Digital technology gender gap ‘will take 15 years to close’

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More than 84,000 people currently work in digital technology roles across Scotland, generating upwards of £5 billion per year. This highly-skilled workforce consistently pushes the envelope in areas like big data, gaming, informatics and digital health.

Yet recent research published by the Tech Partnership revealed only 18 per cent of technical roles in Scotland are held by women, suggesting a chronic gender parity issue.

As part of DLA Piper’s Leadership Alliance for Women and Women in Technology initiatives, a panel event in collaboration with Deloitte LLP took place in Edinburgh. Attendees of #PledgeForParity in the Technology Sector were surveyed following the event; 60 per cent felt the gender gap in Scotland’s tech community will not close for at least 15 years.

The basis of the discussion was Deloitte’s 2016 TMT report, introduced by Elizabeth Gutteridge, a Partner at Deloitte. Based on extensive, international research, the report predicted by the end of 2016 that fewer than 25 per cent of IT jobs in developed countries will be held by women. 120 attendees heard from an expert panel including Ann Budge, technology entrepreneur and CEO of Heart of Midlothian FC, Carolyn Jameson, Chief Legal Officer at Skyscanner, and Rebecca Heaney, a tech consultant at Edinburgh-based software developer Craneware.

As well as sharing their experiences and the initiatives of their own companies, the panel drilled down on four core issues relating to the sometimes imbalanced gender make-up of technology companies – education, recruitment, pay and promotion, and staff retention.

The panel noted the falling number of women graduating with Computer Science degrees: in 2014 only 20 per cent of computer science graduates in Scotland were women. But having formal tech qualifications isn’t the only route; Ann Budge spoke of her own experience that transferable skills and aptitude can be just as valuable, if not more so, than a tech background or university degree. Both the panellists and the audience highlighted that employers must be more open-minded to those taking alternative paths into the tech sector.

The panel also acknowledged the sector has to work harder to change perceptions of careers in tech, to raise awareness of the variety of roles available, and to engage more directly with school pupils, university students, and graduates.

Current issues with the recruitment model in the sector were also discussed by the panel; for instance the advertisement of tech roles online is perceived to be far more heavily targeted to male web users, with a knock-on effect on the diversity of applicants.

Despite the gender gap, tech companies understand the business opportunity in hiring more women. With a fierce war for talent across the whole sector, the benefit in developing and increasing the talent pool by recruiting more women - and in the process closing the gender gap - is obvious. Last year, Intel announced a $300 million “Diversity in Technology” initiative, laying down a clear marker to the rest of the industry.

Guiding women into positive careers in tech is a challenge, but with a robust and growing tech economy, there has never been a better time for women in Scotland to find success in the sector. As one of the panellists observed, often there is no glass ceiling, so why go looking for one?

Elizabeth Osako is Legal 
Director within DLA Piper’s Intellectual Property and Technology Team

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