The UK has seen an uplift in employment in the technology sector following redundancy announcements from some of the Big Tech firms. However, women are seemingly leaving the industry.
Data published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) today shows that 1.534 million people were employed in tech jobs, referred to as information and communications in the figures, between April and June 2023. This was 85,000 more than the previous quarter.
The uplift in tech employment comes following layoff announcements from British companies such as BT. The telco announced that it would be laying off 15,000 members of staff in favour of using AI.
ONS data also shows that there was a decline in women being employed in the tech sector. Between April and June, 485,000 women were employed in the information and communication sectors compared with 488,000 employed in tech jobs in the previous quarter.
On the other hand, positions taken by men saw an increase. In the second quarter, 1.249 million men were employed in the information and communication sector, compared with 1.160 million between January and March 2023.
One expert has told Tech Monitor that while the industry had seen a surge in women entering the workforce following the Covid-19 pandemic, the tech sector has been “painfully slow” in making a long-lasting change when it comes to employment equality.
Vacancies for tech jobs are on the decline
ONS has also said that the number of technology job vacancies was falling at a faster rate than other industries in the UK.
In the previous quarter, vacancies in the information and communication industries rose by 11.3%. However, between April and June, there was a decrease of 7.3%. This trend across several industries such as manufacturing – indeed 13 of the 18 sectors included in the statistics saw a decrease.
Year-on-year, ONS says there has been an average of a 20% decrease in total vacancies across the 18 sectors. In tech, it is higher at 31.5%.
As reported by Tech Monitor, the technology industry has been hampered by a skills shortage that originally saw vacancies unfulfilled for long periods of time. However, economic conditions have resulted in stocks declining and the margins being squeezed.
There are also reports that international companies are finding the UK an ‘undesirable’ place to do business. BBC News has reported that a leader of a big US technology company had said that “there was a definite tipping point” for when the business would exit the UK. Others have threatened to quit the UK, such as WhatsApp and Signal, which say they may pull their products from the British market over provisions in the government’s Online Safety Bill.
But even the government recognises that the UK isn’t currently the place where tech companies can grow. Digital minister Paul Scully recently told a parliamentary committee that the Digital Markets Bill supported a move from the government to build more scale-ups that stay in the UK, rather than start-ups that get acquired by foreign buyers.
Hybrid and flexible working levelled the playing field for women in tech
Rachel Watts, global marketing director at Harvey Nash, a global technology recruiter, said that while the technology industry has challenged itself to increase women’s representation in the workforce, data continues to show that it has much further to go. She pointed to the company’s own Digital Leadership Report, which found that only 23% of the tech workforce identifies as female and only 28% are new hires.
“The progress that has been made in recent years by the industry is hard to make ‘stick’,” Watts says. “Looking at the historic ONS figures for the UK, we have seen that the number of women in the tech sector rose from 384,000 in early 2018 to 518,000 in early 2021 – an increase of 35% that was likely fuelled by the equalising effect of the move to remote and hybrid working due to the pandemic.”
But, she says, this “then fell back, to 488,000 in early 2023, and now to 485,000.”
Throughout 2023, Big Tech firms have been calling workers back to the office. As reported by Insider, Google, Apple and Microsoft are just some that are requiring employees to return to their desks. Apple reportedly threatened to discipline employees who did not attend the office for three days a week. Meta, on the other hand, is continuing to allow remote working.
Women in Tech, a portal dedicated to supporting women in technology and IT roles, says that this approach could result in women leaving the tech industry. It conducted research which found that 63% of women placed flexible working in their top three employee benefits that would attract them to tech jobs.