With how we live and work changing almost overnight, this time last year feels like a lifetime ago for many of us. Navigating new ways of working, balancing responsibilities and fighting to stay employed in the first place has been tough for everyone. However, it’s fair to say that women’s jobs and career prospects have been disproportionately hit.

In fact, women’s jobs are nearly twice as vulnerable as men’s and while females make up 39% of the global workforce, they account for 54% percent of job losses during the pandemic. McKinsey’s ‘Covid 10 and gender equality’ report found that one of the key reasons for this is the amount of unpaid care that’s fallen on the shoulders of women during the Covid crisis.

It’s no surprise then, with these extra responsibilities, that 133,000 more women than men were furloughed across the UK between March & August 2020. And sadly, a survey of working mothers found that 65% of those furloughed cited a lack of childcare as the reason.

Clearly the current impact of the pandemic on women doesn’t make for positive reading, but the real danger lies in what could happen in the long term if this inequality isn’t addressed. PwC’s annual Women in Work Index, which measures economic empowerment, says that progress for women in work could be at 2017 levels by the end of this year (2021).

 

So, what’s the solution?

Fortunately, part of the solution is coming from women themselves. Ever resilient and resourceful, many women have made a positive out of a negative during the pandemic. Taking time for self-reflection and to think about what they actually want from their careers and where new opportunities might lie.

Professional women’s network AllBright said that a huge 61% of its members were considering a career change as a direct result of the pandemic. The AllBright network also said that two thirds of the women they spoke to were planning to invest in upskilling themselves to better their career options.  

The good news for the tech sector is that more women than ever before are pursuing tech skills. According to a report by YouGov and Future Learn, 55% of women who enrolled in an online course in 2020 chose a STEM subject, compared to 44.5% of men. Coding was also referenced as an increasingly popular choice for women.

Not only is this very welcome news, in terms of women broadening their horizons and reaching their full potential, it’s also a smart move given the huge rise in demand for tech professionals and the number of roles that need to be filled in the industry.

Of course, this increase in women skilling up and pursuing tech careers is only one half of the equation, the industry and employers also need to be receptive to employing them in the first place!

 

Reaping the benefits of diversity

While the tech industry has long bemoaned the skills gap and difficulty in finding people to fill roles, closing the gap by being open to a wider talent pool and seeking out a more diverse workforce is still not happening.

However, with more and more women considering tech as an option post pandemic, the industry has a huge opportunity to make step changes and capitalise on this. Both in terms of filling roles more easily and reaping the benefits of a diverse workforce.

 As Microsoft’s UK, Chief Learning Officer Simon Lambert puts it: “There is a dangerous misconception that the tech industry is just an industry for the young. The truth is that we need people with a diverse range of experiences, backgrounds and ages. And we need them now to fill the growing skills gap which, left unplugged, will significantly impact the UK’s recovery.”

 And proactively seeking to employ a more diverse workforce isn’t just a route to easing the skills gap, there are numerous other benefits.

Firstly, it helps with retention of existing employees. In its recent ‘Diversity & Inclusion in the Global Workplace’ survey, Intel asked employees the top five benefits of working in a diverse environment. Employees said the biggest benefit was that they ‘feel a greater sense of belonging’ and also that they are ‘likely to stay with the company longer’.

Employees working in tech also said (61%) that technology products and services are better when developed by teams of different types of people (e.g., age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity). So that the resulting product or solution fits the needs of a much wider demographic of end users.

Understandably, much of the focus for businesses during the past year has been on keeping the bottom line healthy and protecting jobs. However, a diverse workforce isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ it can also directly improve the profitability of an organisation.

McKinsey has been tracking more than 1,000 large companies across 15 countries since 2015 to look at the business case for diversity. In its latest report published in 2020, just as the pandemic was breaking, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 25% more likely to have above average profitability.

And of course, those female executives have got to come from the ground up, as part of a diverse, representative workforce.

 

Bridging the great divide

So, with a greater number and choice of candidates on their way and the business case for diversity stronger than ever, how can employers make the most of this?

The first step is to ensure your organisation is as attractive as possible to potential employees. Not only have people began reconsidering their career options in the pandemic, they’ve seen other, different ways of working and what they want from their employer has changed.

In Manpower Groups ‘What Workers Want’ survey of 8,000 people in eight countries, naturally people of different age groups and genders had their own ideas around what makes a good employer.

Though there were some commonalities, 43% of all those interviewed said they believe the pandemic marks the end of full-time work in the office. And a significant 80% across all age groups, genders and career stages said they wanted more opportunity to work remotely for a better work/life balance and believe they’ll get this from their employer moving forwards.

A company’s approach to Diversity & Inclusion is also a factor in itself when people are weighing up employers. In Intel’s Global D&I report, over 50% of people said that an organisations approach to diversity and inclusion was ‘extremely’ or ‘very important’ to them when thinking about where to apply for work or whether to accept an offer.

A sensible starting point for organisations reviewing their approach to Diversity & Inclusion is to assess how inclusive current recruitment processes and procedures are. Even by making small changes at first, this commitment to looking at potential employees through a wider lense could make a big difference to the applicants you attract.

The good news is that there are external organisations out there who can help. During the past year at Tech Talent Academy for example, we have retrained and upskilled over 300 women in cyber, data and software and cloud, who are now looking to start their careers in tech.

 

So, what are you waiting for? Get in touch!