In the technology industry, only 5% of leadership positions are held by women. In industries across the board, there are more CEOs of large US companies who are named John than there are CEOs who are women. Although the latter may sound like a fun ice breaker to use during your next networking session, both statistics prove that the gender skills gap is real. And it's a problem.
Women are underrepresented in the workforce. While some countries are edging toward a 50-50 division, women in Asia are on average still 70% less likely than men to even be in the labour force, let alone in senior positions.
The tech industry faces one of the biggest gender skills gaps. A recent study by Paysa looked at 62 early-stage companies and 1,143 jobs in the technology industry with a C-level or founder title. It found that when it comes to tech jobs, women only make up and average of 26% of the workforce. Additionally, of the more than 1,000 job titles the study looked at, women only dominate the field in 5% of positions - including executive assistants and VP of human resources.
InterestLooking at these figures, it's safe to say that men currently have the upper hand in the tech industry. But studies suggest that this underrepresentation of women isn't due to a lack of interest. Girls Who Code reports that about 74% of young girls express interest in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and computer science. Yet only 18% of undergraduate computer science degrees are held by women, which then leads to them filling a mere 26% of computing jobs.
As data on the gender skills gap become more clear, an increasing amount of companies are talking and thinking about gender equality in their workplace. While gender equality may sound like something that would be on a feminist agenda, the gender skills gap is as much a business issue as it is a social one.
Research conducted by Accenture in collaboration with Girls Who Code shows there were 500,000 new computing jobs to be filled in the US last year, but fewer than 40,000 new computer science graduates. In that same year, women made up only 24% of the computing workforce, a number expected to decline over the next 10 years unless action is taken now.
Talent pool"The tech industry's skills gap means employers may have trouble finding qualified candidates to fill top jobs", a Paysa spokesperson told Human Resources magazine in an email. "That’s why it’s important to address the training gap early on, so all workers, regardless of gender or ethnicity, have the necessary skills to compete for those high-paying roles."
They added: "While there’s still a lot of work to be done in closing the skill and wage gaps, employers can do their part by having robust skill training programmes that are available to all workers."
When asked for comment on the issue in Hong Kong, a spokesperson from The Women's Foundation summarised: "Simply put, without gender diversity in the science and technology industries, we will not have the cognitive and creative skills needed for Hong Kong to compete globally."
Aside from creating a larger talent pool for companies to recruit from, closing the gender skills gap could deliver a significant contribution to any country's economy. A 2015 report by the Asian Development Bank suggest that closing the gender gap could generate a 30% increase in the per capita income of a hypothetical average Asian economy in one generation.
ActionIn order to have a shot at closing the gender skills gap and tapping into the potential of talented women, companies need to take action now. According to The Women's Foundation, companies can do more to ensure that HR policies and practices are viewed through a gender lens and interventions are in place to address unconscious gender bias at every stage of the employee life-cycle.
And although educating current staff and improving policies can help, the organisation agrees with research by Accenture and Girls Who Code that suggests it's best to start early.
Companies can help guide the next generation of women into the workforce, and the tech industry specifically, by inspiring young women through the use of role models, courses, and summer immersion programmes.
Collaborating with schools, governements and not-for-profits to spark interest and sustain engagement throughout high school, and inspire a career after university is the best way to help nurture the next generation of talented future employees.
Photo / 123RF