The question of how to make businesses more diverse and inclusive was front and centre on day one of the Microsoft Future Decoded 2018 event in London
There are more men named David than there are women in leadership roles in the FTSE 100 – which highlights the problem of gender diversity in the workplace that Microsoft is trying to solve in its own business and others.
The UK’s population is 52% female, yet women account for just 11% of the employees in the tech sector, according to the company’s figures – and that percentage decreases even further in senior, management and executive roles.
The software giant gathered a panel of experts to examine this issue at its Microsoft Future Decoded 2018 event in London.
They included SAP Concur’s HR director Tom Loeffert, ResourceiT Consulting founder and CEO Julie Simpson, Tech Talent Charter CEO Debbie Forster and British Heart Foundation (BHF) chief executive Simon Gillespie.
Gender diversity in the workplace: Fixing the talent pipeline
Just 34% of young girls’ choice at A-level are STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects and, once they reach university, this only decreases to 14%.
In addition, the rate of career transfer to tech is extremely low among both men and women, meaning there’s all the more pressure on the industry to have a talent pipeline that encourages both genders to enter the field.
Mr Loeffert said: “Technology is the future – that much is clear – it’s going to affect everybody in the world, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or anything else.
“And yet, it’s a sector that really isn’t very diverse or inclusive by any stretch of the imagination – this needs to change.
“It really all starts with having a truly representative pipeline – we all need to develop talent in the right way – women are mentored in very different ways to men.
“Men are taught things like business strategy, while women tend to be mentored in soft skills like how to have a voice – this shouldn’t be how things get done.”
Meanwhile, millennials have proven a particularly tech-savvy generation, and Ms Simpson is keen to see them supported more in junior roles within the tech industry.
She added: “As much as anything, I think we need to take the chance we have to encourage opportunity among our young employees.
“They have skills that we do not possess – whether that’s social media proficiency, digital literacy or anything else – they’re a really powerful demographic that we as businesses are not making the most of.”
Gender diversity in the workplace: Importance of female role models
Creating a more diverse pipeline won’t guarantee more women at the highest echelons of the tech sector however, with research showing 56% of women quit their jobs in the sector – more then twice the percentage of men who do the same.
For Mr Loeffert, this issue of gender diversity in the workplace isn’t as prevalent within his own travel and expense management services company and that’s due to a stern examination of its own practices – something he recommended to the audience.
“We all have an issue in this sector when it comes to the under-representation of women at the top,” he explained.
“We at SAP are lucky to have a lot of really great women in leadership roles at our company – and when you look at the sector at large, we’re one of the few.
“We also don’t really have any gender pay gap issue – we conducted a study of our own business to reach that conclusion, and I’d throw that out to the floor as something we all should do – where we are a little behind is in the reward scheme system – there’s work to do there.
“But what we are really proud of is the role models in senior positions in the company that are really driving change at all levels of our organisation.”
The idea of role models is one all four of the panelists agreed upon as being something that would help women gain the inspiration needed to rise to the top of the industry, where they are most lacking today.
As ResourceiT boss Ms Simpson sees it, the language and the stories we tell surrounding women role models in tech is not yet at a place where it can help the industry with its diversity problems.
She said: “We have to do a better job promoting the stories of successful women in tech – and there are a lot of them – people like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg are great examples.
“These can be really inspirational and they paint a bright picture for young girls looking to get into the industry – that has real potential to shift the diversity dial.
“And once you start making progress in this area, that progress becomes exponential.
“Women are attracted to working with women, so the more you have, the more you’ll continue to get.”
Gender diversity in the workplace: Why it’s important to employ women in key roles
The topic of gender diversity in the workplace has become increasingly popular over the past few years, but examples of companies that have implemented concrete solutions to the issue are a little harder to come by.
Ms Forster’s Tech Talent Charter is a national commitment by organisations to achieving diversity that has been supported by the UK government.
She feels it is important to take stock of the progress that has been made in this area.
“We have to stop talking about diversity and start taking real action,” she said. “Having more women in tech is not just the right thing to do, it also makes so much business sense when you look at the stats.
“But one thing to note is that there has been progress in this area. Five years ago, it would have been very difficult to get people to even talk about diversity – that’s not the case anymore.
“There’s a vibrant, healthy discussion around the diversity issue at the moment, so that’s something.”
Despite this progress, the panelists were in agreement that businesses have an obligation to share their success stories when it comes to how they’ve addressed this problem.
“It’s really important to connect with other organisations that are taking proactive approaches to solving the problem and share your stories and solutions with them – and vice versa,” said Ms Forster.
The BHF’s Mr Gillespie added: “It’s pretty obvious as far as I’m concerned – if you’re not making the most of half the population, then you’re going to be missing out on a wealth of talent.
“But we also have to make sure we are being really transparent about what we do as businesses and that we share the solutions we find to be working.
“We have made progress in this regard but there’s always more to do and we certainly can’t just sit back and rely on it continuing on its own.”