Addressing The Gender Diversity Challenge Within Data & Tech
“It is reported that the UK is maintaining its lead as one of the world’s premier centres for tech of all kinds, a recognised hotbed for tech talent, where the sector is reported to be growing at three times the rate of other industry sectors, contributing c.£200bn p.a. to the economy (Tech Nation 2021).”
Whist this is great news, there is less good news when it comes to gender diversity in this sector. According to a study by Tech Nation only 20% of women claimed they would consider a career in digital tech compared to 61% of men. Given that we now live in a digitally driven world where 50% of tech users are women, isn’t it time we addressed the diversity gap in the industry?
In this article I interviewed Shanthi Flynn, an experienced international human resources professional to discuss this further. Shan’s background is in prominent roles with Ford and Boots in the UK before becoming global HR Head at AS Watson in Hong Kong and then leading Walmart China’s HR Function. She was appointed Global CHRO of Adecco Group, one of the world larges staffing groups, based in Zurich where she still lives and runs her own advisory firm ShanthiFlynn.com.
The gender gap starts early: How can we inspire women and girls to consider a career in technology?
Shanthi points out that the challenge to encourage women into the digital tech environment starts much earlier on and that we need to be championing the choice of STEM & ICT based subjects for girls in their early teens. In Shanthi’s opinion there also seems to be a confidence gap between the sexes taking up the more advanced science-based subjects with only the highest achieving girls going on to study these types of subjects compared to a much greater proportion of average achieving male students. These factors alone are creating a supply chain issue of female talent in the industry.
“One of the biggest challenges facing females in senior roles worldwide is access to affordable childcare. Except for parts of Asia where there is a much greater availability of affordable domestic help, most women tend to be the ones who stop working for several years. This career gap can leave them feeling like they may lack the skills and or confidence to get back on the career ladder. “
Shanthi feels there is a huge opportunity for employers to really try and target those women who have taken time out of their careers and bring them back. However, is bringing them back all that is needed or are there bigger challenges that need to be addressed to keep this talent in the industry?
A recent Women in Tech report identified that a key factor in women choosing to leave the sector is the lack of positive commitment to address gender diversity in the workplace – including issues of pay, career progression, and flexible working hours. Data reflecting these issues can be found in research undertaken by numerous organisations (including Tech Nation; Women in Tech; Diversity in Tech)
Is Remote Working Actually a Disadvantage to Women in The Workplace?
For some being able to work from home has been a huge benefit but for those who are trying to balance work around small children and slow technology the opportunity hasn’t been quite so clear cut. A recent survey by job search company FlexJobs found clear differences in the remote working experience for men and women which affect their concerns and preferences for the post-pandemic work environment. More women indicated that they preferred exclusively remote work (68% v 57%) while men preferred hybrid work instead (41% v 30%).
The gender differences were also apparent in the perceived benefits and challenges they faced working from home with women prioritising the no commute, cost savings, lack of formal dress code, better work life balance and control and flexibility over work schedule as key priorities. Whereas the men interviewed for the study had a greater appreciation for the way team meetings were run very few (2%) reported no benefits from remote work.
Should You Consider Hiring Younger Less Experienced Female Talent to Help with Bridging The Gap?
One area that Shanthi was most passionate about during our interview was in bringing in younger talent who may not have ticked all the experience boxes but are fast learners with the right values.
“Apparently when you are in your 20’s and 30’s you are at your peak of complex problem solving and those skills decline in your 30’s and 40’s. If you’re going to change the dynamic of your organisation you will need to blend more views, ideas, and interesting conversations. If you don’t have those perspectives in your management team you are going to be missing a pretty big trick”
What’s The Best Career Advice You Can Offer to Women Who Want to Move Up the Ladder in The Data & Tech Industries?
As a successful woman who has sat on three executive committees, I was interested to hear Shan’s advice on what she thinks could help women who want to move up the ladder in data and tech and indeed men who are interested in building greater gender diversity into their companies. Here’s her thoughts.
“It’s interesting trying to work out what kind of education and qualification requirements are really helpful for those careers and going to get you on a path to get you the right kind of exposure. My advice to young women or men who are looking for a career in a data or digital based role is to look for the companies that are starting to pull in talent. Start trawling and targeting possible organisations where you might be able to get experience, even if you do it for nothing for a while and work from the inside out. Technology is always changing; you need to be on the front foot all the time and looking for the innovative organisations.”
If You Were Trying to Address the Gender Diversity Challenge in Your Senior Management Team, What Would You Do?
I was interested to hear how Shan would approach this challenge if she was in a hiring role and where she would be channelling her energy. Here’s here feedback.
“It depends very much on what your own organisation is trying to do, so for example if you were in the healthcare industry, and you were looking for someone to digitise your clinical trial process, you’ve got to convert that into the skills that are necessary for that particular area, and then you start looking for those companies that are most parallel. When I was at Addeco we were looking at people who were using and developing search engines because it was all about search and match. So ironically the companies you might look at now are companies like Tinder and others who have platforms that have search and match. It isn’t just about recruitment companies it’s about other parallel companies that have a similar kind of requirement.
I think the problem is a lot of companies will look in the same industry as themselves. You’ve got to just spread much further afield, internationally as well, and you’re far more likely to find interested talent. I think the most important thing is that you’re pulling people from places which are at the cutting edge. I think you fish, where the technology is at. It’s always at the cutting edge, and that isn’t necessarily in your industry and it’s not necessarily in your geography.”
In terms of encouraging more women to get into the worlds of data and tech the key drivers from this interview would be to have the confidence to really go for it and embrace the opportunities that exist. We need to be encouraging more girls to choose science-based subjects early on in their educational pathway and have the courage to continue those subjects at higher levels. Employers should look to be less stereotypical in terms of how and where they hire, from both an intellectual academic perspective and the practical experience required. Thinking outside of the box and looking outside your own industry for talent is key and taking sensible and calculated risks on people who can grow into the jobs is essential.
Where companies are prepared to think more broadly and more creatively on who they hire to grow into a role, the application of a behavioural science-based assessment is a useful tool to help validate a candidate’s potential. To find out more about candidate assessment to assist you with making the right choice for your next generation of talent and develop a specific onboarding development plan, speak to Kate Thomas at Newland Rock.
About BartonRock: We are the executive search partner for companies where data-driven digital leadership is intrinsic to growth.
We manage the careers of leaders whose know-how and commercial acumen within digital steers the strategic direction and future survival of companies.
Our assignments search for executives who understand how to implement and lead data-centric digital agendas.
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