Influx of women leadership in technology sector

Written by
Charlie Grubb

27 Jan 2016

27 Jan 2016 • by Charlie Grubb

Female leaders emerging

One of the most exciting aspects associated with the growth in tech hubs like London’s Tech City is that women are playing prominent roles in running new IT-based businesses.
Recent news announced by Tech North, the hub that will focus on Manchester and Newcastle, with teams also working in Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield and Sunderland, revealed that its first ever head will be Claire Braithwaite, entrepreneur and tech investor.

A glance at the TechCityinsider women’s 100 club highlights plenty of other high profile names, including Baroness Joanna Shields, former European managing director of Facebook and now a life peer in the House of Lords and digital advisor to the Prime Minister.

Baroness Shields is just one of a group of well-known successful female tech entrepreneurs that includes Martha Lane Fox and Julie Meyer as well as newcomers such as Sarah Wood of Unruly Media. They all serve to inspire younger women to follow a career in technology, once seen as a bastion of male employment.

But it’s not just the entrepreneurs helping to establish and run new ventures that should be encouraged as good examples to younger women and girls. Those who work within internal IT departments or at IT companies themselves are also growing in number and the example shown by high profile women IT leaders is encouraging more women to follow a career in IT.  

Around one-in-seven of the UK’s top 100 CIOs are currently women, according to the 2014 edition of the CIO 100 report. The top three were named as Christina Scott, CIO of the Financial Times; Catherine Doran, Royal Mail Group; and Carolyn Brown, Durham University.

According to 14% of UK CIOs recently surveyed by Robert Half Technology, the showcasing of successful female IT leaders, whether in their own business or leading an in-house team is the most effective initiative in developing new senior female technology professionals.

A shift in gender balance

It appears that gender balance in IT jobs is changing slowly, according to our research. More than half (52%) of UK companies have increased the number of female IT professionals they employ over the past five years.  

UK CIOs confirm that the growth in employment of women in technology is being largely driven by mentoring programmes (cited by 34%), greater enrolment in technology education (28%) and government initiatives (17%).

Interestingly, the growth of female IT professionals is higher in larger companies (67%) than in medium (52%) and small (38%) companies, suggesting that there are more opportunities for women in firms with larger in-house IT teams.  Private companies (59%) and publicly listed (55%) firms are more likely to have seen an increase than public sector organisations (42%).

While it’s encouraging to see that the number of female IT professionals is predicted to grow relatively quickly, there is still some way to go before the gender balance is addressed at the most senior level of CIO.  

And despite the best efforts of the great and the good, females currently make up only around 17% of the overall IT workforce, according to the British Computer Society (BCS).  
This will have to change in the future, said BCSWomen chair Gillian Arnold at an event held on this year’s International Women’s Day (8 March 2015) since the IT industry requires 129,000 new entrants each year but only 17,500 come through education routes on an annual basis. Employers will need to fish from a wider pool.

Another lever that will surely encourage the increased employment of women into IT roles is the growing IT skills shortage.  More than a third (36%) of UK companies plan to increase the number of IT jobs and technology professionals that they hire during the first half of 2015.
The rate at which companies will hire new IT professionals will accelerate still further in the second half of the year, with 41% of CIOs predicting that they will take on new staff.  Meanwhile, the majority of IT leaders (96%) are already reporting that they find it either ‘somewhat’ (64%) or ‘very’ (32%) difficult to find skilled IT professionals.

The range of measures that businesses and government are taking to encourage more women into a technology career would appear to be paying off, though it’s interesting to see that mentoring is the number one driver.  

Estelle James Director at Robert Half said, “mentoring is an effective strategy that all businesses can adopt to encourage more female employees to build confidence and take on more challenges. Having a role model who can advise on jobs, challenging situations and day-to-day decisions can help aspiring female leaders to take the next step in their careers.” 

This resonates with what we are seeing in the industry from a recruitment perspective. Employees are looking to companies who can offer them not only a fulfilling and challenging career, but knowledge and confidence to take on these opportunities.