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Tackling the gender gap in tech in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic

Posted: 27 Oct 2021

Tackling the gender gap in tech in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic

While the COVID-19 pandemic triggered job losses, put thousands of workers on furlough, and deepened gender divisions in the labour market, it also increased demand for high-skilled workers in sectors like technology, says EOLAS RECRUITMENT.

Demand for tech workers is currently close to an all-time high as companies push ahead on projects held back during the first wave of the pandemic, according to Eolas Recruitment Principal Consultant Stephen Daly.

Although hiring for IT roles slowed in the early months of 2020 due to fears about COVID-19 and ongoing uncertainty about Brexit, once the vaccination programme got underway this year, companies quickly started progressing the projects they had put on hold.

The HSE ransomware attack also contributed to increased demand for IT resources by heightening awareness of the need to address vulnerabilities in IT infrastructure.

Development, Project and Programme Management, Business Analysis and Security are the among the most sought after skills with both salaries and daily contracting rates reflecting this in the market.

Gender gap

In Ireland, as elsewhere, there is still a major gender gap in the technology sector. Indeed, this may have worsened during the pandemic.

Almost 80% of Irish ICT workers are male, according to data compiled by Eurostat, and with only one in five Irish computer science graduates female, the gap looks unlikely to close any time soon.

“Intervention needs to start much earlier in the education system,” says Stephen.

“Teachers need a better understanding of STEM-related careers so that they can help female students identify relevant courses and opportunities. The only way to achieve this is to engage with colleges and universities to get a proper understanding of emerging trends and the courses that are required for various careers. Unfortunately, there are still schools where this isn’t happening,” says Stephen.

So, while there has been tremendous growth in the number of  female role models in senior tech positions over the last 5-10 years, there are insufficient numbers of females embarking on tech careers and the industry continues to be overwhelmingly male.

Retaining women in tech

Attracting more women isn’t the only gender challenge facing the sector. Retaining female workers is also an issue. A Capital One Women in Technology Survey of senior women technologists in the USA who have remained in their careers for at least eight years showed that intellectually challenging work, fair compensation and flexibility to achieve work/life balance were key factors influencing their decision to stay in tech. Women who chose to leave their tech careers cited weak management support, lack of opportunity and insufficient work-life balance as the top factors in their decisions.

Leadership roles

Tech is not alone in finding gender equality at leadership level difficult to achieve. To address the issue at governance level, a Bill providing for gender quotas on company boards was recently introduced in the Dáil. It wants companies to have 33% of each gender in the boardroom within a year of commencing the legislation, and 40% within 3 years. Similar measures have already been adopted in a number of European countries.

Impact of COVID-19 pandemic

Meanwhile, across the wider labour market, various national and international reports suggest the pandemic has deepened the gender divide. In June 2021, ILO, the International Labour Organization, reported that women’s employment declined by 5% in 2020 compared to 3.9% for men and that a greater proportion of women fell out of the labour market, becoming inactive.

The European Commissions 2021 report on gender equality highlighted that women’s over-representation in sectors such as hospitality, retail and personal services meant that they were worse affected than men during the first wave of the pandemic.

In Ireland, proportionally, women were more likely to receive payments under the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) while men were more likely to receive the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS), according to a working paper on gender and COVID-19 by NESC, the National Economic and Social Council. Dr Anne-Marie McGauran, one of the author’s of the working paper, says this has implications for future employment, as those on the TWSS retain a link with their employer, which should make it easier to return to work than for those on the PUP.

Impact on working patterns

In terms of the impact of the pandemic on working patterns, an Ibec study found that almost half of respondents (48%) said more women than men had requested changes to their working patterns to facilitate caring responsibilities while 31% indicated that more female than male employees requested unpaid leave to facilitate caring responsibilities over the previous 12 months.

There is evidence, however, that both women and men experienced some positive outcomes from the changed living circumstances under Covid-19.

According to Órlaith Hennessy, co-author of the NESC working paper mentioned above, women were particularly likely to find spending more quality time with those that they live with to be a benefit while men were more likely to find a better work-life balance and reduced commuting to be beneficial.

The pandemic has been “a proof of concept of sorts”, wrote Deloitte’s Kristi Lamar and Anjali Shaikhin in a recent article on cultivating diversity, equity, and inclusion. It has shown that new ways of working are an opportunity for companies to reimagine their strategies and policies to recruit and retain women technologists.

Shifting expectations

Eolas Recruitment, too, has noticed that candidates’ expectations around household and caring responsibilities appear to be shifting.

“In the past it was often the female who took a career break or went on a 3-day week to spend time with young children but remote working and more flexible approaches to work have allowed a lot of men to experience a far richer family life,” says Stephen.

More involvement with their children’s daily schedules is enhancing the experience of fatherhood and having positive impact on men’s mental health as well as on their children and relationships.

It will take a lot more time for the full impact of the pandemic on work patterns and gender equality in the tech sector to be fully understood but it’s clear that when it comes to tackling gender divisions, there is scope for all of us to do better, including encouraging more girls to study tech-related subjects at school and college.

For students interested in pursuing a career in tech, Eolas Recruitment’s top tips are to investigate relevant courses, focus on acquiring skills that are in demand, monitor emerging trends, and when you are ready to embark on your career, make sure to register with Eolas Recruitment so that we can keep you posted on upcoming opportunities. If you already have skills and are looking to advance your career, keep an eye on our job listings and check out our informational videos and online reviews for information about how we work with candidates.

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