What is stopping women getting more jobs in the digital sector?

The tech sector is being asked to help boost recruitment opportunities for women.
The tech sector is being asked to help boost recruitment opportunities for women.
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A group of Lancashire skills experts has backed a blueprint designed to attract more women into the digital industry.

The Lancashire Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) skills and employment panel has recommended that the organisation signs up to Tech Talent Charter – and will encourage the county’s digital businesses to do the same.

The five-point pledge card aims to increase diversity across the spectrum within the sector – but one of its main principles is to ensure that, wherever possible, at least one woman is included on the shortlist for interview when a job becomes available.

Panel members gave the charter broad support – but Lis Smith, of Preston’s College warned of the possible unintended consequences of “positive discrimination”.

“I’m always very supportive of equality and anything which promotes women,” she said.

“But the downside [of including at least one woman on a shortlist], is that you are just choosing her because she’s a woman, not because of the skills she brings – and that can have quite negative connotations.

“It isn’t necessarily as positive and helpful as it’s intended to be.

“For me, some of it [should be] about ensuring that there is more developmental support given to people applying in the first instance…and that women are included in that,” Ms, Smith added.

The LEP’s digital skills co-ordinator, Kerry Harrison admitted that the issue was one which prompted debate – but said there were proven benefits of ensuring women made it to the interview stage of applications.

“There is evidence to suggest in some sectors that it is a positive way of getting people to the table – and then they do the rest for themselves,” she said.

“It’s not about having a weak candidate [on the shortlist] – it’s about [asking] yourself whether you have a range of candidates.”

The meeting heard that only around one in five workers in the digital sector is female. The charter suggests various ways of encouraging women to apply for tech jobs – including the phrasing of adverts, allowing time for discussion during the interview process and promoting female role models within the company.

Lyn Livesey, pro-vice chancellor of the University of Central Lancashire, said so-called “blind applications” – where the recruiter is unaware of the applicant’s gender when making their interview selections – could also help remove any “unconscious bias”.

“It’s about changing a culture – and a lot of work needs to be done about how [the charter] is interpreted,” Ms. Livesey said.

The Tech Talent Charter was drawn up two years ago and has attracted almost 300 signatories. It has been promoted by the government, which is encouraging LEPs to show their support for the initiative.

If Lancashire’s LEP board ultimately signs up to the document, it could become the first local digital skills partnership in England to do so.

WHAT’S IN A WORD?

The Tech Talent Charter advises balancing “gender-themed” words in job adverts – with some phrases being thought to discourage women from applying.

“Words such as ‘active’, ‘competitive’, ‘dominate’, ‘decisive’ and ‘objective’ can make job descriptions less appealing to women, compared to descriptions that also use feminine-themed words such as ‘community’, ‘dependable’, ‘responsible’, and ‘committed’,” its website says.

“Many of these words are synonyms and can be interchanged. By using a mixture of both, you create an image of a balanced culture open to both genders.”

The description of a company as a place which “works hard and plays hard” is also cautioned against.

“[It] is often thrown in to highlight a fun company culture, but it also implies that employees are expected to spend time outside of working hours with their co-workers. This can deter people who have commitments outside of work from applying,” according to Tech Talent.