Attracting women to tech and retaining them - comment

As a graduate apprentice at Forrit, I work full-time as a web developer for one of the company’s largest clients, Microsoft Education.

Women in tech roles are more than twice as likely to quit than their male peers, says Richardson. Picture: Peter Devlin.
Women in tech roles are more than twice as likely to quit than their male peers, says Richardson. Picture: Peter Devlin.

I also study part-time at Edinburgh Napier University and am set to graduate next year with an honours degree in software development. So far in my apprenticeship, I have gained three Microsoft Technology Associate qualifications, as well as invaluable industry experience – with highlights including a trip to the Microsoft Redmond campus in Washington last year.

When I consider the subject of women in tech, I think of the first developer I ever met, when I was 15, on a work experience placement. Her name was Emma and she told me that you could build anything if you knew how to code.

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I’m not sure Emma will ever know how much she impacted my life. I realise I was extremely lucky in this case. Women make up only around 17 per cent of overall IT jobs in Scotland, making female role models for young people relatively hard to come by.

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Of course, this doesn’t mean they’re not there, and we’ve seen some incredible trailblazers emerge in the Scottish tech community. One of the many who have inspired me is Toni Scullion, a computing science teacher who has taken the technology gender gap into her own hands by founding DressCode, a non-profit charity that teaches girls aged 11-13 to code.

Discussions around the gender gap in technology tend to focus on encouraging women at school age to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (Stem) – and as a graduate apprentice at Forrit I have enjoyed visiting schools and discussing the benefits and alternative routes to a career in technology with students.

However, I believe it is also important to consider why so many women who begin careers in technology end up leaving. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology in the US, women in tech roles are more than twice as likely to quit than their male peers, particularly within the first few years of their career.

Stereotype

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By focusing the conversation on the lack of women studying or working in Stem without asking why, we risk promoting the stereotype that women simply “aren’t interested” in Stem, shifting the blame for the gender gap onto women themselves. We also risk wasting all the incredible work being done to encourage young women into the industry.

According to the latest statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, there has been a 20 per cent increase in the number of female computer science graduates in the UK in the last three years. Despite this, Wise (the UK organisation that campaigns for greater gender balance in Stem) reported a decrease in the number of women employed in tech last year.

Since I joined the company in 2017, Forrit’s workforce has nearly doubled. The company now employs more than 40 people, almost a quarter of whom are women. As part of Forrit’s ongoing commitment to a diverse workforce, the company is a signatory of the Tech Talent Charter (TTC). The TTC is an employer-led initiative to encourage greater diversity in the technology workforce of the UK and has been supported by the UK Digital Strategy since 2017.

As a Microsoft Gold Partner, Forrit is also a signatory of the Microsoft Partner Pledge, supporting Microsoft in its key goals, which include promoting digital skills, creating more apprenticeships and improving diversity in the UK technology sector.

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We need more employers like Forrit, who acknowledge their responsibility to proactively bridge the gender gap at industry level. The problem lies not in gaining women’s interest in tech, but in maintaining their interest in a technology career – which requires employers, as well as educators, to play their part. We need to foster diverse workplace cultures of equal opportunity, and ultimately make technology a better sector for women to work in.

Monica Richardson, apprentice web developer, Forrit

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