness of and exposure to the subject would help to squash any prejudice about the subject and may encourage girls to eventually choose a career in cyber. We’ve already seen the success that extra-curriculum competitions and programmes like the National Cyber Security Centre’s CyberFirst Girls have had. There’s no reason we can’t attract more young women into the industry.

There’s also a key role for women already in the industry to play—to drive awareness and interest among a wider pool of potential candidates. Education fairs and recruitment drives are great examples of events where their experience and example could be invaluable in spurring interest. Female mentors are also key in helping to inspire new starters or those further down the career ladder. Listening to how they have overcome certain challenges in their careers isn’t just inspiring—it can also provide some great practical tips on how to navigate a path to the top.

Of course, the more women there are in senior roles, the more mentors and other inspirational figures there will be to share this kind of wisdom. That’s why employers need to play their part—by supporting female employees when they are going through challenging times like starting a family or receiving treatment for menopause. And by updating their hiring policies to draw from a wider pool of candidates. More attention should be spent on working out the role that transferrable skills and on-the-job training can play in bringing new starters up to speed.

A virtuous circle
I’m living proof that women can achieve success in tech and cyber without needing to cram their CVs full of degrees and certificates. Over the past two decades, I’ve relished moving up through the industry, taking the opportunities that come this way and paying back the trust placed in me by senior management.

There is no secret sauce. The key is to love what you do and always try to do it to the best of your ability. Remain grounded and, wherever possible, help and promote those around you. Most importantly, never go out into the world feeling that women are hard done by. Positivity is invaluable, even when times are tough.

I have had the fortune of working for many inspirational female managers in the past, and now have a hugely talented and successful CEO at the helm of Trend Micro. The company is another great example of what can be achieved if you have the ambition to succeed. It’s proof that greater diversity can improve inclusion and drive business success in a virtuous circle.