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Are apprenticeships the answer to women in tech?

London Tech Week is in full swing, celebrating the best of tech whilst providing networking and learning opportunities across the city. We’re celebrating the week with a series of events focused on technology trends, data science, tech sport and business and women in tech. To understand the issues surrounding women in the tech industry, Clare McDonald from Computer Weekly and Rachel Burnham from Blenheim Chalcot sat down 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. 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 believes that culture plays a part in why young women aren’t pursuing opportunities in tech.

Clare studied computer science at university but decided not to pursue it as a career. She felt isolated on her course and without the right support functions in place. Rachel and Harry agreed on the importance of sponsors and mentors for young people, who help them to progress.

Having a figure to look towards, 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 usually generous with their time.

At the core of every apprenticeship is the relationship between the Learning and Development Coach and the apprentice. Apprenticeships provide employees with mentors, to help guide them and provide them with useful feedback. Rachel commented that an open environment of constant feedback and development is valued by employees and that 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 in helping young women 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 – not that they were the right person for the job. Harry emphasised that it’s our responsibility to let the people who influence our progression know where we’re 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.

The core theme coming out of the webinar was the need for a cultural shift. If a business wants to attract and retain a diverse workforce, the business must provide training on unconscious bias.

What are some top tips to change a 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. Young children are still exposed to gender bias so real change will take longer.

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 but now it’s obviously good. 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.

Find out how apprenticeships can help tackle your gender imbalance and speak to the team today on 020 3906 7116.

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 June 15, 2018