Women in Tech

Women in tech: one step forward, one step back

8th September 2023
Sheryl Miles

I read recently with surprise and dismay that the recent downturn in tech1 has had a greater adverse effect on women than men.

Here Ilona Hitel, Founder and MD of CommsCo, discusses how the tech layoffs have affected women, the lack of post-pandemic progression for women in tech, and the pay differentials between men and women.

During the last quarter, there was a 7% decrease in available jobs in tech, and despite what COVID-19 did for levelling the gender gap in employment, it’s disappointing to see that women constitute 54% of recent job losses2. Sadly, it would seem that economic instabilities always have a disproportionate negative impact on the employment of women.

To go even one step further, it seems many women in the UK are spending more time since the pandemic on domestic duties and care for the sick, a not-so-positive fallout from the unforeseen changes. In a business which is largely staffed and led by females, these reports are both alarming and surprising. I recently attended my daughter’s graduation with a neuroscience degree at Leeds University and would estimate that 80% of the BA science degree graduates were female, it was incredibly inspiring to see. But yet education statistics in tech also make for depressing reading: 35%3 of women graduate in STEM subjects in the UK, and a report by McKinsey4 earlier this year showed that the average women’s share in tech roles in European companies is just 22%.

So what should be done? For what it’s worth, here’s my two pennies’ (or cents’) worth for starters.

Attitudes in tech need to change, we need to try to break that unconscious bias and reduce stereotyping. With only 24% of the tech industry staffed by women (and very few at the top) we need to create more positive environments in an industry which is growing so rapidly. Tech in the UK is a $1 trillion industry, and still holds a number one spot in Europe despite recent slow down reports. Yet less women are being recalled to interview post initial meetings, and female founders have to fight for investment from male-dominated VC and investment organisations. Women are seemingly still not being viewed as equal candidates nor leaders in an industry which is so fundamental to our society and raising such existential questions about our future5. There needs to be a more positive and welcoming hiring culture and also a more positive, less “bro-like”6 environment, once they are hired, to encourage retention. It’s incumbent upon organisations to do their bit in training for unconscious bias, as well as creating open cultures and communication channels. Hell, diversity in the workplace might even make you money, with research showing that more diverse companies might make you 15% more profit7

In my too-many-years of experience, I’ve worked with some brilliant men, but on average (and not surprising for the tech PR industry) I’ve worked with more brilliant women. They are flexible and committed, because sometimes they know they also need flexibility in return. The women I have worked with have nine times out of 10 worked more hours than their male counterparts (am I allowed to say that? Well darn it I just have!) so from a personal standpoint, I would urge any leader to consider their policies on female hiring and more importantly, how to encourage, promote, and retain them.

As for female leaders themselves, in tech it can be a lonely experience. I’ve benefited hugely from the (sadly too few) role models I’ve had along the way, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE and President of TechUK, and Carmen Carey, seasoned and inspirational tech CEO, to name but two. These women have achieved great heights in a male-dominated industry before focus on diversity was even a topic. Successive generations will definitely be so much better off for the awareness and concerted efforts that are happening now and the increased access to networks and women in senior roles. I’d advise any woman entering into tech to find a role model as they build their network and ask for advice (but give something back too, these women are busy!)

Finally, women need to have an eye on the future, and knowledge is power. Things are changing now faster than I’ve known in my career (and sadly was around for the launch of the first internet browser). The advent of AI is another major threat, with McKinsey research8 finding that female jobs are 1.5 x more likely to be replaced by AI than men. Yet on the other hand, the future of work will look dramatically different, so is this the chance for women to take the lead in a workplace that will require softer, empathetic skills, more typically (and forgive the clumsy stereotyping from me here!) female attributes? Our recent survey of marketers, largely female respondents, welcomed the role of AI to help them become more productive, and take away the mundane work, in favour of deploying more creative skills. Women and girls in education have to seek out good advice and think hard to try to envisage the future to ensure their roles will be central to the rapidly evolving future of work.

In summary, what is required is a constant focus on the above to ensure progress is continuous, and the chances of steps back like we’ve seen recently are reduced. It’s a sad inevitability that this is the default, but stereotypes are steeped in history so take decades and decades to change. And if technology and AI are to revolutionise our world, we need to make sure that women have a place at the centre of it.


1 https://techmonitor.ai/leadership/workforce/uk-tech-jobs-women-in-it

2 https://techmonitor.ai/comment-2/women-in-tech-dont-take-progress-for-for-granted

3 https://www.stemwomen.com/women-in-stem-percentages-of-women-in-stem-statistics

4 https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/mckinsey-digital/our-insights/women-in-tech-the-best-bet-to-solve-europes-talent-shortage

5 https://programminginsider.com/how-artificial-intelligence-will-shape-our-future/

6 https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/women-tech-bro-culture-luke-cooper/

7 https://www.forbes.com/sites/karstenstrauss/2018/01/25/more-evidence-that-company-diversity-leads-to-better-profits/?sh=4e41aaf51bc7

8 https://siliconcanals.com/news/startups/kai/guestblog/career-consequences-of-ai/


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