As a woman, can you really expect to make a success of a career in technology? Given that only 15 per cent of tech roles in the UK are held by women, it might seem daunting, but it’s worth remembering that some of the industry’s biggest stars – Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, Susan Wojcicki and Meg Whitman – have managed to do it anyway. In addition, the shortage of women in tech is largely about girls feeling uncomfortable taking STEM subjects at school rather than about discrimination in the industry itself. If you have the ambition and you’ve got the right educational background or are prepared to study further as needed, there is no reason why you shouldn’t find success.
Making way for women
Not only is the industry generally more relaxed about gender than it might seem, it is also making achive efforts to reach out to women and encourage more female participation. Programmes like Girls Who Code are trying to tackle the problem early on by encouraging girls to pursue the education they want instead of one their peers say is more socially acceptable.
Google, Apple, Facebook and Intel have all pledged to do more to help women advance in tech careers and have made changes like allowing for more flexible working, which is particularly helpful to women because they are still much more likely than men to have care responsibilities at home. The pay difference between men and women in tech jobs is already lower than it is in many other industries, and salaries are comparatively high, so these opportunities are well worth taking advantage of.
When you’re first starting out, one of the easiest careers to get into is web design because you can study and practice at home before trying to market your skills. If you find that you have a gift for it, there are endless opportunities. You can choose to freelance, either alone or through an agency, or you can seek employment with a company specialising in this area. It is essential to keep learning and stay up-to-date in a field where things are always changing.
Almost every company needs help with IT from time to time, but many can’t afford to take on a full-time IT person or don’t have the capacity within their IT departments to deal with any unusual issues that arise. The best way to make a success of a career like this is to develop niche skills and network extensively so people are aware of your expertise. Using an umbrella company means you can get help with IR35 and similar contracting obligations so you can focus on your work.
Whether it’s international espionage and sabotage or corporate shenanigans, cybercrime is on the rise, and that means that there are increasing opportunities for people who specialise in cybersecurity. Most of this work is done through specialist companies and focuses on problem solving, identifying vulnerabilities in systems, and developing solutions, but there is also fieldwork involved. This role often entails visiting companies with problems to identify what has gone wrong or install new security systems.
If you’re interested in developing more efficient and user-friendly ways for people to manage their daily lives, software engineering could be for you. Opportunities in this area are numerous and diverse. It is useful to be flexible early on, but successful careers are generally built around developing specialities. The big names in the industry are always on the lookout for skilled software engineers, and you can demonstrate your skills by contributing to the Open Source movement.
If there is one area of the industry where women worry most that they won’t fit in, it is game design. Computer gaming has traditionally been viewed as a male pursuit, but fact research shows that 52 per cent of gamers are women, and that means that female designers may have the edge when it comes to understanding what will be a hit. There are lots of small game design companies out there. While it may not be the highest-paying segment of the industry, if your game does well, you could reap enormous rewards.
There is currently a significant shortfall in the number of suitably qualified people pursuing tech sector jobs, and it is believed that getting more women into the industry to fill this gap could be worth as much as £2.6bn a year to the UK economy. This means that the support expressed for women isn’t just about people trying to sound socially progressive; they’re really motivated to bring about change. Could you be one of the women to benefit from that?