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Breaking the binary barrier & paving the path for women in tech

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ARTICLE SUMMARY

Liv Quickenden, Academy Consultant at Ten10, delves into the need for alternative pathways into tech careers for women, emphasising the role of schools in encouraging girls to pursue STEM subjects. Liv shares her journey from a biology degree to becoming a Test Automation specialist, advocating for a diverse and inclusive tech culture.

Liv Quickenden, Academy Consultant at Ten10, explores the necessity for alternative pathways for tech careers for women, and how it will support diversity in the sector. 

Liv is a Consultant 3 at IT consultancy Ten10. After graduating with a degree in biology in 2020, Liv then looked to pursue a career in tech, which was difficult without a STEM background. Liv then applied to the Ten10 Academy where she was trained as a junior consultant for 2 years, across business analysis, development, Java and other programming languages. Liv’s specialises in Test Automation.

Women in tech – a subject that seems to be beaten to death.

Yet, despite numerous efforts to encourage more women into the industry, we still seem to be struggling with representation – why? 

The benefits of inclusivity have been well lauded, and in the Women in Tech 2023 survey, they found that an overwhelming 90% of people believe that the tech sector would benefit from a gender equal workforce. When we consider that only one in 10 UK workers possess digital skills right now, this is an issue that should be top priority for businesses across the UK. 

Ultimately, the problem is systemic, with no quick fix, and currently not enough has been done to unpick the problem. Through my own journey into tech, I’ve experienced first-hand both the internal and external barriers that women face, and it takes a long-term, multi-layered approach. 

It Starts in Our Schools 

Let’s go back to the beginning. From when they start formal education, girls are often discouraged from pursuing technical subjects, like science and maths. They’re often seen as ‘male domains’, which is reinforced through language. When we picture engineers or scientists, they’re often associated with male pronouns and imagery. 

This early conditioning has a huge effect, and schools have a vital role to play by ensuring computer science, engineering, and maths curriculums equally engage girls and boys. Bringing in female guest speakers working in STEM fields, for example, and initiatives like GirlTech, which Ten10 gets involved with, can help inspire female students to consider a prospective career in tech. 

This lack of initial opportunity then filters down to higher education. Only 35% of those who take STEM subjects at university are women, although that number is rising. I studied biology at university, specializing in Zoology, but had very little prior knowledge of the tech industry. I took some modules with mostly male computer science students, who made up 98% of the group. Not seeing other women well-represented made tech feel exclusionary. When you don’t see people like yourself thriving in a field, it sends the signal that you don’t belong, even if unconsciously. 

Lowering Barriers and Empowering Women 

When women do enter the industry, they’re often met with a culture that doesn’t fully welcome or support them. A recent survey of nearly 1,500 workers in tech found that a “tech bro” work culture of sexism forced more than 40% of women in the sector to think about leaving their role at least once a week. 

To truly empower women, the tech industry needs to radically transform its culture. This starts with diversity and inclusion training and establishing clear policies against discrimination. But it also requires giving women an equal seat at the table, actively soliciting their input, and appointing women to management and leadership roles. Mentorship programs, women’s networks, and events that celebrate women in tech are also critical for retaining and uplifting female talent. 

After graduation, like many students, I was sifting through careers websites, desperately trying to find a job that aligned with my degree. I loved the coding aspect of the project and wanted to try and pursue a career in tech, but so many jobs automatically required a STEM degree, which I didn’t have. The only job advert I saw that didn’t require a STEM background was the Ten10 Academy, which is a tech training academy that provides their clients with trained tech specialists. 

The recruitment process at Ten10 is drastically different from many other tech roles. They not only do not use any coded gendered language, like “rockstar developer” or “sports-minded,” but they actively seek diversity and a range of backgrounds. I was appointed a female wellbeing manager, who helped coach me throughout my training. That mentorship is crucial, especially for women in tech. My manager continuously encouraged me throughout the process, even when I doubted myself. 

The importance of female representation cannot be overstated – a study by McKinsey & Company found that women who have female mentors are more likely to ascend to leadership positions, with 59% of C-suite women reporting they have had a female mentor at some point in their careers. 

Inclusivity means Flexibility 

The last few years have highlighted how possible and effective flexible working is and its impact on accessibility for women. 

The timing of having children often collides with when women are hitting their stride professionally. The Tech Talent Charter found that nearly 40% of women say that caring commitments influenced their decision to leave their tech job. They’re often faced with sacrificing their hard-won career advancements because of the archaic perception that to be a great leader, you must be chained to your desk in the office from 8 am until 7 pm five days a week when we know that isn’t the case anymore. 

We’re seeing a huge loss of talent and leadership. The tech industry has the chance to lead by example in flexible work arrangements. Things like offering flexible schedules and partial remote options can be transformative for women’s careers. The future success and innovation of the tech industry depends on diversity of thought, and that means including women at all stages of their careers.   The path forward is clear – the tech industry must take tangible steps to dismantle barriers for women starting from an early age, but also consistently throughout our career journeys.  Businesses that take bold action today to advance women in tech will reap the rewards of innovation and prosperity tomorrow. 

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