Why is the number of women who occupy some of the most senior technical roles in our profession so small? Gillian Arnold FBCS, MD at Tectre, explores the issue.

OK - so - I know that this isn’t very scientific but I wanted to check how many IT Architects there were who were women. So, I looked at my LinkedIn network of contacts for anyone with ‘architect’ in their job title. I weeded out the ones that didn’t fit (like the landscape architect) and came to the sad little figure of 1.8% of the IT architects in my network being female.

I think I have a good LinkedIn network at some 3000+ connections and I think my network is weighted towards women because of the significant work I have done during my life on supporting women in tech. I had an inkling that the figure was really low. I had heard some years ago that women architects comprised around 5% of the whole, but I had recently been helping my recruitment team to find some female architects for one of their clients. We were astounded that there were so few women amongst the potential candidates.

In the back of my mind, I didn’t expect many, but I did think we would find at least the 5%. And yet, as we searched, it was clear that the number of women who occupy some of the most senior technical roles in our profession is very tiny indeed.

I am sure that someone will do the work on the data to confirm these figures, but, notwithstanding, I believe it shows quite a lot about the issues around women in tech in the UK and follows some of the statistics that we outline in our forthcoming book Women in Tech, A practical Guide.

The role of the technical architect

The technical architect role, be that a solutions architect, cloud architect, data, infrastructure, security, enterprise or any other flavour, is really one of the most senior technical roles we have.

It is a lynchpin role between the business, the client and the huge breadth of technology. Architects are the designers of the solutions we create from the enormous range of technology available to us, be that the hardware solution, the security solution, or the application-based solution - the designs that architects create encompass overlapping aspects of technology. For example, a solutions architect will need to understand the complexities of the data used by the applications, the interaction with other existing applications and then (in all its forms) the infrastructures which underly the solution. No small feat.

The skills which are brought to bear include (but are not limited to):

  • planning and consulting to create a technical design from a business requirement,
  • leading multidisciplinary teams of technical and non-technical people,
  • managing stakeholders,
  • customer service expertise,
  • superb communication Skills to bridge the gap between the technical and the non-technical.

This is before we consider the technical skills which have to underlie any architect role. These might include:

  • cyber security,
  • databases,
  • big data,
  • data science,
  • AI,
  • and any other tech subdomain.

Architects are needed across the board. They’ll also need to understand the systems, tools, languages and methodologies which underpin modern programming and design practice.

No wonder this is a senior role, it takes so long to accumulate the skills required and the holistic vision to design and create at this level.

So where are all the women?

When set against the paltry numbers of women in CIO and IT leadership roles, it isn’t surprising that there are fewer women in this senior profession, but it is remarkable just how few female architects there really are.

If I were to hazard a guess at the causes for the limited numbers of women architects, I might say that it was a combination of the following:

  • The socialisation which sees women in less technical positions. We know for example, that women make up lots of the project managers, plenty of business analysts and a big batch of creatives at the UI/UX end of the applications being built. Socialisation, in this context, has a few outcomes:
    1. Women are less likely to be selected for senior technical roles because managers have been socialised to select males for the roles instead.
    2. Experienced women are less likely to self-select senior technical roles, since they too have been socialised to expect males to be in these roles.
    3. Young women don’t have the ambition to work towards this role since they too see it as a male domain, for the moment at least.
  • The lack of role model women IT Architects makes it difficult to break the mould, both for the women aspirants and for the male managers who have seen a precedent for great female architects and so might hire or promote a woman to these roles.
  • The pervading culture of technical teams, which makes it uncomfortable for women in senior roles to feel that they can easily work as architects. More on this another day!

Despite all of this, the skills outlined above are those where women are supposedly strong. We are said to be great communicators and collaborators and we are thought to have really good holistic vision. Ergo, we should be able to find lots of women capable of being IT architects. I think we need to consider working hard to increase the numbers across the industry over the next five years.

What can be done?

To that end, I have a few ideas for how we can fix the situation:

  1. Let’s understand the true numbers and set ourselves some realistic targets for achieving diversity in our most senior roles. We can do that in company, in team, in country. We can all be a part of this effort.
  2. We should spot the next female IT architects now! Get them onto our top-talent and high-flyer lists. Include them in our succession planning and if we can’t, we need to think about why this is an issue further down the pipeline.
  3. We can look at professional hires the next time that we fill an architect role, but remember, there are so few women architects around that you may well find yourselves poaching from another company. In order to truly increase the numbers, we need to hire for potential, not carbon copies of our existing architects.
  4. We need to look at mentoring and coaching schemes which will bring on the next group of architects, then everyone benefits – not just the women.
  5. We need to challenge our talent management teams to give us really broad lists of candidates for potential hires.

Let’s be clear - our need for architects for the technology solutions we will use in the next five years will grow and grow, so seeding the pipeline now will be a huge benefit to us all.

Photo credit: ©This is Engineering

Women in Tech

Gillian Arnold is co-author of the new BCS publication: Women in Tech: A practical guide to increasing gender diversity and inclusion.

It has long been recognised that the technology industry is not diverse and gender inclusive. In the UK, the proportion of women in technology roles has remained stubbornly beneath 20% for the last twenty years. With this book we hope to help address that.

This guide to tackling the gender imbalance in technology professions offers expertise, initiatives and true stories to support those wishing to bring greater gender diversity into the workplace. It aims to inform regarding background, theory and policy, advise on concrete actions that can be undertaken and to be an exemplar for companies, organisations, establishments and campaigns in the form of real-world case studies.

  • Understand the business case for diversity and the role that unconscious bias can play in the industry.
  • Review the educational landscape for women in tech, from computing in schools to higher education.
  • Learn how to establish a programme / project to attract and / or retain women in tech and build out organisational approaches and culture to support this.
  • Explore real-world case studies of diversity initiatives in tech that have yielded results.

Women in Tech book coverWomen in Tech: A practical guide to increasing gender diversity and inclusion
By Gillian Arnold, Hannah Dee, Clem Herman, Sharon Moore Andrea Palmer and Shilpa Shah

ISBN-13: 9781780175614
Extent: 240 pages
Publication date: 26 Jul 2021
Price: £24.99
bcs.org/books/womenintech