With skills shortages ballooning across many tech fields, working out how to top up the talent pipeline and get more people into the sector is a massively pressing issue. We need more tech professionals, period, and given that only 3% of women say a career in technology is their first choice, find the talent we need is getting harder.
Making these vital positions more appealing to women is a sure-fire way to expand the tech talent pool. But how do we do that? How do we take a sector that has a reputation for being male-dominated where long hours are the norm, and demonstrate to talented women that there’s a place for them to succeed?
The answer is complicated and involves a multi-pronged approach encompassing culture shifts, breaking down barriers, and changing the way we socialise and educate our children.
But there are some things that employers can do today to help level the playing field for women in tech, and make sure that organisations can get access to the talent they need to innovate and compete in the digital world.
Flexible working simply isn’t being offered to women in tech
With women carrying the vast majority of the load when it comes to society’s unpaid labour, including childcare and domestic work, it should be no surprise that work-life balance is not just a nice-to-have for female professionals. In fact, having some flexibility in how and when they work can be the difference between an experienced female professional developing a fantastic career, or leaving the workforce altogether.
As part of our research into working conditions in the sector, we recently surveyed over 2,500 tech professionals about what kind of employment perks and benefits were most important to them. We found that flexible working arrangements were highly valued by a higher percentage of female respondents than male.
Twenty-two percent of female participants cited flexible and home working as the most-desired employment benefits their employer could offer them, compared with 19% of men. Despite the desire for these benefits from female professionals, we also found that fewer women than men were actually offered them.
Home or remote working—increasingly prevalent perks in the tech industry—was offered to 58% of women and 64% of men. The disparity was even more significant when it came to flexible hours: 54% of male respondents were given some control over their working day, compared to just 42% of their female peers.
What’s more, not having access to these benefits can even discourage women from accepting a tech job in the first place. When asked which benefits would influence the acceptance of a job offer, 24% of female respondents to our survey indicated flexible working hours were important to them, and 39% would be swayed by a role that offered home working as a benefit.
Given the demand for flexible working, and the transformative difference it can have on many women’s career trajectories, clearly putting these easy to implement, low-cost options on the table is a definitive step in the right direction for any employer.
But is merely offering these arrangements going far enough?
There’s evidence to suggest that, while in theory flexible working arrangements can be a lifeline for professional women, outdated attitudes may be holding back workers who choose to utilise them.
Archaic attitudes in the workplace could be holding back key talent
Though the way we work is changing, and developments in technology are making it ever-easier to perform many roles outside of the traditional desk-bound 9-5 workday, our long-held notion of presenteeism can counteract the benefits that flexible working can offer.
A recent study found that 39% of workers associated flexible working with adverse outcomes—35% believed that a colleague working flexibly created more work for others. These perceptions create a damaging stigma that can actually prevent those who might benefit from a flexible working scheme from taking advantage of it.
If this continues without being challenged, then the women who can stay in the workforce because of flexible arrangements may be driven out by a culture that doesn’t value their contribution or perpetuates the idea that they’re not pulling their weight. This stigma might also prevent talented women from progressing up the career ladder and taking on more senior roles (only 5% of leadership positions in the technology sector are held by women), which in itself is proven to attract more female professionals into traditionally male-dominated sectors.
Make sure the good you do by offering flexible working isn’t diminished by failing to nurture the culture change that people need to thrive: promote it, champion it, share the benefits, and the success stories.
Flexible working is a benefit that should be available to anyone who needs it, regardless of gender—it’s up to business leaders to ensure those who do aren’t penalised for taking steps to safeguard their continued professional success.