Building a diverse workforce in the tech industry

The future is female - drinks mug

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual, “An equal world is an enabled world”. We're embracing that, and so should you.

In our industry, sadly, the workforce is not doing well when it comes to gender equality, and there are few signs of improvement.  Tech Nation reports that 49% of UK workers are women. But in the tech industry only 19% of workers are women.

In our experience the low representation of women in tech is strongly influenced by the lack of suitable flexible roles, rather than a lack of interest in technology. Willingly and unwillingly, women still bear the majority of caring responsibilities in the UK, from child care to looking after elderly relatives, or form part of the sandwich generation with caring responsibilities at both ends of the lifespan.   The way we employ people can make a huge difference to enabling women to work in ways that suit them. 

At Versantus 30% of the team are women.  While we’re heartened to be ‘above average’,   ideally we’d like this percentage to be much higher.  We thought we’d share some of the strategies that have helped us so far, and hope you’ll share your ideas with us.

Embrace flexible working in all its forms

We offer flexibility in their workday for all of our team, not just the women. It takes the pressure off women at work by ensuring that childcare responsibilities - typically falling to women - can be shared between both partners.

“I now do only pick ups and my husband does drop offs and his company allows a great deal of flexibility.  I don't always have to be the one to be off if my son is unwell.” 

For some of our team flexible hours means working Monday to Wednesday to reduce childcare costs. For others a shorter working day finishing at 3pm to fit in with the school pick-up. Working from home can also take the pressure off, and is great for the kind of focused work we do.  We believe that the best creative collaboration comes from people being "in the room" together, but while it would be lovely to have everyone around every day, we can get a long way with the help of a virtual daily stand-up meeting, liberal use of google hangouts and ‘always on’ Slack messaging.

We also use contractors for short term projects and off-payroll working for some roles. This is good for us too - as a growing business there are some roles that we don’t need to have in-house yet, and we get the benefit of highly skilled part-timers who prefer to run their own flexible business.

Flexible working isn’t all about childcare responsibilities either. It can increase employee satisfaction and retention by letting people pursue other goals, or have a portfolio career. For example one of our team spends four days with us, and one day with her kids and her favourite pastime - running! Another works with us for one half of the week and in a highly-skilled clinical role in the NHS for the other half.

“Without the flexibility to have a day off in the week I wouldn't be running a marathon next month”.

Recruit the right person, then work out the hours

We’re not a call centre or a retail outlet, and we realised pretty early on that we don’t really need to have a 9 to 5 culture.  We also don’t really need our people to be counted in neat units of full time equivalents.  Our recruitment strategy is to find the best person for the job, and then to work out how to make the hours work. We’re getting better at this with every hire. And everyone involved - from our favourite recruitment agency through to the interview panel -  has a clear understanding of our approach.  We’ve also started to make this clearer in our recent job adverts, and we think this is helping us to attract a more diverse field of applicants.

By creating jobs with the hours that people want to work, we can support professional women who want to return to work after a career break, employ some really great people and boost the economy.  

Hire people with inclusive values

Having a diverse team is good for employees and great for business too, bringing a much broader range of ideas to client projects and business challenges. Hiring people is just the first step though, we also want people to feel happy and valued at work.  As we grow as a company, it’s becoming obvious that as well as having the right skills, we need to hire people who are open-minded, inclusive and love working in a diverse team. With the right people in the team it’s much easier to create an environment where flexible working arrangements are accepted as the norm and where everyone feels they can be themselves at work.

Rather alarmingly, some sources report that the current trend is towards less women being employed in technology. The Wise Campaign for gender balance in science, technology and engineering has found a drop in the percentage of women employed as ICT professionals from 17.4% in 2018 to 16.4% in 2019.  

Tech employers, we would love to hear how you think we can work together to reverse this trend. And to our fellow women working in technology, what makes a role in tech work for you?