The UK digital and technology industries contribute more than 10% to GDP, proportionally higher than the US where the figure is around 6%. While this is a UK success story, a major issue looms that must be addressed.
The digital skills gap is widening, with between 750,000 and one million digital and technology roles unfilled according to estimates from Accenture, Tech Partnership and the UK Government. The pace of change in the labour market will only increase and bring fresh challenges as artificial intelligence and robotics automate tasks previously unthinkable for a computer to do.
This skills gap is exacerbated by the lack of diversity in the digital and technology workforce; women make up 24% of the UK technology workforce and just 13% of the jobs across the wider Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) sector. Some 10% of technology company founders are women and just 15% of technology venture capitalists are women. Even in progressive Silicon Valley, only 28% of the technology workforce are women. Technology investor John Greathouse recently caused a stir when he advised women to "create an online presence that obscures their gender" which generated expressions of outrage and disbelief across the technology community.
While the CIO 100 list is seeing some strong, high profile CIOs who are female - the overall ratio has remained stable at less than 15% across the last decade.
Perhaps most troubling of all is that the number of girls studying STEM degrees decreased by 5% and last year's cohort of Computer Science A Level students was 92% male. Paradoxically, when girls do take STEM subjects they almost always outperform the boys, but for some reason see careers in technology as "not for them".
It is imperative that technology leaders address this issue but there is no quick fix or silver bullet. Here are 10 things that technology leaders could do to attract and retain more diverse talent while building the pipeline for the future.
- Educate hiring managers about unconscious bias in the recruitment process; most people are unintentionally attracted to people of similar personas (the halo effect). Set up mixed recruitment panels, encourage debate, share articles and diversity podcasts such as Kicking The Kyriarchy.
- Consider platforms such as Interviewing.io. This allows companies to conduct technical interviews anonymously including voice masking that obscures a job applicant's gender, something that is already in use at Uber.
- Write more inclusive job descriptions and monitor wording of competency questions to ensure they are fair and not biased towards men.
- Consider implementing a version of the "Rooney rule" - where every shortlist must contain at least one candidate from a 'diverse' background. It is crucial to work with recruitment agencies and head hunters to make sure this is taken seriously and avoid token candidates being put forward.
- Attend meet-ups, hackathons and industry events to help foster relationships with potential recruits. Work with groups like The Tech Talent Charter or Women of Silicon Roundabout whose purpose is to encourage more diversity in the technology industry.
- If attracting women into technology is hard, retaining them is even harder. Women are 45% more likely to drop out of a STEM career than men, with cultural fit cited as the principal reason so investigate reasons why staff leave and see if cultural improvements are required.
- Workforce data firm Visier found that as workers get into their 30s, a management gap appears as men move into management positions at a much faster rate than women. Check the promotion process and encourage women to seek mentors internally or externally of the organisation.
- Introduce flexible benefits and remote working where possible. Research shows this is often cited as important in companies with a higher ratio of women in technology.
Build the pipeline
- Develop a school outreach programme and sell the attractiveness of technology to the under 16s. Where possible use female role models and cultivate long-term relationships. Research from The Tech Partnership found this was much more effective than one-off visits.
- Develop intern and apprenticeship programmes. Global, the Media and Entertainment group where I am involved, recently launched their own academy with the aim of providing real vocational media experience to children aged 14-19, along with their traditional GCSEs and A Levels. The Global Academy allows students to try Broadcast Engineering with state of the art studios through to iOS app development and TV production. A pleasant surprise is that girls make up 65% of the first intake.
To build on the UK digital and technology industry success story, it is vital that we all address the looming digital skills gap by attracting a more diverse workforce, developing and retaining the right talent and building a pipeline for the future. The benefits for any technology leader is that doing this will result in a team that is more open, more creative, and more productive.
David Henderson is Director of Technology & Operations at Global Radio, the broadcaster with a portfolio which includes stations Capital, Heart, Classic FM, Smooth, LBC and XFM