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January 4, 2016updated 31 Aug 2016 12:03pm

Why we need more women to balance the books

Opinion: Jacqueline de Rojas, area vice president, Northern Europe at Citrix and President of techUK, looks at how addressing the tech gender imbalance can boost business RoI.

By Vinod

It is a fact that businesses with more women, achieve better results.

Addressing the gender balance in the IT workforce is too frequently discussed solely in terms of an egalitarian agenda. But while such an approach is wholly justified, it also fails to address the true advantage. Achieving a greater gender balance is transformative in a business’s development.

Working with a number of different technology businesses has given me first-hand experience of the impact that women can have on results. And I’m not alone. Business leaders are increasingly exploring how to attract and retain more women to build more diverse and innovative teams. They want better business outcomes.

But the British technology sector still has a long way to go in creating a workforce which not only has the skills to deliver the innovation and quality demanded in the industry, but also one in which every employee has the same opportunities and support to succeed.

Boosting the bottom line
Women remain a largely untapped resource across all STEM sectors, representing a paltry 15 percent of its entire workforce despite accounting for 47 percent of the wider British labour market. The impact of this low representation on industry cannot be underestimated with the widening digital and technology skills gap in the UK.

Technology companies are desperately trying to source the talent needed to support their growth, with many forced to look abroad. This is not only expensive, but also an increasingly contentious issue politically.

Engineering UK, for example, launched research to demonstrate the extent of the skills gap in its sector and the massive potential of plugging it: hiring 182,000 skilled workers per year by 2020 could increase the UK’s GDP by £27bn. However, we’re far from such goals with the UK currently employing just 55,000 such workers, of whom women make up only 8.2%.

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But it’s not just about using women to make up numbers. Initiatives to improve gender balance are a profitable management strategy, shown to build a more productive and talented workforce, and deliver tangible business outcomes.

McKinsey recently published a whitepaper looking at gender equality in French multinational firm Sodexo after analysing data from 50,000 managers across 90 entities worldwide. The report found clear evidence that where the male-female ratio of a team was between 40 and 60 percent, it produced more predictable and sustained results than those of unbalanced teams.

A greater gender balance pays right up to board level. A study conducted by Catalyst into corporate performance and women’s representation on the boards of Fortune 500 companies found those with a greater number of female board directors outperformed those with the least with a return on capital investment by 66 percent.

Making gender balanced teams a reality
Naturally when looking to address the gender divide in STEM, many people look to the next generation. And the future looks promising with a 12 percent increase in the number of girls studying ICT between 2014 and 2015 and great initiatives like Code First: Girls and Tech Future Girls working to rectify the image that the technology industry is a boys’ club.

But it’s not just attracting more girls to the industry that is needed to make gender balanced teams a reality in the technology and IT sector, but retaining them. Research published by ICM last year found that found that two in five women in the IT sector planned to leave their job the following year, compared with just 15 percent of their male counterparts. Further, only 39 percent of women felt looked after by their employer, in comparison to 67 percent of men.

The IT and technology industry must ensure that it differentiates itself as an industry which offers tailored support, enabling women to succeed in their career. Facebook recently announced four-month parental leave to all fathers, helping to create a more accommodating culture for new parents and giving greater choice to families to decide on who would like to act as the primary carers.

But companies can and should look to other ways to change their company culture to help them gain and retain more women. By harnessing the consumerisation of IT and cloud solutions through flexible working, companies can break down some of the traditional barriers that result in many women leaving the profession – as frequently occurs following maternity leave. I firmly believe that work is not a place, it is where you are.

If Britain is to seize its place as a digital nation of significance, we need more digital talent and by harnessing women, we can grow this talent pool very quickly. It is important that all the stakeholders in its success – whether business, government, or industry bodies, like techUK – work together to increase the representation of women in its workforce.

But the real impact is in the small personal decisions we all take to be inclusive, building job descriptions that are appealing to women, including women in short lists and tackling unconscious bias in the workplace all make a massive difference.

Not for 100 years has the key to economic growth rested so firmly in the hands of the diversity agenda.

 

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