Why we need to close the tech gender gap

We urgently need to fill the tech pipeline with more women. Here's why - and how.

by Elaine Bucknor
Last Updated: 27 Jun 2019

Technology has become second nature to many of us and, in the last decade, it has transformed the way we live, work and communicate.

The UK technology industry is a jewel in our economic crown with three new unicorn companies (valued at $1bn or more) created in the UK over the past year, bringing the national total up to 72

However, as a female leader in technology, I’m still seen as "unusual". According to PwC only 5 per cent of leadership positions in the technology sector are held by women.

So why does this matter?

It’s simple. With a less diverse workforce, we risk a lack of variety in skill and thought, and that will have a permanent effect on the industry. To put it in context, Sky serves 23 million customers across seven countries, all with different needs and demands. We need to mirror this diversity.

It would be foolish to think that one group of people, all from roughly the same background, could understand the breadth of our customer needs and develop products to meet those desires. Our workforce – and those of other companies – need to mirror this, and women are very much part of that. As things stand, there is a shortage of female talent in the technology workforce so ensuring greater female representation in the technology industry is a challenge that all businesses must meet head-on.

We conducted some research recently and found only 20 per cent of 16-18-year-old girls will be advised to consider a career in technology, in comparison to 45 per cent of boys. We must do more to encourage girls into STEM and that’s why we’re working with local schools on a coding course to incorporate into their curriculum and sending our inspirational women into schools to talk about careers in STEM. 

Whilst we need to be filling the pipeline, it doesn’t solve the short-term problem of a lack of females applying for truly technical roles. This is why we developed Sky’s Get into Tech programme, a free 16-week software coding course for women with little or no technical experience. Over 190 women have completed the course – with over 50 being directly hired by Sky and others going onto roles elsewhere in the industry. 

And to attract more women into senior roles, we started our Returners Programme, in partnership with Women Returners. Open to men and women, we provide a six-month paid placement for anyone who has taken a career break, for two or more years. Last year, all of the seven returners were offered permanent roles at the end of their placement. We’ll be kicking off recruitment for our second intake soon.

One of the challenges I have observed throughout my career is the lack of successful role models to learn from and be inspired by. Not enough is being done to identify and nurture new talent. So, we decided to take action. Now in its second year, our Women in Technology Scholars programme offers five talented women a £25,000 bursary, to help accelerate their technology business idea. On top of financial support, they get access to Sky’s expansive technology network and resources, as well as a mentor. 

These women, from a diverse mix of ages and experience, prove that anything is possible, and I was delighted to be a part of the judging panel. I was blown away with the ingenuity of the projects which range from improving children’s cultural experiences to helping the elderly stay independent.

It’s important that programmes like this exist because they’re helping shift the dial, by demonstrating the possibilities and opportunities a career in tech can bring. It’s never too late to learn something new or pursue a passion.  

All of which means that one day eyebrows will no longer be raised when I say I work in technology. Instead the response will be: "Lucky you, it’s an exciting place to be."  

Elaine Bucknor is group director and group chief information security officer at Sky

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