It's International Women's Day, and this year's theme 'being bold for change' calls for everyone to help forge a better working world - a more inclusive, gender-equal world. That's long been a theme for us here at Ideal, but as we've discovered, it's hard to build a gender-balanced IT solutions company when the overwhelming majority of job applicants are male.
We’re rightly proud of our eclectic mix of brilliant employees, but despite our best efforts, women are still under-represented, especially among the technical roles that make up more than half of Ideal's numbers. This lack of progress is particularly concerning because according to WISE there has been positive change elsewhere in the IT industry, with nearly 4.5k women entering the sector since last year, keeping the proportion of ICT professionals who are women at 18%.
IT is bucking the trend. Despite the widespread focus on getting more girls to study STEM subjects and choose STEM careers, the proportion of women across all core STEM occupations has actually fallen during 2016.
As I've written before, diversity is good for business. Gender-diverse companies deliver better profitability and return on investment, and diverse teams perform better, and show better judgement than homogeneous teams. The underrepresentation of women in my workplace is not a problem to be ignored.
Being the change
So what to do? If you've been following our series of interviews with women who do work in tech and IT roles, you'll know that their suggestions often focus on supporting and encouraging young women to enter these sectors - whether that's educators encouraging girls who want to study STEM subjects at school or university, or women already successful within the field making themselves visible and leading by example.
I hope to be visible and inspirational and am proud to appear with two fellow ambassadors in STEMSussex's blog post for International Women’s Day. I take every opportunity I can to challenge women to consider a career in tech. Unlike other sectors where, as Adele says, "whatever women do they must do it twice as well as men to be thought half as good", I believe tech is a sector where the under-representation of women makes it easy for women to prosper.
I am excited by the potential of the work techUK is doing to create change. Today, on International Women’s Day they have launched the ‘Returner’s Hub’, encouraging women to consider a career in tech when they return to work after a career break. Can the tech industry, and businesses like Ideal, deliver flexible training and employment opportunities to access an untapped talent pool and fill the digital skills gap?
Forthcoming changes in government policy will present a very real opportunity to women to access tech training at all stages in their careers. New T levels announced in this week's budget will be introduced in 2019 to streamline provision and increase the status of technical education. Maintenance loans will be available to those studying for higher technical education qualifications at National Colleges and Institutes of Technology (like those available to university students). And the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in May 2017 will transform the apprenticeships offered by levy-paying employers. Employers will receive an allowance to offset the cost of training apprentices, regardless of their age. Five levels of apprenticeships, including degree and MSc apprenticeships, provide high quality qualifications in a range of industry-relevant subjects from network engineer to cyber security specialist. Together with initiatives such as the Ideal Academy, we hope to encourage and support people, regardless of their background, to start or continue their career in technology.
If Ideal truly wants to change things, it needs to be bold and take action, putting gender on the agenda and proactively encouraging women to join the company. Do get in touch if you want to help us buck the trend, and build a career for yourself in our exciting sector.