Women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic when it comes to work and caring duties. Rebecca George OBE and President of BCS says women are already disproportionately represented in the tech industry, and more must be done to support them.

With the return of home-schooling women are feeling the pressure most as they are often the primary carer. A number of reports have indicated that women have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic, with many furloughed, made redundant, or opting for reduced responsibilities.

The rise in home working, caring and schooling during the pandemic  has added significant pressure to households, with research published by UCL highlighting that women spent more than twice as much time as men on home-schooling during the lockdown.

Latest data on the proportion of women working in IT shows a slow increase with women accounting for 20% of the industry according to the BCS’ latest analysis - rising from 17% at the same point in 2019.

The impact of COVID-19 on younger women and those from ethnic minorities in particular working in tech must be better understood. Black women are severely under-represented in IT and make up just 0.7% of the IT sector. Their representation is 2.5 times worse than for other industries. As most of our workforce continues to work from home, it’s easier for discriminatory behaviour to go unnoticed, or unchecked.

Increase diversity

With jobs and networking opportunities thin on the ground, it’s possible that without care and special attention, women may have to work twice as hard to receive the opportunities and recognition they deserve.

Like any large cultural shift, the digital transformation we have seen this year as a consequence of COVID-19 has delivered great progress in some areas of communication and interaction. However, opportunities to come together in groups to discuss the work we have underway and collaborate face-to-face isn’t happening.

How we make decisions, learn new ways of thinking, develop skills from watching colleagues in action and make new connections are really important and we need to be mindful about how we support everyone in our workforce.   

Flexible working

Deloitte research shows that three-quarters of office-based workers want regular remote working patterns in future. We need to come together as an industry to support new ways of working, balancing in-person and virtual collaboration, and establishing different ways of networking. Plus, we need to more frequently recognise the contribution women are making in our industry, and celebrate those individuals leading the way.

This is one reason that BCS champions the principles of ethics and inclusion by design in both individuals’ professional qualifications and standards but also across organisational values and decision-making processes.

Too much pressure

There are many and varied reasons for women to leave the tech sector - and of course, the numbers entering the sector in the first place is low, which doesn’t help. 

With only 20% of IT jobs being undertaken by women, we still have a huge gender imbalance that we all need to work together to reduce.

Fostering a culture that supports women throughout their career, launching initiatives that profile women in leadership positions and creating new mentoring schemes are successful ways to demonstrate a commitment to retaining women.

Support men too

While long-working hours is often cited as a problem for retaining women, this is a problem experienced by men as well. Encouraging initiatives such as shared parental leave can change the culture of an organisation and demonstrate support for the responsibilities of both biological and non-biological parents and carers.

Encouraging and supporting male colleagues to advocate for, hire and promote women is also important, acting as allies for gender parity.

The tech sector is certainly doing more to attract a range of skilled professionals, supported by long-term increases in women studying the topic at A level and applying for Computer Science degrees.

Gender imbalance needs to be addressed

Profiling more female role models in technology and encouraging conversations across the industry aimed at improving diversity will do well to foster an inclusive culture. Men must be encouraged to discuss and support initiatives that encourage women’s success in the industry. We must work as an industry to address the issue of gender imbalance.

Diversity and inclusion are too often considered add-on programmes, I am proud of the sustained investment Deloitte has made over the years to improve diversity and inclusion, recognising that it is integral to the culture and success of our firm.

Similarly, I am proud that BCS is developing a programme of engagement and support for under-represented groups throughout the IT industry. This will help strengthen and diversify the pipeline of talent coming into the industry.

Some of the big ethical and technical choices that affect the whole of society, like AI and algorithms, will be in the hands of tech leaders and IT teams. What’s more, it is these leaders and teams that are increasingly looked to by policy makers. That’s why diversity and inclusion matters.

The future is bright

I am an optimist, the UK is full of talent and is an incredibly attractive place to live, work and do business. We have a strong entrepreneurial culture, and we are continuing to challenge stereotypes and drive inclusion, the future is bright despite the challenges.

If I have one concern it is about the ability of the whole of the UK to benefit fully from digital skills and transformation. COVID-19 has highlighted the issue of digital poverty and literacy, with many households struggling with access to the internet and technology during the lockdown. This must be rectified, especially as it is often women who are bearing the brunt of home-schooling during the lockdown.