Lisa Miles-Heal, General Manager and Chief Technology Officer of global technology company, Unleashed Software, discusses the tech gender gap, its implications and what more needs to be done.
As a woman running a global business in the tech industry, I feel a personal responsibility to encourage more women into the sector as well as recognising the business imperative in doing so – increased diversity leads to better teams and decisions, and ultimately better products and services that more closely reflect customers and their needs. Sadly, I still see an on-going problem in attracting women into the technology sector – not just in the UK, but globally.
In my experience, the reasons for the tech gender gap are not clear-cut. For many women, it’s a perception or knowledge gap that often begins at an early age. Schools, universities, industry and parents are still failing to show young people – especially girls – the diverse range of jobs and career options open to them in today’s world if they have an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). STEM careers today are highly creative, requiring skills in understanding people’s behaviours, communication and team-working skills, and understanding how to develop tech-based solutions for the needs of modern-day society.
For many women, it’s the lack of successful female tech role models that is also an obstacle. For others, it’s a lack of confidence in the value of the skills and approach that they can bring to a tech role. At Unleashed Software, we have been involved in several programmes in our business birthplace of New Zealand to demonstrate to young people the exciting range of options open to them through a career in technology. It’s important to communicate that not everyone has to be a programmer or a coder.
As a tech company, we need people who can build relationships with our customers, problem-solve and manage change – skills that we have no problem finding within our female hires. I want to promote what can be achieved through technology as a business enabler, as opposed to putting the emphasis on specific technical skills. We run a highly collaborative business, not one where people sit in silence hunched over PCs.
I also speak at school careers events, recounting my own personal career journey as I am keen to use my voice as a female role model in the tech industry. I particularly like to focus my efforts on schools in disadvantaged areas, explaining how progressive and meritocratic the tech industry is. My experience has been that the tech sector is free from prejudices based on who you are, your background, or which school you went to. We need to get this message over to the kids who need to hear it.
I am very happy to say that, at Unleashed Software, our workforce is approaching gender parity. We have a ratio of 41% women to 59% men and we find it equally easy to hire both female and male graduates. This is not the case at higher levels of responsibility.
It’s interesting too when I reflect on my own company’s work. In the past, inventory management has been all about physical stock control, meaning that roles in this field were largely held by men. Today, the impact of technology now means that these roles have changed to operations management – focusing on systems and solutions where problem solving skills are essential to investigate how assets can be deployed efficiently across a business. Also, many of our customers are now female entrepreneurs so it is important our team reflects this too.
There is a real opportunity for industry and the education sector to work together to inspire all young people about technology careers to ‘future-proof’ them (and our industry) by identifying and developing the skills required and to build a rich talent pipeline. After all, the tech sector is global by nature and offers rich and exciting international careers for those who want them.
We should also be encouraging young women to be braver, more open-minded and to push themselves past the barriers of perception put up by others (and themselves). Visible role models can play a vital role in helping to break down many of these barriers. And, finally, we need to make sure that the technology sector provides an attractive and inclusive working environment in which people from all backgrounds are enabled to reach their full potential.