Carole Callender: Tech industry needs to engineer a way to close the gender gap
BELFAST is one of the best cities in the UK to work in tech. According to Tech Nation, 23 per cent of Northern Ireland jobs advertised here last year were digital tech roles, the highest percentage in the UK.
The industry is experiencing sustained investment – both from local agencies and foreign businesses selecting the region for its abundant expertise and knowledge. We are enjoying and thriving on our international reputation, wonderful news for Northern Ireland’s talent pool of engineers and developers as they continue to develop their careers.
But alongside all this opportunity, our same talent pool is at risk. We all agree that diversity in the workplace is a positive; however, with only an estimated 19 per cent of women in the entire UK tech workforce, we still have decades of work left to go.
A diverse workplace is accepting of every individual’s differences so that all employees feel supported to reach their full potential. When we value each person’s differences, we allow each person to contribute their unique experiences – which can have an extremely positive impact on how they work, how other employees feel, and how customers engage. It’s also widely reported that the more diverse and inclusive a workplace is, the lower the rate of staff turnover.
Gender imbalance in tech is a global issue, but Northern Ireland is uniquely challenging when it comes to closing the gender gap given its size and the ratio of people working in tech roles by comparison to other cities is smaller. But this needs to change if we are to prepare for continued growth.
ESO came to Belfast in 2019. Since then, we have grown our global team size by more than 50 per cent as we move forward and continue to invest in Belfast. Attracting women to our team is a key part of our recruitment strategy.
At ESO we have committed to the use of unbiased job descriptions, and we have taken a more proactive approach by having diverse interview panels. Our company holiday policy recognises and embraces the fact that employees have diverse personal needs, beliefs, and interests. Instead of enforcing days off, we encourage our people to choose days off that are meaningful to them and their families. It’s what’s significant to the individual that matters.
We also engaged a leading Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) consultancy firm to conduct a global survey of our employees to get a true idea of what our people's views and experiences are.
But there is much more to do. To close the gap, we need to work together as an industry. We need to take an honest look at our industry and asks ourselves if we are one where women feel valued. We need to take positive action to address whatever we find. We need to be sure that we continue to proactively communicate the many entry points in to careers in tech – from work experience for school children, year-long placements for university students, to apprenticeships for those seeking an alternative to university, or for those wanting to switch careers.
We need to ask ourselves if a third-level qualification is necessary for every technical role. It is valuable – yes. Is it essential? Not always. Furthermore, there are various roles on offer across the industry – from project managers to communications leads, not to mention all the support functions like finance, legal, sales, marketing and HR – extend far beyond engineers and developers, and we need to do more to get that message across.
People managers, recruiters, and founders need to keep this front and centre moving forward to ensure we all do our part to close the gap for good.
:: Carole Callender is senior people experience manager at ESO (www.eso.com)