The technology industry prides itself on addressing challenges head on, solving problems and enabling effective decisions. But one challenge we still face today is the lack of women employed in our industry.
I was therefore disheartened, but not surprised when I read that, as a percentage, the number of women employed in the UK technology industry has declined over the past ten years. Fewer than one-in-five of Britain’s 1.18 million technology jobs is held by a woman and just one in ten IT directors are female.
Solutions start at home
There is no denying that the reasons for a lack of female representation in the technology world are complex and multifaceted, with no single solution to the problem.
Female technology author Belinda Parmar has suggested that UK business are waiting for government action, when businesses themselves need to take action.
In large part, she’s right. As the chief executive of a small and medium sized enterprise that operates in the technology industry, I have a responsibility to create and nurture a fair and equal business environment.
One of the biggest obstacles to gender parity is a tendency to choose to employ people like ourselves. They call this “unconscious bias”. As a company, we have always challenged ourselves during the recruitment process to ensure this doesn’t happen – recruiting people based on talent and not gender.
In short, we took the decision to embody the change we wanted to see in the business. By recruiting the best people, training them so they could work anywhere in the world, but supporting them so they never want to leave, we have succeeded in tripling the number of female employees over the nine years that I have been here.
I’m proud of the fact that the representation of female employees across the company is 23% higher than the industry average. And we know that at all levels within the company, our staff benefit from different perspectives, opinions and approaches to challenges.
At the same time, we have succeeded in getting equal representation between men and women on our board; and there are plans for it to mature and grow further.
Making sure people are supported
Some might call it gender blind recruitment, but it’s short-sighted to look at it in simplistic terms and pass over the differences between men and women.
Instead of ignoring the differences, we should spend time understanding them and understanding each individual. Particularly as it’s clear from the statistics that the attrition rate for women in technology is also worryingly high.
As a business, we have continued to invest in staff, offering them personalised training and support to help them achieve their potential – creating an environment that is supportive and rewarding for everyone.
Our commercial director, Leesa Ewing, is testament to this. She has moved up the ranks from a member of the business development team to the position she holds today, receiving support each step of the way, most recently having the opportunity to study for the Certificate in Company Direction from the Institute of Directors.
But everyone gets the support they need. Our annual appraisal process is supported by individual coaching from several external sources, and we choose to use an online training service so that staff can pick and choose their training package and have access to the courses 24/7.
Achieving equality in the boardroom and throughout our organisation is important, but it isn’t a numbers game. Equality is about investing in talent, in performance.
Revolution starts together
Our approach is by no means a silver bullet to what is a complex problem. For changes to revolutionise the technology landscape there also needs to be collaborative change, between individuals, companies, government, academia – everyone united to move the agenda forward.
There are some great initiatives like Everywoman and techUK’s Women in Tech programme, and resources like Women in STEM, that are doing just that. A new initiative – HealthTech Women UK – is doing some particularly exciting work in the digital health industry and has our full support. Leesa spoke at their latest event.
Investing in the future
We are positive about where we are, but it’s clear that there is still work to do. We are a rapidly growing business, and after 30 years, we know that growth brings challenges, but we are ready for them.
Our drive for equality isn’t a moral crusade. Having a highly skilled, diverse and committed team, is the key to achieving the progress in healthcare technology that patients, the public, NHS and government needs.
Ultimately, the decision to address our gender balance makes solid business sense, helping us to create solutions that deliver for our customers and develop a sustainable organisation that can continue to innovate.