For women interested in tech careers, the industry has much to offer them, and people from all backgrounds have much to offer the industry.
While there has undoubtedly been progress in closing the tech sector’s gender gap, even compared to just five or ten years ago, a recent report warned that the UK tech companies still suffer from wide inequalities. Currently, only around 19% of UK technical roles are held by women.
With women still only accounting for around 35% of students, and less than 20% in computing science and engineering, they all too frequently drop out of the industry as they move through their careers.
As such, initiatives to encourage women are vital – increasing the number of girls studying technical subjects, keeping them on course, and bringing women with non-technical skills into the tech industry.
To learn more, DIGIT spoke with the Head of CGI in Scotland Lindsay McGranaghan to find out about her tech journey and how women from all backgrounds can benefit the tech sector.
Rather than studying a technical subject, McGranaghan studied English literature at university. From there, she moved into tech via a company’s graduate scheme, and eventually joined international IT and business consulting company CGI.
In October 2019, she was promoted to become the business unit leader for Scotland, heading up the company’s operations in the country.
While a lack of technical knowledge may be thought of as a hindrance to a tech career, McGranaghan sees it as an advantage
“You can think not having technical knowledge and experience is a drawback, but that’s how you get real diverse thinking. Not being able to go into the nuts and bolts of a technical solution gives me a clarity that perhaps some of my colleagues don’t. Because I can’t get into the details, I can see the route to solving a problem,” she explained.
“It takes a collection of backgrounds and experiences and diverse thought to be able to build a solution – nobody needs a bunch of clones.”
By working at a tech-focused company, exposure to IT subjects means that McGranaghan has naturally gained some technical knowledge.
To build these skills, many tech companies provide training. CGI offers a series of boot camps in newer or in-demand skills. That means that while technical skills are important, people can gain them at all stages of their career.
“Tech moves so quickly that you need to evolve and enhance your skills all the time. As soon as you learn stuff, there’s a new piece of tech coming downstream that we need to train people on, so all tech companies put huge investment into their L&D programmes.
“So don’t be limited by the fact that you don’t have a tech background,” she said.
Despite the slow pace of change, the gender divide is closing. Importantly, as more women enter the tech sector, it can have a snowball effect as their example encourages other women.
“I am definitely seeing a shift of having good senior female role models for people to live up to, and I think that is hugely important,” she said.
“One of the reasons I’ve been able to achieve what I’ve achieved is that I was fortunate enough to work with senior females. By virtue of that, I thought it was normal that females in IT are very senior and well respected at the board level.
“The more that we can have positive senior female role models, the more accessible and normalised it becomes.”
As such, exposing women to tech roles early is important to start them on their careers. However, this can be an uphill struggle, as gender-based attitudes to tech can become ingrained at an early age.
As part of its outreach programmes, CGI does workshops with school children to promote IT skills.
“What we notice, especially with primary-aged children, is that when there are girls and boys in the class, the boys dominate because it’s IT and that’s computer games and robots – that’s all the stuff that boys would normally like,” McGranaghan said.
“What we’ve found is by separating the two, the girls really come to life. When we have just the girls, they’re much more vocal, pushier, much more so than in a mixed group. Divorcing the two gives the girls the opportunity to shine and learn and step forward and actually makes a real difference in our experience.”
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By breaking down these gender roles early, they can be stopped from taking root. While there are many systematic barriers that need broken down, unconscious bias in many aspiring female tech workers can hold them back, limiting their ambition or even discouraging them from entering the field.
“A lot of females think they need to be able to do everything on a job spec before they apply for a job. It’s important to give women the confidence to go for the job, knowing that they don’t need to be 100% perfect,” McGranaghan said.
“And sometimes you have to be a bit more forceful and tell the individual what they are actually capable of because they sometimes put a glass ceiling on themselves.”
While internalised attitudes are a problem, there are also systematic barriers that need broken down. These can be subtle – a recent study found that even the language used in job postings can put women off of applying for jobs they are qualified for.
“We do a lot of work around unconscious bias when interviewing folks because you can put forward a position that may turn people off to particular roles,” McGranaghan said.
“There’s a responsibility in the company to look at things like the gender pay gap, which we take very seriously within CGI. So, there is definitely a responsibility for the individual, but equally on the organisation to make sure that we’re supporting and nurturing that talent in an equal way.”
For companies that embrace diversity in a genuine way, bringing in different people from different backgrounds, with different experiences and mindsets, helps expand the insights that go into their offerings.
“If we’re developing an application for people to use across Glasgow and Edinburgh and the Borders, we need diverse people to develop that application,” McGranaghan said.
“The diversity case, both from a female perspective, but also in terms of diverse thinking, there’s a propensity to get obsessed with percentages. That is definitely part of the journey, but it’s quite a superficial part of the journey.
“For me, it’s actually having that diverse thought in the organisation to make sure that when you’re coming at a problem, you’re coming at it from all angles and perspectives.”
As such, promoting genuine diversity in a company can be difficult. As the slow pace of progress shows, it can be a long journey.
“It takes a lot of hard work,” McGranaghan said. “It doesn’t happen overnight, particularly in IT. We’ve got a big journey to go on, so don’t go into it half hearted – if you’re going to do this then it’s going to require a lot of effort and investment.
“You need to think about everything from your promotion strategy to your talent management to your succession planning to your recruitment strategy. And you absolutely have to recognise the kind of systemic change that needs to happen to create a different outcome.”
While for individual women, knowing what they can bring to a role, and what they can achieve is important to getting the most out of a tech career. With diversity benefitting companies, no matter the experience or background, a career in tech is viable for everyone.
“Do not limit yourself with artificial glass ceilings that you put on yourself. I think a lot of people limit themselves, and they limit their potential. And I guess, through my experience, you really don’t need to – you can do amazing things that you didn’t even know you were capable of.”