The question of how to get more women to join—and remain in—the tech workforce is one that’s been mulled over for many years, but finding the answer has never been more pressing.
We all know that the tech sector has a diversity problem. Given the burgeoning digital skills gaps that threatens to throttle digital transformation across all industries, it’s never been more important to encourage more people to get into tech; particularly those who make up 50% of the population but occupy just 17% of IT-related roles in the UK.
The question of how to get more women to join—and remain in—the tech workforce is one that’s been mulled over for many years, but finding the answer has never been more pressing. But the solution isn’t straightforward: it’s one that involves changing working culture, attitudes towards women in STEM roles, and the way we educate young people.
One thing we do to encourage women to consider careers in tech with pretty immediate effect, however, is making sure that they have access to the support they need in the shape of employment benefits.
We recently surveyed over 2,500 tech professionals globally, 30% of whom identified as female, to find out what women working in the sector value, and what perks make their lives easier.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that women shoulder the bulk of unpaid domestic and emotional labour such as childcare, more of our female respondents want flexible working than their male peers. Twenty-two per cent of female participants rate flexible working as the most attractive benefit their employer could offer them, compared to 19% of men.
Despite this intense desire to have more flexibility in their working lives, our data also revealed that fewer women receive flexible working in their current role, with this benefit being enjoyed by 54% of men, compared to just 42% of women.
There’s a disparity when it comes to working remotely too—only 58% of women are offered the chance to work from home, even though this opportunity is open to 64% of men.
With women rating home working, flexible working, and four or more weeks paid time off as the benefits that would most encourage them to accept a job offer, it’s clear that making these options available to everyone is a sure-fire way to get more women into tech roles.
But is putting these benefits on the table enough?
According to a study by the University of Kent, even those who are offered flexible and remote working solutions can still find themselves on the back foot. The research discovered that 39% of workers experienced negative outcomes when working flexibly; 18% believed that taking advantage of flexible working options was detrimental to their career.
Working mothers bore the biggest brunt of this negativity, with more than a quarter (26%) feeling that working flexibly had stunted their careers, compared to 13% of men without children, and just 11% of working fathers.
If we want to make tech a supportive and inclusive place where women can thrive and progress into senior roles—and help shrink the skills gap in the process—we desperately need to work on changing attitudes towards alternative working arrangements. It’s up to employers not only to provide these benefits, but to actively encourage women in tech to utilise them and ensure that they aren’t punished—professionally or socially—for doing so.
Flexible working should be a benefit that can be enjoyed by all; a tool to be used to level the playing field and ensure everyone, regardless of gender, can achieve fantastic things.
It’s time to kick the ‘inflexibility stigma’.
By Zoë Morris, president of Mason Frank International