On Sunday 8 March we celebrated International Women’s Day, recognising the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women across the globe. This annual event is an important call to action for businesses and organisations to do their part to accelerate gender parity and further challenge some of the stereotypes that exist.
Much progress has been made, but more needs to be done. And the technology sector is one example where the challenge faced is an arduous one. According to the UK Tech Alliance, the number of roles in the UK tech sector filled by women is only 16%1. As an industry, we need to recognise this, understand why this is the case, and make the positive changes needed.
The global tech sector is an engine of growth, creativity and positive change. The technology developments taking place at the moment in artificial intelligence and machine learning will change how we live. We’re also in the middle of an explosion of new data sources, which, together with exciting new analytical techniques and computer power, enables us to do more good with data.
To be able to fully realise the boundless opportunities that exist, the technology sector must harness the whole population – it simply cannot afford to overlook the untapped potential that exists. In financial terms, PwC estimates that closing the gender gap would be worth £250 billion – or 9% of the UK’s GDP2
Fostering an inclusive work environment and shattering glass ceilings
At TransUnion, we’ve been taking steps to address this challenge in a number of different ways and are proud to say that in the UK, our executive leadership team is 40% female – set against a 5% average for the industry3. This is a fantastic achievement – having role models at this level demonstrates a pathway to senior leadership and encourages other women within the business to fulfil their own aspirations; whether that’s going for a promotion, taking on a new challenge within their role, or having the confidence to put themselves forward when opportunities arise.
We also have a number of great programmes and initiatives to try and answer some of the challenges that exist in the industry. Currently, women hold less than a fifth of technical roles in the sector and are 45% more likely to leave the field than men. Retaining women therefore is critical to making sure we start to close the gender gap.
Tackling this trend, here at TransUnion in the UK we recently launched a network group that helps to provide the mechanisms for women to reach their potential. Women @ TU aims to build a stronger and more diverse workforce and foster individual development by educating, supporting and advocating for women’s growth and leadership opportunities across the organisation. Based on our successful global model, Women @ TU offers a forum where women can explore opportunities – no matter their level – and take ownership of their career progression, as well as benefitting from the support and encouragement of their peers.
Shail Deep, chief product officer at TransUnion in the UK said:
“I’m truly excited to announce the launch of Women @ TU here in the UK. It’s open to all colleagues passionate about promoting women’s growth and will span a broad range of areas including networking, education, personal development, social impact, mentoring and supporting working parents. This is an opportunity for women to come together to affect positive change and I’m delighted by the response we’ve had and am excited about the opportunities ahead.”
Supporting future leaders
Making the transition into management roles can be one of the major hurdles for many women, so to help us create a pipeline of female leaders, we introduced our ‘Women in Leadership’ programme. This involves working with small groups of women over a six-month programme, building confidence through one-to-one monitoring, targeted masterclasses and active learning focused on leadership concepts. All the delegates work with a dedicated senior level mentor to offer guidance and support throughout, and the programme has yielded tangible results within the business, with many previous participants having progressed in their careers.
“We want to empower our female colleagues to fulfil their true potential and programmes like Women in Leadership enable us to ensure that senior leaders take a hands-on role in mentoring and supporting women within the business that have shown potential,” said Kelli Fielding, managing director of consumer interactive.
“Sharing knowledge and skills is essential in ensuring our female colleagues feel valued and in control of their own careers, whilst also helping us to attract new joiners. I’ve worked in a number of different departments within the business over the last two decades, and progressed through various roles to reach the UK executive team. I want others to know what’s achievable and to help them develop the skillsets, confidence and resilience needed.”
Why it matters
There is resounding consensus in the technology sector that there is a skills shortage. In tandem, Britain is experiencing its highest employment levels since the 1970s, for which the tech sector can take some credit.
Ann-Marie Orange, chief information officer of TransUnion in the UK explains:
“The tech sector is currently facing a skills shortage that is being amplified by the lack of women considering a career in technology. At TransUnion, we believe workplace diversity is essential if we are to harness the most creative thinking to meet today’s tech challenges. The sector needs to work hard to increase gender balance if we are to make real the promise and potential that exists”
The gender imbalance affects the industry in a number of ways. Our lives are being increasingly impacted by technology. But at the moment, many technology products and services are being developed without a representative level of input from women as a result of the shortage in the sector, meaning the full breadth of perspectives and experiences are not necessarily being considered.
Achieving gender balance is also likely to benefit society as a whole. Research by PwC shows that for 50% of women, the most important factor when choosing a future career is “feeling like the work I do makes the world a better place and has wider impact” – this compares to just 31% of men4. This suggests that women are being prevented from playing their full role in shaping the future of society and ultimately helping the sector make the world a better place.
Planning for the future
Acknowledging that the shortages of women in tech is a long-term challenge, we need to inspire the workforce of tomorrow. The lack of girls taking tech-related subjects, including Computer Science, where just 10% of students are girls, and Physics where less than a quarter of Physics A-level students are female, has to be a focus to stop this problem persisting as we look to the next generation.
At TransUnion, our successful #GirlsIntoTech programme addresses this challenge. Over the course of a week, we partner with local schools to give girls ages 15 and over (year 10) a valuable insight into a future career in tech and the pathways that exist. We help show the female students what a career in technology means and help dispel some of those negative preconceptions.
A number are then invited to an intensive week-long work shadowing scheme at our Leeds HQ to experience first-hand what it means to work in a global technology business. The girls participate in structured development workshops, as well as job shadowing. The week concludes with the girls delivering a team project, utilising some of their new skills.
Now in its third year, the initiative has proved a huge success, with some of the participants stating they were considering careers in tech as a result. Hear from the girls themselves here:
Speaking of the initiative, Rebecca Aberdein, HR Director for TransUnion in the UK said:
“Getting girls interested in technology early when they are making their educational and career decisions is vital. We launched #GirlsIntoTech to help give girls a view of the industry and the many opportunities within it. The results have been truly inspiring, and we’ve seen a number of the girls reconsider their career choices, so we know it’s making a real difference.”
Achieving gender parity in the tech sector isn’t going to happen overnight; there is still a long way to go. However, progress is being made, as we’ve seen here at TransUnion.
More visible female role models and wider awareness of the opportunities that exist can help dispel the stereotypes that are associated with the tech and science sectors more broadly, and hopefully encourage an interest in STEM subjects at school and university,
It’s also essential to have progressive policies on issues affecting women, something we have many examples of here at TransUnion, from shared paternity leave to flexible working. We need to paint a positive picture for girls and women that working in tech is exciting and inclusive.
Small changes can have a big impact and we must all continue to play our part; within our own organisations and the wider industry, to drive this positive change forward.
1Office for National Statistics and WISE. As reported by Computer Weekly (Dec 2019) https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252474971/Percentage-of-women-in-tech-remains-low-at-16-with-little-growth-in-10-years
2PwC’s Women in Work 2019 Index, page 13 https://www.pwc.co.uk/economic-services/WIWI/pwc-women-in-work-2019-final-web.pdf
3PwC’s Women in Tech report https://www.pwc.co.uk/economic-services/WIWI/pwc-women-in-work-2019-final-web.pdf