LEWIS: driving change through Tech She Can
Despite decades of progress, women remain significantly underrepresented in the UK’s technology workforce. With PwC's Tech She Can charter looking at ways to break down barriers, LEWIS’ Managing Director Ruth Jones discusses how technology is reshaping career pathways
The fourth industrial revolution is significantly disrupting the way we live, work and interact. Traditional industries and ways of working are being fully transformed through digitization, yet it is imperative that a diverse, global workforce can adapt to such change.
However, despite such a monumental shift, women continue to be underrepresented within the global technology workforce. A recent report by PwC entitled Women in Tech: Time to close the gender gap highlights that women, on this occasion in the UK, remain discouraged from working in technology, with 83% of female students unable to name a famous female role model in technology and only three per cent stating a career in technology to be their first choice.
“As our personal and working lives become increasingly shaped by technology, technology products and services are being developed and delivered based on the perspectives of only one half of the population, and not designed with the needs of everyone in mind,” the report states, adding: “If half the population is being overlooked as a source of technology talent, then the UK is effectively trying to compete internationally with one hand tied behind its back.”
Global professional services network PwC has found that gender bias starts in schools and carries on through each stage of a child’s education. 61% of females indicated that they have been dissuaded from a career in technology due to the limited advice given. “Although heavily involved in STEM subjects at a younger age, I was discouraged by the sexism that surrounded me when I took part in competitions and conventions,” a female pre-university student noted.
“There is a stereotype that empirical studies are male subjects only, and the institution to which I currently belong perpetuates this belief obliquely. I felt discouraged from taking the sciences,” another female pre-university student added. This must change.
Tech She Can Charter
In order to take a closer look at the root causes of women’s reluctance at a societal level, PwC has launched its Tech She Can charter. Joining over 30 organizations across the UK, global integrated communications business, LEWIS, has made commitments to promote careers in technology for both genders, looking to enable workers to reach their potential and to share best practises.
Established by former Financial Times journalist Chris Lewis in 1989, LEWIS has evolved from a news-driven agency into a company that defines a central marketing strategy stemming from brand development and PR, to sales enablement and digital execution.
As part of the charter, LEWIS will work to show how women can enjoy the technology sector but also develop great careers. In the company’s UK workforce, 55% of senior positions (Director and above) are held by women, where flexible working schemes have enabled working mothers to return to work, alongside the enhanced maternity packages and shared leave on offer to staff.
“When women think of a career inside technology, it doesn’t necessarily need to be working directly with data, digital or ICT. It can be a career in the creative industries that supports companies in technology and applies technology to, for example, marketing services,” explains Ruth Jones, Managing Director.
“We’re finding a shift in the industry, where if we put creativity, content and context at the heart of everything we do, we’re able to offer clients a single view but articulate it across tech-based platforms and channels – from infographics through to 3D experiences, as well as the traditional written word.
“Through a collision of marketing, digital, technology and communications, there is wide recognition that customer journeys need to become one, common conversation. We've seen that in the industry.”
At present, only 15% of people working in STEM roles in the UK are female, indicating that the country’s future technology talent will remain heavily male-orientated. In addition, recruiters have expressed their concerns surrounding the difficulty of recruiting knowledgeable, skilled individuals within STEM. A Global CEO survey has revealed that two thirds of UK CEOs say recruiting people with digital skills is difficult, compared with only 43% of CEOs in the US and 24% in China.
With this in mind, providing in-house training, as well as funded apprenticeship programmes, LEWIS remains keen to offer permanent positions, with the aim to be part of the personal and professional development of its employees.
By partnering with schools, providing female role models and ensuring inclusive access to the sector, UK organizations will then gain the ability to build a robust upskilled and adaptive workforce, introducing technology modules which can be delivered in schools by teachers or through virtual reality to develop the UK’s technology talent.
“We also go to universities and spend a lot of time giving talks around careers at various different universities, here at LEWIS. We also have a partnership with Chelsea College of Art, so connecting through education is something that embodies us,” explains Jones.
“We’re looking to invest more. The industry as a whole is now looking at how to shape learning for the future, and this sneaks into adult learning, as well as the future career path. Ultimately, we're entering a world where continuous learning is an absolute necessity.”
While only 5% of leadership positions in the technology industry are presently held by women, where girls are less likely to study STEM subjects at school or university, technology continues to evolve the way in which individuals can develop a technology career, with a number of roles available.
“Technology is central to every part of our lives. Children and young adults are coming into the workforce digitally enabled. Everyone's going to have a natural affinity for technology and they're going to see a much clearer path to why technology plays a central part in our everyday lives,” notes Jones.
“The single most important thing for me is attracting more people into technology so that we can support the economy going forward.”
How changing your company's software code can prevent bias
Two-third of tech professionals believe organizations aren’t doing enough to address racial inequality. After all, many companies will just hire a DEI consultant, have a few training sessions and call it a day.
Wanting to take a unique yet impactful approach to DEI, Deltek, the leading global provider of software and solutions for project-based businesses, took a look at and removed all exclusive terminology in their software code. By removing terms such as ‘master’ and ‘blacklist’ from company coding, Deltek is working to ensure that diversity and inclusion are woven into every aspect of their organization.
Business Chief North America talks to Lisa Roberts, Senior Director of HR and Leader of Diversity & Inclusion at Deltek to find out more.
Why should businesses today care about removing company bias within their software code?
We know that words can have a profound impact on people and leave a lasting impression. Many of the words that have been used in a technology environment were created many years ago, and today those words can be harmful to our customers and employees. Businesses should use words that will leave a positive impact and help create a more inclusive culture in their organization
What impact can exclusive terms have on employees?
Exclusive terms can have a significant impact on employees. It starts with the words we use in our job postings to describe the responsibilities in the position and of course, we also see this in our software code and other areas of the business. Exclusive terminology can be hurtful, and even make employees feel unwelcome. That can impact a person’s desire to join the team, stay at a company, or ultimately decide to leave. All of these critical actions impact the bottom line to the organization.
Please explain how Deltek has removed bias terminology from its software code
Deltek’s engineering team has removed biased terminology from our products, as well as from our documentation. The terms we focused on first that were easy to identify include blacklist, whitelist, and master/slave relationships in data architecture. We have also made some progress in removing gendered language, such as changing he and she to they in some documentation, as well as heteronormative language. We see this most commonly in pick lists that ask to identify someone as your husband or wife. The work is not done, but we are proud of how far we’ve come with this exercise!
What steps is Deltek taking to ensure biased terminology doesn’t end up in its code in the future?
What we are doing at Deltek, and what other organizations can do, is to put accountability on employees to recognize when this is happening – if you see something, say something! We also listen to feedback our customers give us and have heard their feedback on this topic. Those are both very reactive things of course, but we are also proactive. We have created guidance that identifies words that are more inclusive and also just good practice for communicating in a way that includes and respects others.
What advice would you give to other HR leaders who are looking to enhance DEI efforts within company technology?
My simple advice is to start with what makes sense to your organization and culture. Doing nothing is worse than doing something. And one of the best places to start is by acknowledging this is not just an HR initiative. Every employee owns the success of D&I efforts, and employees want to help the organization be better. For example, removing bias terminology was an action initiated by our Engineering and Product Strategy teams at Deltek, not HR. You can solicit the voices of employees by asking for feedback in engagement surveys, focus groups, and town halls. We hear great recommendations from employees and take those opportunities to improve.