Susan Bowen, Vice President & General Manager, EMEA, Cogeco Peer 1

You don’t have to look very hard to see that despite the promise of technology and the digital economy, diversity in the IT industry remains a problem. The number of female executives in digital roles in the UK has remained static at around 14 per cent over the past few years, below the 17 per cent of women that make up the digital workforce.

At Cogeco Peer 1 I’m pleased to say that we’re making progress, with women making up 25 per cent of the organisation in EMEA. However, as a senior woman in the tech sector, I know that more needs to be done to encourage not just women, but also other minorities, to join and remain in the industry.

There are steps we can take to address the challenge at both ends of the pipeline; the attraction and recruitment stages, through to promotion and retention.

We’re already starting to see progress at the attraction stage, with initiatives from groups representing women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) raising the profile of the industry particularly amongst girls and young women. The number of students studying GCSE Computing in 2016 has risen by 76 per cent, one in five of which was female, a 12 per cent increase on the previous year.

We should also continue to challenge ourselves on diversity in interviews; especially for technical roles, which are often less attractive to females. A lot of the language used in the IT industry can be intimidating, which is why job adverts should be reviewed with this in mind.

We also need to acknowledge and address the unconscious bias in the recruitment process. One good way of doing that is to ask for blind CVs, where the applicant’s name and gender is hidden from recruiters and so they have to pick candidates on merit alone. I am also aware of other alternative ways of recruiting, for example, Arctic Shores designs innovative games-based psychometric assessments, in order to ensure objectivity, accuracy and fairness in the recruitment process.

At the other end of the pipeline, we have to help individuals, whatever their background, gender or physical ability, to progress through organisations. We need to create an environment whereby the tech industry is considered an accessible workplace for women at all ages and all stages in their careers. For example, we all know that there’s a problem with women returning to work after taking time out to have children, while older employees often need time out to care for ageing parents. Taking a career break should be considered a healthy decision and employers should harness the attitudes of those who do it and make it easy to come back to the industry. Especially given the fast changing pace of change.

This excitement brings new opportunities but sadly, diversity and the attractiveness of the tech industry and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) remain a challenge. It’s in all our interests to make sure the tech industry is welcoming to everyone – women, minorities, the disabled – otherwise we miss out on their talent. And in the competitive market we all work in, none of us can afford to discourage talented people.

Recently, we were joined by digital industry leaders, to discuss how we can make the industry more attractive for everyone. Watch the latest video here