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Are apprenticeships the answer to more women in tech?

The theme for the 2019 International Women’s Day campaign is #BalanceforBetter, which focuses on how to reduce global gender inequality. Arch are proud of the work we have done helping women break into the tech industry so far, but there is much more work to be done, here is what we think needs to happen to improve the gender split in tech. Clare McDonald from Computer Weekly and Rachel Burnham from Blenheim Chalcot chatted with Arch’s Harry Gooding about their experiences of working in the tech industry and how apprentices could help drive cultural change in the sector.

The Tech Landscape

The future of almost every industry is underpinned by digital technology, meaning digital skills are becoming increasingly important. The industry has outperformed the non-digital sector for four consecutive years, generating 85,000 new digital tech jobs. In this context, our panel highlighted the importance of having a diverse and digital workforce. Currently, only 17% of employees in the UK technology sector are women and only one in six school leavers starting a degree in computer science in 2016 was female. The tech industry needs to address this imbalance if it wants to continue to grow.

The Importance of Mentors for Women in Tech

Clare studied computer science at university, deciding not to pursue a career in the industry believing that one of the reasons putting young women off opportunities in tech was culture. She felt isolated on her course, without the right support functions in place to help and encourage her to pursue a career in the industry. From this, Rachel and Harry agreed on the importance of sponsors and mentors for young people, who help them to progress. Having a figure to look to, to observe and to learn from is crucial in the early stages of any career. The panel encouraged young people to identify a leader who they resonate with and lean on them for support. Be upfront and honest with them, if you ask for support people are generous with their time. At Arch, the core of delivery is the relationship between the Learning and Development Coach and the apprentice, meaning the apprentice always has a mentor to lean on.

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Apprenticeships provide employees with mentors, to help guide them on the right path while encouraging self-assessment and feedback. Rachel commented that an open environment of constant feedback and development is valued by employees businesses need to invest the time and effort to help their staff to develop. Apprenticeships, as a start to a career, are such a great catalyst to affect this cultural change throughout the whole organisation!

How to Progress Your Career in Tech

The panel went on to talk about how important it is to influence and take ownership of your own career progression. An open working environment is crucial so young women can focus on progressing their career in the tech industry. Rachel and Clare both agreed that too often women say “luck” is how they got to where they are and not they were the right person with the right skills and hard work. Harry emphasised that it is our responsibility to let the people who can influence our progression know where we are trying to get to. You have to trust that they want you to succeed and reach those goals, and will guide you on that path. Women need visible leaders they can relate to, who can inspire them to set their ambitious targets for themselves. How Arch Apprenticeship lead to great careers in tech? The core theme coming out of the webinar was the need for a cultural shift. If a business want to attract and retain a diverse workforce, the business must provide training on unconscious bias.

What are some top tips to change culture?

  • Businesses should network with other companies trying to reach the same goal as you. What actions are they taking to help close the diversity gap?
  • Sign up to actual measurable commitments, such as the 30% club, which is a campaign focused on achieving a minimum of 30% women on FTSE-100 boards.
  • Think about job titles. Make sure to run the job description past a couple of people, does it give the impression the role would favour a man?

 The Future of Women in Tech?

Clare and Rachel had different views on what the topic will look like in ten years’ time. Clare believes 10 years is not enough time to realise real change as young children are already being exposed to gender bias. There are bias nuances that are difficult for a society to change and will take longer than 10 years to address. However, Rachel is more of an optimist, reflecting on how much has changed in the last 10 years. She argues that businesses were initially opposed to using social media, now it is so obvious that it is good for a company’s bottom line. She believes the benefits of having a diverse workforce and a culture to match will become so obvious that it will transform the industry. Harry wrapped up the session by highlighting how everyone has a responsibility to tweak everyday behaviour…ensuring that we are all moving in the right direction.

Stephanie Khan

Stephanie is a former Marketing Apprentice, and now a Content Marketing Executive at AVADO. Since completing her apprenticeship, she has become an advocate for apprentices and the benefit they bring to businesses. She writes about modern apprenticeships, the levy, and the digital skills crisis.

Posted March 8, 2019