A look at how the pandemic exacerbated the gender gap and existing inequalities — and the ways that women in tech are paving the way forward.
It’s been a year-and-a-half since the announcement of the first lockdown in the UK. While experts and governments begin to design the outlines of a post-pandemic world, many researchers are looking back on the past 18 months to gain a better sense of the real impact of COVID-19.
One group of people that have been challenged by the pandemic in unique — and in some cases, devastating ways – are women in the tech industry. According to Rowena Knapp, Chief Operating Officer at Tech Nation, the pandemic has “exacerbated existing inequalities”. We’ve explored some of the latest trends and insights and spoken to women in our community to explore the real impact of COVID-19 on women in tech.
Making positive strides
There’s been progression over the past few years when it comes to awareness of the gender gap in tech — and some gains have been made towards equality in the industry. Over 2020, the number of women employed in tech has risen slightly from 20% last year, up from 17% in 2019. It’s imperative that this number continues to grow.
Studies have also shown that tech organisations are making an effort towards equal opportunities for both men and women, with 56% of female respondents agreeing that gender equality has improved in their organisation in recent years. Three-quarters of women said that their gender was less relevant than their skills and experience when interviewed — with two-thirds feeling confident that their opinion was valued in the workplace.
Ellie Marshall, Digital Project Manager at J B Cole thinks that womens’ own perceptions of how their skills benefit the industry are changing. “When it comes to the tech and digital industry, the experience required — and job roles available — these go way beyond development,” she says.
“While we do have female developers at J B Cole, other skill sets that you might not associate with tech are in high demand across the industry.”
A work-life balance?
Remote working became the new norm across industries throughout the pandemic, with 95% of women with jobs in tech working from home at least part-time since March 2020. Women in tech have reported some benefits, with 31% saying they preferred the dynamic and believed it was a more efficient way of working. Others believe it’s given them more autonomy — with another 46% agreeing that remote working between teams has been a positive step towards gender equality.
But despite many employees across industries feeling they’ve achieved a new work-life balance, a study shows that almost half (48%) of the women in tech interviewed have become stressed juggling work and family life since the pandemic began. When it came to sharing the responsibility of homeschooling with their partners, 63% of mothers working in tech agreed they’d done most of the homeschooling — while 60% said they did most of the chores since the pandemic began. In another report interviewing 203 IT professionals, almost 54% said their housework and child-caring had increased either more, or much more, than their male partners — with women disproportionately bearing the brunt of unpaid labour.
Almost half believed they’d been held back from making career changes as a result of added pressure at home.
These stats reveal how damaging the pandemic has been when it comes to progress made in the industry when it comes to gender-equality.
Sarah King, co-founder of we are radikl — a women’s start-up, accelerator and investor movement, believes there’s still a long way to go. “The evidence is clear that the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on women when it comes to work,” she says. “This additional and disproportionate responsibility directly impacts the number of hours available in the day for women int his position to work on their businesses, whilst also increasing the very real risk of burn out. The IMF has predicted that the pandemic has the potential to set women back by 30 years and yet the desire and need for financial inclusion is significant. Women have proven they’re not only creative, but resilient and driven. Despite all the above, we’ve seen an increase in women starting businesses – a growth from 1 in 8 to 1 in 4, since 2019. This shows that there’s a growing need for support – not just financial, but emotional and practical support too.”
Alongside co-founder Claire Dunn, Sarah has recently launched the #overbeingunderfunded campaign through we are radikl to raise more awareness around the inequality that exists, while fighting for better support for women in entrepreneurship. “We recognise that women are just as deserving, just as capable as men when it comes to business,” says Sarah. “Yet, we were frustrated by the lack of support for women in entrepreneurship and investment. Women desire connection and the chance to build valuable networks, they want the ability to build know-how and have access to inspiration that fuels confidence to make business decisions necessary to grow, and they want equal opportunities to scale and access investment.”
Community building online
The strengthening of online communications over the past 18 months has led to the creation of some incredible communities making room in the industry for important conversations around diversity and equality in tech. Ladies in DevOps, launched by in April 2021 by Pauline Narvas, Senior Community Engineer at Gitpod, now has over 400 members. Pauline created the community after recognising a need for a space for self-identifying women to get together and talk about their experiences in DevOps and connect.
“There’s not enough women in tech compared to men in general — but there’s even less in specific areas of tech like DevOps,” says Pauline. “This space is really exciting but it can also be very daunting if you’re a woman; especially if you’re from a different ethnic background. It can be quite isolating.”
Pauline describes Ladies in DevOps as a safe space for self-identifying women to talk about how they’re feeling, the issues they’re facing in a male dominated industry — a place to share frustrations, as well as achievements, and connect with one another and learn. She’s begun to create sub-communities within Ladies of DevOps to be as inclusive as possible.
“It’s a known fact that white women have more opportunities than women of colour,” says Pauline. “We’ve created different sub-communities to begin creating even safer spaces for black women, for LGBTQ individuals, for disabled individuals — so that everyone can feel welcomed, included and catered to. It brings me so much joy knowing that we’ve created this platform where people are already connecting with one another. And off the back of a conversation we’ve had on our channels maybe someone’s been led to an awesome opportunity or a different idea that’s helped them debug a problem they might be having at work.
She adds: “Allowing people to be 100% themselves and shine, is just lovely — and the response has been so positive.”
FreelanceHER100 was launched in November 2020 by IN4 Group with Salford-based technology hub HOST. The accelerator’s mission was to empower women to launch their own freelance businesses across the media, digital, technology and creative sectors. The fully-funded ground breaking accelerator was aimed to help kick-start and support the freelance careers of 100 women. Naomi Timperley, co-founder of Tech North Advocates is the programme director that lead the initiative.
“It was an incredible programme to be involved in,” says Naomi. “It was it was delivered entirely online as a flexible programme because we were acutely aware that some of them were still in full-time jobs making their transition into freelance, some had carer responsibilities and others were building their freelance careers around the programme. Naomi is well known in the UK’s tech scene as co-founder of Tech North Advocates, a support system for helping start-ups and scale-ups with promotion, investment, and new talent. She was also named in the Computer Weekly Most Influential Women in UK Technology 2020 top 50 list.
“Women have a unique set of skills that enable them to be fantastic entrepreneurs and freelancers — skills like emotional intelligence, the ability to multitask, adaptability, relationship-building, creativity and many more. We’re bringing together those that took part in the accelerator together as part of a celebration in July. The women have a some incredible stories to share and this experience has created many bonds and friendships —there was a real sense of community within the group.”
The FreelanceHER 100 programme specifically focused on women for whom COVID has resulted in a career break and now a catalyst to entrepreneurship, as well mothers seeking to return to economic activity and also encourage applicants from the BAME community. FreelanceHER100 is hoping to run future programmes and want to impact 1000 women. Initiatives like Ladies in DevOps and FreelanceHER 100 are providing a valuable — and needed — communities online, and as lockdowns begin to lift, in-person; generating real change across the industry and encouraging more women to consider a career in tech.
This article was originally published in Issue 04 of The Colectiv. To read the issue in full, click here.