Digital Strategy

Why is it so difficult to get women into digital?

Laura Kemp
Laura Kemp

It’s certainly no secret that there’s a digital skills shortage in the UK, with recent government figures revealing that 72% of large companies and 49% of SMEs are suffering tech skill gaps. If it’s difficult enough to recruit candidates with the right digital skills into companies, then just how much trickier is it to recruit female candidates into the digital and creative industries? With International Women’s Day just around the corner, we’re investigating, using insight gathered from the females of our own agency.

Adele and Laura having a conversation over coffee

The facts on women in the digital space

A UK government study has revealed that a shocking quarter (26%) of those working in the digital and creative industries are female, down from 33% in 2002. Therefore, not only is the figure poor, but it’s actually falling over time.
It has been proven that mixed teams produce better results in the workplace, with a McKinsey study uncovering the fact that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform those that aren’t. We should add that this isn’t simply because of greater empathy or more caring environments (as is often thought to be the case), but because of overall creativity, productivity, and innovation. The study determined that whilst diversity doesn’t translate directly into increased profit, the benefits are much more vast – gender diverse companies have better ability to recruit top talent, improve customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making – all of which can lead to other advantages in turn.

Why is the digital industry so unbalanced when it comes to gender?

It seems that much of the perception of roles in the digital industry comes from schools. Girls aren’t subscribing to technical subjects which are otherwise dominated by men, and so it looks as though something isn’t happening at school level - and this needs review.

It seems that much of the perception of roles in the digital industry comes from schools. Girls aren’t subscribing to technical subjects which are otherwise dominated by men, and so it looks as though something isn’t happening at school level - and this needs review. We need to move away from the stereotypes of tech subjects being studied by more studious, “geeky” types, with the digital industry ultimately needing a rebrand with a focus on the incredible projects and achievements it brings.
It seems there is also an educational piece required around the industry – thanks to the dynamism of the digital sphere, there’s the possibility that many females aren’t aware of the possibilities, opportunities, and roles involved in the sector compared to some more established career paths.  
Could we also put the male domination of the industry down to a lack of female tech role models? Think of the CEOs of the tech giants - Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai, all heading up Facebook, Apple, and Google respectively. Where are the women?
With some worrying perceptions highlighted by industry publications including Digital Doughnut, it appears we have some other issues on our hands. Firstly, it seems as though the women of Generation Y are disheartened by the fact that there are more men called John in the FTSE 100 than there are women. The industry needs to work together to make this change. Secondly, one female working in the industry indicated her feeling that the more successful a woman gets, the less liked she is by her peers. Why is this the case? And how can we change it?

Therefore - is it that we can’t get enough women coding? Or do we need more women in the boardroom? Perhaps it’s even a wider issue of ensuring women are aware their careers are not restricted by childbearing?

Life in the digital industry as a female

We asked around our own agency to see how the women of Ridgeway have found their experiences of working in the digital sphere:

Front End Developer, Sara

“I used to visit my dad in the summer time and we would build computers and fix them. This caught my interest in the IT world, so when I went to college I knew I wanted to do something along those lines. It was only when I started web development that I really found my niche, so I continued by studying it at the University of Huddersfied. I loved it! So, from 16 onwards it’s been predominantly males I’ve been working with and making friends with. I’ve not really noticed the difference honestly. It’s only until you see another female developer that you kind of get all excited. We’re like unicorns! I guess it’s just all about what you are used to. I’ve never seen gender as a discrimination, so I can’t say I’ve had any challenges in my career regarding my sex.”

Support Executive, Emily

“I got into digital nearly 6 years ago when I joined a small Oxfordshire agency as my first ‘proper’ job, and I have been hooked on the web ever since.

The industry is undeniably male dominated, and at points I have felt that females in digital need to work that bit harder to prove themselves as being up to the job or 'in the know'. However, as with most things, if you know your stuff it doesn't take too much to prove yourself. At my last place of work, I have had training sessions with male clients who have been noticeably stunned that I knew more about their CMS and solution than they did – probably as they normally expected me to just be making the tea.

There is a perception that females in the digital industry tend to only fall into 'softer' roles, and rarely demonstrate any technical expertise or insight related to back-end development, server architecture, integration points, and all of the other behind the scenes aspects of the web. It’s not always about pretty colours and nice fonts (although that is sometimes part of it!)

In my role at Ridgeway, I've had the opportunity to work with fantastic, well-known brands and get  involved with some really interesting projects, as well as building up a long-term partnership and relationship with some great clients of all genders. No prejudice, just a shared goal, and a desire to help our solutions reach their full potential.”

Marketing Manager, Adele

“I’ve worked in marketing for over 12 years in various industries including publishing, which is very female dominated, to digital which is more male led. I’ve been lucky enough to only have good experiences during my career and to have worked with some inspiring and powerful female leaders that have given me the confidence to believe in myself and my capabilities. I think it’s vital that workplaces today have a balanced workforce as it has huge benefits and it has been proven that businesses with more gender diversity actually have better financial outcomes than those dominated by one gender. Over the last year or so, Ridgeway has recruited a number of women into various roles and I strongly believe that we are a better and stronger agency for it.”

Digital Consultant, Vikki

“I ‘fell’ into IT when planning to study German so I could be a translator at uni. I was offered a joint honours degree and when I found the Film course I wanted to do was full, and figured I should know ‘a bit about computers’ for writing essays so I chose the IT option instead! Due to a mix up at interview when applying for a summer job at the BBC, I ended up with a full time job in IT Support for BBC Worldwide and so began my digital career - thereafter the German didn’t get a look-in!

What excites me about digital is the potential of technology; how it can challenge and transform the norm and inspire creativity. I’ve gone from being the token woman in the team to leading talented mixed teams for all kinds of projects. The biggest challenge I face when working in technology is my own self-limiting beliefs. It can be difficult when you are in the minority to feel that your opinion doesn’t matter, or that you might not be technical enough to have an authoritative answer – however, in the main when I have stuck my head above the parapet, my male compatriots have been even-handed in their responses.

In my experience, I have found that the digital folk I have worked with often dive into the detail of the problem and I tend to see the problem in a wider perspective. This makes for good pairing as between the two viewpoints we often get to the nub of the problem more rapidly, so there are benefits all round.

My biggest achievement is a very personal one – I feel the digital space has given me confidence and conviction in my own ability. So much of digital creations don’t have just one answer, direction or solution, and it is the diversity of this that empowers me.”

HR Administrator, Harriet

“I never expressly planned to work within the Digital space, but I’m so glad I do. Our team is made up of creative and extremely hard working individuals, making it such a refreshing and inspiring environment to work in. In my role as HR Administrator I am very aware of the ‘gender gap’ within the tech industry and am constantly looking for ways in which we can encourage young women to take an interest in the digital industry, such as work experience placements for young people and blog posts to showcase the experiences of the female members of our team here. It sounds cliché but tech is the future, and it would be a shame for young women to miss out on the vast opportunities on offer because they feel it is a male dominated space – it’s not at all! Yes, more men work at Ridgeway than women, but that gap is closing month by month and our female work force make up some of the most influential members of our team. If you are female and looking to get into the digital industry, please do reach out to me for a chat, I’d love to hear from you! (recruitment@ridgeway.net)”

Marketing Executive, Laura

“I joined as the only female in my first creative agency! Whilst I would agree that women are expected to adopt softer skills - I worked as a copywriter - I wasn’t treated any differently to the men I worked with, and in fact I was often consulted for my opinion because often the mix brings the best work. Working at Ridgeway, I work with some inspiring men AND women, and I really believe that working symbiotically brings the best results all round - we all have something to learn from one another in the industry”.

Getting more women into digital

It’s a topic close to our heart at Ridgeway. We really believe in the power of digital and that it’s an extremely exciting industry. We’ve recently seen the appointment of a number of women into the agency into a number of roles, from technical support, to digital consultancy, to development, and are excited to welcome more. Our male:female ratio is now above the national average for the industry, and despite facing further challenges being based in rural Oxfordshire, we now employ digital experts from multiple cultures, backgrounds, and diversities, and it’s something we’re really proud to maintain and grow.

So, how do we encourage more women into digital? We believe it’s starting with a great company culture, and focusing on the thing we all have in common – the belief that digital is an exciting industry! It’s about focusing less upon gender, more on ability, and ensuring we have females on our Senior Management Team.

It’s then about our employers encouraging women into the digital workplace, and eroding stereotypes and misconceptions. We need to give educators more insight into the exciting nature of the industry and the importance of diversity within the digital workplace.

Together we can make a difference, but we need to start now!

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