Ada Scotland Employer Breakfast Takeaways – Thursday 5 October 2023

This breakfast event brought together tech, business and HR leaders from diverse but tech-driven organisations to explore the challenges and solutions to recruiting and retaining talent with gender in mind. Discussion was led by the tech and HR leads at Smarter Grid Solutions and Equator

Nicola Menzies and Catherine McNeil at Smarter Grid Solutions
Carole Logan and Alena Kovina at Equator

Recruitment – mindset challenges to address:

  • It was acknowledged that the ambition to improve gender diversity is there from the top down but the route to achieving that is not always clear
  • “we are sitting at the back waiting for them (women) to come through the door”
  • “we thought apprenticeships was an opportunity to move the dial”
  • Don’t just focus on CS grads. Career changers and other study disciplines are equally able to be successful in this space. We need more role models to reach this cohort
  • When the tone comes from the top the intent is clear and activity occurs
  • Change the language = “problem solvers” rather than “coders”

Recruitment Challenges at an Education level:

  • The CS curriculum is not exciting and should focus more on innovation
  • We still compete against more understood professions such as law and medicine
  • We need to make the career benefits understood (also to parents) and the message cool to kids
  • Go and do STEAM events and offer practical activities; bring Tech to life!  It’s Tech – it’s cool and it’s exciting; work out how we can show this off!  Use marketing teams to help
  • Should we think about getting into primary schools so that we can get younger females interested at an early age before any peer pressure starts
  • One  Employer spoke about how they start by asking young pupils what their favourite subject is and then demonstrate how every subject / field needs Tech!

How to engage with schools and colleges:

  • You need to bring it to life. Hands on activities over talks
  • Undo the image of the stereotype. It isn’t just boys in hoodies.
  • Call it tech not CS. They conjure different images and tech is more inclusive
  • There was debate over leading with the money angle. However it is well documented that men advocate for higher salaries much more successfully than women so get them talking about money from a young age makes sense (teenagers are not shy about talking about money)

Advocating for female colleagues to improve retention:

  • Women in the work place do have different challenges. One example given was training staff on issues such as: menopause; mental load; assertiveness; how do you spot micro-aggressions
  • Allyship is so important and should be signposted and encouraged
  • Ensure everyone has a voice in a project. It might slow things down but leads to a better end result and ensure all colleagues are engaged/seen/heard
  • Women need to support other women
  • Flexibility is often key for women who, even post pandemic, remain the main care givers across their family
  • Sometimes it is the small actions that make the big difference, such as senior team members or men signposting talent and acknowledging communication mis-steps
  • One employer noted that confidence was highlighted as the biggest challenge women stated they faced in the workplace. Be sure of the challenge and take steps to address it
  • Look for untapped talent within the company. Re-training for a different role and making it clear this is a welcome route will improve retention
  • Career progression/ career roadmaps – encourage people in the organization to be flexible; they can try their hand at anything!
  • One Company offers “innovation time” over lunch wth access to training sites and they have a female recruiter doing a coding course; it’s accessible! And might therefore encourage some interest to existing employees
  • Is confidence a key barrier?  How can we help women be more confident?
  • Imposter syndrome – this can be an issue for men and women, so we should be careful not to make this just a female thing
  • Allowing flexibility is key; one Employer spoke about the requirements that their customer have for people working on their sites to be physically present from start to finish each day and this could be a deterrent to women (and men) who might have childcare to consider
  • Personal branding and self-promotion is important
  • Eradicate microaggression in the workplace; how can we learn to spot this and challenge it appropriately?
  • Stick up for the female technologists in your organization!  “No!  She is the expert here!”
  • How can men and women be proper “allies” of women?  What are some ideas?
  • One Employer has courses that help people in their Company understand the benefits of a healthy gender balance in the workplace
  • Help women in the workplace get mentors!  Mentors can offer a safe and confidential space to speak about challenges and experiences
  • Help improve line manager capability -great line managers can really support women!
  • Get female employees along to be involved in external groups like Ladies of Code

A few other ideas (not mentioned during discussion)

  • Could Employers specifically target any female only groups (or sports teams) at colleges / universities
  • Could Employers “host” visits for school kids at their locations? Show them anything exciting? ; use female role models to speak/ host visits and get girls engaged?
  • Recognise International Women’s Day (and any other special days in the calendar)
  • Actively recruit for women into vacancies to improve diversity (can do this in tie-breaker situations as long as it is positive action , not positive discrimination)
  • Set up an internal women’s group
  • Get involved in any external women’s groups (SWIB – Scottish Women in Business)
  • Share information within the Company about relevant issues and “cause disruption to the establishment!” (Understanding and celebrating gender diversity / The Motherhood Penalty / Imposter Syndrome / Role Models / Women in Tech)
  • Get key women to attend conferences/ webinars and impart learning to others – “Women of Silicon Valley”
  • Are there opportunities to promote women into senior roles and get women on your Board?
  • Help women identify any particular learning and development gaps and identify suitable interventions that will address these (confidence/ assertiveness / not taking things personally)
  • TedTalks where relevant and useful topics are explored
  • Recruitment / careers fayres – be on the look-out for women!

Notes courtesy of Nicola Menzies of Smarter Grid Solutions and Anna Doyle of UofG / Ada Scotland