by Edward Qualtrough

Tackling gender inequality in tech industry from boardroom to the classroom

Sep 19, 20145 mins
IT Leadership

Women are woefully underrepresented at senior levels in start-up and innovation technology companies. Research from the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) this summer found fewer than half of organisations in innovation hubs around the world had even one woman in a board of director or C-level position.

The situation on the customer side isn’t significantly better. Our own CIO 100 published in April was only 7% female, while Gartner reported a global female CIO percentage of 14% in May – a number it said had remained largely static since 2004. The Department for Business Innovation & Skills reported in March 2014 women made up 20.7% of board directors at companies listed on the FTSE 100 index – falling to 15.6% for FTSE 250 directors.

Moving away from boards for a moment, the technology industry has seemingly always been ready with the excuse that not enough women are entering the profession due to poor take up of STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] subjects by girls at secondary and tertiary education level, despite those that do consistently outperforming boys.

But that should improve as the perception of the technology and innovation industries changes, according to Intel CIO Kim Stevenson and SVB’s first female managing director in the UK, Erin Lockwood (top image), who helps the US bank work with young tech companies from the very early stages through their innovation and growth.

Innovation opportunities

Lockwood said: “When we look at our accelerator early stage clients, the number of women CEOs is very small, even when it comes to women on management teams. And from what we’ve seen, the numbers involved in start-ups are even lower than those doing computer science degrees.

“A lot of the success stories are created and led by a certain type of person. But we are seeing the numbers get better and better, but that rate of change we would all like to see increased.”

And it’s an image change about what a job in technology really entails that American Lockwood believes will lead to greater diversity.

“Now the interest in innovation is huge,” she said. “I definitely think there is an opportunity to educate young people that a career in innovation can mean so many different things.

“It doesn’t mean that you’re going to go and sit by a desk in a dark room and code. It means you can work for a software or hardware business, eCommerce or mobile business. There are so many applications and opportunities for working in really cool innovative businesses.

“It wasn’t necessarily a man-versus-woman problem, but there was potentially a historic image that coding was boring – and who wants to do that? Education about opportunities in the sector should get people more open to getting involved in start-ups or joining innovation businesses.”


Stevenson, Intel’s Chief Information Officer and corporate vice president who sits on the boards of both Cloudera and Riverbed, believes organisations should focus on how to improve rather than the trite topic of why diversity is a good thing.

“We shouldn’t really need to focus on why it’s important having a diverse workforce; diverse teams produce better results and that can be diversity in gender, skillset, or culture,” she said. “It creates a better understanding of who the ultimate end-customer will be.

“And while there is some legitimacy in how youthful the industry and tech professions are we should really not focus on excuses, we should focus on what we do about it and create solutions.

“At Intel we are very focused about diversity, about asking what we are doing to ensure we have a pipeline and workforce and a set of leaders that are diverse by nature. And I think we are slightly better than some of the tech industry but not satisfied by any stretch of the imagination.

“Some of the more interesting things we’re doing is bringing technology to young women, trying to help young women in all parts of the world. It’s not everywhere that women even get to go to school.”

Increasing GCSE Computing take-up

Employers are particularly concerned they are missing out on half the talent pool, a situation which will only be exacerbated with forecasts that employment in the technology sector will grow four times faster than in the economy overall for the next decade.

And when considering last month’s GCSE results, a number of industry figures suggested it was the disconnect of take up at this level that was fuelling the problem.

Indeed, while 97,000 people sat the ICT GCSE this year, some 17,000 took the more technically demanding and newer Computing course, but only 15% of these were female students. Over half of these (50.4%) achieved the top three grades compared to just 43.8% of boys. When it came to the coveted A* grades, girls outperformed boys by 8.6% to 6%.

Jenny Taylor, IBM UK Foundation Manager, said: “It is essential that the curriculum in school is inspiring and attractive to girls and covers the knowledge and skills students need in a lively, real world context. Employers working together with schools and exam boards to achieve this is the key to transforming uptake, and addressing the gender imbalance by encouraging a much higher proportion of girls into high quality careers in a rapidly growing market.

“Getting more girls excited about technology is one of our top priorities,” Taylor added.

Mentoring and networking

Capgemini’s senior vice president of HR, Ann Brown, said: “Girls make up half of every cohort, but a disappointingly low number go on to further tech education.

“If IT qualifications don’t attract young people, and particularly women, the task of recruitment is made doubly hard.”

For those that do enter the industry, SVB’s Lockwood insists that mentoring and networking are crucial to ensuring young people, and women in particular, are able to thrive.

“There are barriers, and there is an obligation on all of us to mentor younger generations,” Lockwood said.

“And to get a larger number of women in innovation businesses or the technology sector we’ve got to network; we’ve got to get ourselves out there.”