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How to support women in software development careers

23 Mar 2022

Hays’ Juliann Deegan and Alfie Whattam explore the ways in which companies can ensure there is gender diversity within their software development teams.

The need for tech solutions has never been greater. A growing sector has been accelerated even further by events in recent years, and developers are in high demand as companies across all industries try to meet the needs of the modern world.

However, despite the progress that the tech sector is experiencing, there are still huge strides that can and need to be made, particularly when it comes to women working in software development.

Across the global software development market, the significant majority of individuals are male, perhaps accounting for more than 91pc of the overall workforce.

To look at how organisations can make progress in their equality, diversity and inclusion journeys and support women in technology, we asked recruitment specialists to share their insight, stories and advice on balancing the scales.

Students look elsewhere for role models

A report last year in Poland revealed that, of the women working in the country’s IT sector, a third were in developer roles – more than any other field in tech. However, the same report uncovered that more than half of women in tech did not graduate in a related field, with a third entering after extracurricular studies and courses.

Recent graduates are a core audience and investing in these candidates can yield a greater chance of retaining them, as they’ll build loyalty to your organisation.

Partnering with universities and colleges and attending career fairs is a great way to engage with future talent by building face-to-face connections. This can help persuade them to join your organisation as you can showcase the company culture and answer any questions they may have on the spot.

Jane Bamford, EMEA director for Hays Technology, said: “For some reason, considerably fewer women opt for STEM university degrees than men. There needs to be more education/awareness of roles in tech and software development specifically for kids who are in the final years at school.

“Especially bearing in mind the huge shortage of candidates in software development generally, we need to make them aware of the options and the ways they can train up to become a software developer. We need to showcase women software developers as role models, to inspire others to do the same.”

Joshua Taylor, who specialises in recruiting front-end developers for Hays Technology, noted: “If we look back across history, women have played an extraordinary role in some of our greatest technology advancements. Take Joan Clarke, the famous Bletchley Park mathematician who helped develop one of the first known computers used to break the Enigma code in World War II.”

The problem facing organisations is how to tap into that undiscovered and unfulfilled talent.

Click here to check out more on the Hays Technology blog.

What are organisations already doing to address this?

Through our conversations with various technology leaders, we have already seen many organisations take specific actions to build out more gender-diverse teams. For example, Bamford reported that one major company in the communications sector in Hungary has set a KPI to recruit women in at least a quarter of their software development positions.

Freddie Andrews, who recruits for Java engineers at Hays UK, said: “One client we are working with now has a new policy where, in order for them to hire a software developer, they must have at least one female applicant within the interview process. Since implementing this new process, the feedback has been very positive.”

Harry Tingle, Hays Technology recruitment consultant, recently had a similar situation. “One of our clients, a global leader in investment banking, has now included a new diversity step into their recruitment process. In their final interview, they now ensure they have representation from both ethnically and gender diverse backgrounds on the interview panel to ensure the company makes the best decision.”

What else can organisations do?

Is this enough or are there more avenues for companies to explore? Rob Beckley, ANZ director for Hays Technology, has several suggestions. “In Australia and New Zealand, like the rest of the world, software development remains a male-dominated space. At the same time, we’re experiencing one of the most acute skills shortages we’ve seen. Attracting female talent into software development can help address this gap.

“To find more candidates, engage with local tech communities. In Australia and New Zealand, meet-up events and industry associations grow and support female tech talent through mentoring programmes, bootcamps and workshops. Organisations can support these grassroots activities and build a reputation as an employer of choice.

“Speak to your existing female software developers to ensure they are engaged and satisfied. Highlight what successful female software developers like best about working for you and what you can offer other potential employees and identify areas to improve retention. I’d also recommend using gender-neutral language to rewrite your job descriptions and career pages – even if it’s subtle. Set targets, such as two female candidates per shortlist, and select a gender-diverse interview panel.”

Bamford advised: “Companies also need to be aware of diversity and its importance to having a high-performing team. Women are less likely to apply for a job if they feel that they do not fulfil all of the criteria on the job description than men – so companies should have this in mind when advertising roles and when looking through applications.”

Diversity initiatives that have policies for women are beneficial. Our equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) report in the US revealed that organisations are taking steps to retain a diverse workforce by offering training for managers, providing inclusive programmes for career development and communicating ED&I initiatives to their business.

By Juliann Deegan and Alfie Whattam

Juliann Deegan is the business director of digital technology at Hays. Alfie Whattam is the UK and Ireland lead for Hays software development recruitment. A version of this article previously appeared on the Hays Technology blog.

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