How flexible and remote working are boosting tech careers for women

With the right culture and training in place, flexible roles can support women and help diversify the tech industry

In 2022, the UK tech industry is still a far from diverse place, and tackling the tech gender gap is a complex issue. From encouraging girls in education towards STEM subjects to kickstart their careers to providing support for women juggling other responsibilities in their lives once they start looking for roles, society and the workplace have a lot of progress to make.

Just 19% of tech workers are women compared with 49% of the UK workforce overall, and just 22% of tech directors are women – the same it’s been since 2000, according to Tech Nation

But through increased organisational efforts and the normalisation of the working practices that can make tech careers more accessible, the tide is starting to turn. Fifty-six per cent of female tech and IT workers feel gender equality has improved in their organisation over the past two years. Forty-six per cent in the same survey agree that remote working is a big factor contributing to this, thanks in part to the higher level of autonomy that comes with it.

Focusing on a culture of flexibility, and making flexibility and remote working a drawcard in the recruitment process, are two of the most effective diversity strategies noted by the 580 signatories of the UK Tech Talent Charter, a collective designed to share data, best practice and progress on diversity in the industry.

One initiative that is upskilling working mothers for a range of remote and flexible Salesforce roles is Supermums, launched in 2016 by Heather Black, who has a long track record as a consultant within Salesforce itself. Salesforce is one of the signatories of the UK Tech Talent Charter.

Buoyed by how the flexibility Salesforce provided enabled Black to continue her career while raising two young daughters, Supermums has now upskilled over 500 trainees across nine countries. 

Trainees are encouraged to complete an admin course as a foundation, before specialising in a number of different Salesforce relevant career paths, such as marketing, consultancy, business analysis and coaching, while also receiving mentoring, confidence-building support, and CV and interviewing advice. Seventy-five per cent of participants in the Salesforce Supermums programme have gone on to secure flexible roles within the business. 

The programme is not only contributing towards Salesforce’s goal of equalising the number of women in the organisation globally, up from the current figure of 36%, but changing the narrative that the best hires need to be full-time and on-site only – a way of thinking that has excluded many women from rewarding work that matches their ambitions and potential. 

“These jobs can be done remotely. There has to be a really good case in point as to why somebody needs to be in the office to deliver a better outcome than they would at home,” states Black.

Some of the Supermums graduates are back in work after career breaks of up to 12 years, now equipped with the most in-demand future of work ready skills, such as cloud computing, business and data analysis, and practical applications of AI – and a competitive salary to boot.

“And that’s without any previous experience in tech, so retraining doesn’t mean you have to start at the bottom again in terms of salary. The ability to keep learning and evolving across the Salesforce product roadmap means you also have the opportunity to increase your salary by £10k or more every one or two years,” Black explains.

The flip side of flexible roles is, of course, flexible training, which could be one of the reasons that attracting diverse talent in the first place is the biggest problem UK Tech Talent Charter signatories report. Black can relate to this, having been pregnant with one child and taking care of another while participating in training programmes in the past.

“It’s difficult for working parents to go away for training for five days, so we designed our training courses to be flexible and remote – that definitely is something that needs to be addressed by companies,” Black affirms. 

Employers shouldn’t, however, forget the importance of implementing an overall culture shift to integrate principles to counteract any possible issues with remote working. This is crucial for avoiding proximity bias, where in-office workers are favoured for better opportunities and promotions. Proximity bias stands to disproportionately affect the large numbers of women who opt for remote working – and undo the progress made towards equal gender representation in business.

“There needs to be a careful thought process around how you make people feel included who are working remotely, so you’re not discriminating against them. Proximity bias is a big risk if there isn’t an intentional strategy around addressing it,” Black warns.

“If you have a hybrid culture, there has to be a lot of thought and consideration around how you make everybody feel included in team meetings, as part of a team environment and even how promotions can be made inclusively, because conversations are happening in the office that remote employees aren’t part of. There is a duty of care for companies to think about flexibility in this way.”This will ultimately have to form part of company culture in this new working world, Black surmises, as employees – especially female talent – feel more empowered than ever to choose a corporate environment that aligns with their own needs and values.

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