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Michael Goodier

Data journalist, NS Media Group

UK tech sector “lagging behind” in diversity as study reveals only one in five company officers are female

The UK tech sector “lags behind other parts of the world” when it comes to representation, campaigners have said.

The comments came after NS Tech found that the boardrooms of the UK’s largest technology companies are mainly male and mainly white.

An exclusive analysis of hundreds of company records has revealed how far the industry still needs to go to achieve equal representation at the top table.

Looking at the country’s largest firms, just 19 per cent of company officers – which include directors, secretaries and CEOs – are women.

When looking only at company directors, the findings were even more stark – with just 16 per cent of directorships being held by a female.

Women make up fewer than one in five tech company officers

Figures show the gender of company officers in the UKs 175 largest tech companies
Source: UK Gender Service, Companies House, Namsor API

While ethnicity data on company boards does not exist, analysis also found that the majority of company directors are from majority-white nations, and an analysis of officer names also suggested a lack of ethnic diversity among the top tables of the UK’s tech sector.

It is worth noting that while the data on nationality is self-defined, the ethnicity figures should be treated with caution as they are based on educated guesses by a computer algorithm. It is also possible some names have mistakenly been classified as female instead of male, and vice-versa – but the broad figures still paint a stark picture of a lack of diversity among the top UK tech firms.

The analysis included both public listed and private companies – looking at the largest 175 by employment – whereas previous studies have tended to focus only on those in the FTSE.

The majority of tech company officers are British

Figures show the stated nationality of company officers in the UKs 175 largest tech companies
Source: UK Gender Service, Companies House

A report from the Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) campaign group in March found that 33 per cent of board members of science technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) companies in the FTSE 100 were female.

However, it also noted the relatively slow growth in the number and percentage of women in tech occupations was a particular concern when compared to STEM as a whole – with women only making up 15.7 per cent of ICT professionals as a whole in 2009, and just 16.4 per cent a decade later in 2019.

The majority of tech company officers are British or from majority-white ethnicities

Figures show the estimated ethnic diaspora of company officers in the UK's 175 largest tech companies
Source: UK Gender Service, Companies House, Namsor API. Figures should be taken as broad estimates only as are taken from the ethnic diaspora of officer's names. Some officers with a British sounding name are likely to have a different ethnic diaspora.

Helen Wollaston, CEO of the WISE campaign, said: “Getting more women on the boards of tech firms makes good business sense. Diverse boards make better decisions because the diversity of thought, experience and perspective means issues are considered from different points of view.

“The UK tech sector lags behind other parts of the world in terms of women’s representation. India for example has double the percentage of women working in IT than we do in the UK. Women in senior roles help to attract more women into the sector because younger women can see opportunities for career progression. Forward thinking companies set targets to improve representation of women and black/minority ethnic people.

“A corporate strategy and action plan, led from the top with progress reports scrutinised by the board, is the only way to achieve real and sustainable change. It is as much about changing the culture of the company so that women want to stay and have a genuinely equal chance of progression as their male colleagues as it is about recruitment.”

Software group Civica UK Ltd employs between 1,000 and 5,000 people and has 11 company officers – yet none of them are female. It was the largest company in our sample with no female officers.

A Civica Group spokesperson said: “We take diversity and inclusion seriously and we continue to focus and invest in this area.

“While there are women in leadership (C-Suite) positions on the Executive Management Board of the Civica Group (of which Civica UK Ltd is a part), we are aware of the industry-wide issue globally and have made progress by increasing the number of female employees and leaders through both development and recruitment. As of December 2019, 46 per cent of employees across the Group are female, with 39 per cent in management positions.

“We have an active Diversity and Inclusion programme which is led by our Group CEO and, as part of this we became a signatory to the Tech Talent Charter in 2019, which is committed to inclusivity and benchmarking progress against industry best practice. We work hard to ensure our processes are fair and equal for all genders and anticipate that we will see the number of women in senior roles increase further towards parity, and we continue to work on improving this at all levels.”

Catherine Mayer, President and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party, said that “Helping tech companies improve their diversity is vital, not just for them and their workers, but for all of our sakes.

“They are shaping the future far more directly than other corporations, and at the moment they are doing so with the expectations and perspectives of too narrow a range of people meaning that the future will work for a too narrow range of people and exclude many more.”

Anne-Marie Imafidon, founder of Stemettes, who work to support young women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths said: “The UK IT, Data and Tech scene is not just struggling on the female front, but also on the Black front.

“In recent years we’ve seen more prominence given to debate and discussion on women in tech, yet behavioural change is still lagging for us to see the meaningful change at the top that the industry and society deserves.

“Though not a problem for only this sector, boardrooms in the technical space haven’t prioritised diversity in the way that would make sense commercially, ethically or for proper innovation.

“Whether it’s using outdated and ineffective criteria for recruitment, or looking past true talent when making appointments and deciding pay, I’m frustrated to see talent from different backgrounds being forced to follow alternate routes – like entrepreneurship, or leaving the industry all together – in order to be properly recognised and valued.

“The solution is simple and has been splashed all over social media in the wake of the unnecessary death of George Floyd in the US. Leaders need to continually build better habits in their sponsorship, recruitment, treatment and respect of non-white and non-male tech talent. Old habits are dying hard – hiring and promoting only in their own image is harming technology and society.

“Who else needs to die before we see proper change?”