Most people know that technology creates more jobs than any other industry and that digital is the golden thread that runs across all industries. So, why are women still missing from it?
This is a question I’ve sought to answer for years. Most people know I’m driven to build a safer, happier and more prosperous world, and that one of the ways I do this is by creating awareness around how to get more women into male dominated industries, like tech and cybersecurity. My best-selling book and movement are all about this and specifically how a failure to attract and retain women in cybersecurity is making us all less safe. It goes into the why, the what and the how to.
You see, access to competent, diverse digital workers is a key factor that sets successful organisations apart from mediocre or failing ones, particularly now. COVID-19 has advanced our data-driven world and brought about the digital transformation we expected in the next 2-3 years. It’s changing how we all work, and for many organisations it’s shining a massive spotlight on the discrepancy between the skills our teams have and those we need.
Rapid advances in AI, robotics, machine learning, the cloud and other emerging technologies like edge computing or quantum computing are happening in shorter timeframes and changing the very nature of the jobs and skills that are required.
According to the World Economic Forum, at least 133 million new roles are set to emerge globally in the next year as a result of the new division of labour between human ingenuity and technology. Tech skills like programming, software development, big data, cybersecurity, cloud migration along with skills that computers can’t yet capably do, like creative thinking, problem-solving, negotiating, and applying emotional intelligence, are going to be in high demand. These skills are the skills of the future.
But that’s not all. The COVID-19 pandemic has made every single one of us very, very visible. With organisations struggling to survive let alone thrive during the pandemic, everyone needs to perform and demonstrate the value they bring to an organisation and ensure they’re recognised for it when they do.
For women this is often harder to do than it is for men as the rules of the game in business are different for women. Data tells us repeatedly that women are often by-passed for promotion, not picked for projects, and have to prove their tech capabilities in ways that men don’t. Additionally, that women are judged on their past performance rather than their potential like men AND they’re penalised when they adopt the same strategies men do for advancing their careers.
To address the problems facing women in tech, there are many things organisations can do, but here are three key things they often miss or don’t do particularly well.
1. Unlock the power of human ingenuity
No one comes ready-made, and with human capital high on a board’s agenda, organisations must accept that they need to double down on talent management budgets and provide their employees with effective ways to learn, develop and reskill.
This requires effective courageous leadership. It requires leaders to understand that when they unlock the power of human ingenuity that comes from identifying, developing and equipping their teams – whether future or existing – with the resources they need to do their job, they access a whole new level of workforce transformation.
It sounds simple doesn’t it? But sadly, many leaders or HR representatives struggle with this. Some believe they know exactly how to recruit and lead the “right” mix of skilled and flexible team members who fit in to their culture and have the “right” mindsets and behaviours. Others are too afraid to admit their ways aren’t working and delivering the expected returns on investment.
These problems can be solved quickly, but only when you build High Challenge-High Support environments, and when you focus your efforts in powerful and equal combination.
You see, this is your foundation. This is your bedrock for realising not just gender parity but high performance for your whole team. But you have to get the balance right. For example, if you have too much challenge, the environment is stressful, can lead to team burnout or attrition, and achievement will be inconsistent, from moderate to high. If you provide too much support, teams become too comfortable and dependant on direction, and as they’re never pushed to achieve their potential, achievement is moderate. When too little of either is given, teams become apathetic, and as no one cares if the job is done well, a team’s achievement is low.
Organisations and leaders who create High Challenge-High Support environments build trust. Their reputation soars. The word spreads fast about them. And this is exactly what you want in a world where trust is an increasingly valuable commodity, where top talent, especially female, is competitive, and where everyone’s performance is ultra-visible. High Challenge-High Support environments have the capacity to be your communication engine too but only when used correctly and as part of a strategy.
2. Commit to employing a diverse pool of talent
To say “no one comes ready-made” sounds obvious, but leaders must truly acknowledge this and that they need to find new ways to develop their workforce for those outside the usual talent pools, for example, for women and people from diverse backgrounds, including young people, minority groups, those without a college education and from low income households.
They need to understand their needs and potentially design solutions that centre on equity rather than equality. Here’s what I mean by equity. Equity is all about giving everyone what he or she needs to be successful. Equality is about treating everyone the same. It’s vital to recognise the differences as men and women, in many parts of the world, have different barriers to overcome in order to achieve the same results.
When companies do this, they maximise a huge pool of high-potential and under-utilised talent. They’re able to make better decisions and become more adaptable, resilient, innovative and profitable.
Diverse workforces will bring you greater innovation, creativity, happiness and competitive advantage but only when you embrace diversity, accelerate equality via equity solutions and are ambitious with the goals you set. You must ensure you’re measuring meaningful metrics that fulfil your objective of getting to gender parity. You must “walk the talk” and be the change you want to see.
3. Prepare for the transition
The way you run your organisation matters. The way you build your organisation’s culture matters. The happiness you create matters. All of these things matter if you want to create a remarkable organisation that future employees flock to, and remain in. Furthermore, when you want to build more gender diversity in tech or cybersecurity AND reap the commercial benefits, for example a 35% uplift to your bottom line.
According to research from Accenture, before COVID-19, two thirds of employees (67%) strongly believe their employer is responsible for helping them become net better off, compared with just 35% of C-suite executives. However, six months into the pandemic, this changed to three quarters (78%), with 50% of C-suite executives in agreement. Additionally, one in two employees believe that their organisation’s ethical, sustainable and moral values will become more important to them after the pandemic passes.
Employers have to work harder to attract and retain top talent, inside and outside of their organisations. They need systems, tools and processes to support them.
Organisations seeking gender parity in tech have to start implementing changes to their business models now. The timing is critical. Even before COVID-19, it was estimated that more than half (54%) of ALL workers would require significant reskilling by 2022.
Here in the UK, almost 10 million people have been temporarily laid off by just over 1 million employers as part of the UK government’s voluntary furlough scheme. Over 700,000 people have lost their jobs. We are going into one of the worst recessions we’ve seen since World War II, and it’s going to get even tougher over the coming months. As one friend said to me,
“Last year was like a horror movie, this year will be more like a thriller!”
So, with tech skills in short supply, organisations that invest in re-skilling and training can be assured a healthy return on their investment. Looking at cybersecurity alone, research tells us that organisations best at training are 2X better than the rest at defending attacks, faster at discovering and fixing breaches, and protect more of their organisation with their cybersecurity programme.
So, prepare for this transition Plan. Invest. Train. Re-skill. Support. Be ready. The world doesn’t tolerate our stasis. In planning you think through the possibilities of what you may face and can develop a strategy for dealing with them. In so doing, you prepare yourself for the path ahead including “what-ifs,” for as we all know “man plans, and god laughs.”
Take a lesson from Warren Buffett in the process, too. He has a famous called the Noah Rule, and it’s this….
“Predicting the rain doesn’t count, building an ark does.”
Finally, before I go, I want to leave you with Emily’s story of re-skilling to spur you on. She joined TechTalent Academy’s full-time Women in Data Academy in 2020, and having graduated, is now working as a data analyst.
Emily’s story of investing and up-skilling in tech
Before Emily started the training, she’d just left a position in teaching and was unemployed. She had a degree in mathematics and had a bit of programming experience. However, she didn’t have any industry credentials, or any experience of industry technologies and tools.
She decided to change careers because when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, she wanted something that would allow her to use her existing skills, like programming and quantitative methodologies, and enable her to work remotely.
When she enrolled in TechTalent Academy’s training, she found it easy to pick up and accommodating. As she was working from home, the short sessions didn’t get in the way of her other obligations. They were focused and provided her with the foundation necessary to complete the assignments and develop her skills – all on a schedule that worked around her lifestyle.
The training introduced her to a much wider variety of technologies and techniques than she’d previously been aware of and enabled her to apply for jobs and interviews with far more confidence. As she said,
“Instead of worrying about questions on technology I wasn’t aware of, I was empowered to be asked a question about it. I’d think to myself, “I know exactly what that is!”
Learning about Python and how to make use of machine learning libraries, particularly sklearn and Keras, or Pandas are useful examples of some of the tech Emily enjoyed the most. Here’s why.
“Within a few weeks of learning about Pandas, I was given the tools and the space to start applying what I had learned in my own personal projects, one of which was gathering data from the internet about the number of Coronavirus cases and plotting my own graphs. I was asked about this project during my interview and I believe that being able to show off what I had done, including making reference to my brand new Github page, was part of what impressed my interviewers so much that they offered me the position before the interview had ended!”
Emily is now assigned to two projects in her new workplace that relate to the Coronavirus, so the skills she gained during her training with TechTalent Academy’s Women in Data course have already been put into practice.
Her advice for anyone who wants to learn to code is this…
“Don’t be daunted by how vast it all seems. There are hundreds of programming languages, libraries, software packages and technical terms which can seem overwhelming, but the thing to bear in mind is that you don’t need to be an expert in all or even most of it.
If you dislike a specific technology, then there’s almost certainly something else out there that will be more appealing. If you find yourself getting put off by a particular coding language or software, leave it and move on to something else. You can always come back to it if you feel like giving it another go. Don’t get stuck feeling like you can’t get into coding because of one particular thing you can’t master. The fact that coding is such a huge field should be seen as a positive because it means that there’s definitely something out there for you!”
Emily's story isn't unique. There are plenty of women looking to re-skill and join the tech or cybersecurity workforce.
Now I want to hear from you…
- Tell me what you’re doing to get more women into tech or remaining in it.
- What training investment tips do you have?