Returning to work following a long career break can be a considerably daunting experience for many women. This is accentuated when your professional field is in the technology space and the pace of change means that previously acquired skills and knowledge have become redundant.
Yet, technology offers women incredible career opportunities; the ability to work flexibly and at the cutting edge of innovation, competitive rates of pay and future-proof career paths. Diversity in teams leads to a better balance of work product and more effective collaboration on projects.
Business wants to hire women into tech but the reality of achieving this is problematic. How can we bridge the gap between an existing talent pool of women with advanced tech skills struggling to secure a role, and companies whose goal is to recruit more woman into this sector?
The challenge of building a female pipeline into the technology space was a dilemma discussed in detail at the BITCI Gender Peer Circle earlier this year. Attended by 20 member companies, accessing diverse talent in the market was a problem experienced by those sectors who found the majority of applicants for roles were men.
In contrast to this, it was noted by the Women@Work team that it was their female IT participants who found it particularly challenging to move into roles. Specific barriers related to overcoming the skills gap on their CV and being able to compete equally in the recruitment process. Women with Software Engineering backgrounds, Masters in Systems Analysis and IT degrees were staying on the programme for up to a year without even securing an interview, with some women eventually considering a career change due to the challenge of returning to the workplace in this sector. This amounts to a considerable loss of talent in a field that is struggling to achieve its gender equality quotas and close the gender pay gap.
Tapping into an already existing skill set such as the Returner allows a company to achieve gender diversity in relatively short timescales with the added benefit of accessing talent with professional behaviours already developed, prior to their career break.
To address some of these conflicting issues, Women@Work partnered with Fidelity Investments to host a Women in Tech workshop, aimed at women returners with professional IT experience and women who were interested in considering IT as a career change.
Fidelity Investments has worked closely with the Women@Work programme since its inception in 2020 and a synergy was fostered due to Fidelity’s evidential internal supports for women such as coaching and mentoring in initial stages of employment and promoting career progression for women on the ‘Propel Her’ career enhancement path.
Over the course of the Women in Tech workshop, the female participants heard the stories of two Fidelity returners who shared their journey from taking a career break for family reasons to returning to a role in IT. The Women@Work participants found this incredibly valuable and reported how reassuring it was to hear other women’s stories of initial self-doubt but then increased confidence once they successfully performed in the first three months of their role. The Fidelity volunteers took time to speak to the participants in smaller groups and in doing so, were able to directly advise each woman on the path in IT best suited to their natural strengths.
Upskilling and retraining are essential in IT and there are no short cuts to achieving this, but it was promising to know that following a year’s study, possibly a data analysis course, a rewarding career in IT was attainable for those who choose to commit to it. Having access to this type of industry insight allows for women to confidently invest in their future both economically and personally. Fostering the women’s own self- worth, the Fidelity team offered assurances that demonstrating a willingness to learn, and self-motivation were qualities that were considered highly valuable from an employer’s perspective and mitigated a career gap on their CV.
The value of business partnerships for our participants is evident in the real impact it can have on people’s lives and sharing Surya’s experience following this workshop highlights this.
Prior to joining Women@Work, Surya was making a small income as a maths teacher but due to mobility issues, could not build a professional career in teaching. Noting her high aptitude in maths, her Careers Advisor suggested a career in IT, however Surya felt that this was an area completely out of reach for her.
It was only following the session with Fidelity and in particular having the opportunity to speak to one of their team on an individual basis, that she learned that her strengths did match this career sector and were of value. For the first time, she began to visualise herself as possibly belonging to this sector.
In her words: ‘This workshop has given me more courage and confidence. Patricia’s returner journey has inspired me personally and by Rehana’s journey I learned that before going into work I should upgrade myself in a particular area. I got confidence that I can achieve something in my life at any age. After this Fidelity session I decided to undertake a QA testing course and then I will apply for a job in this area. I hope these kinds of sessions are there for all (Women@Work) participants and inspire many women.’
Increasing self-confidence, visible female role models and creating opportunity to network professionally with other women in tech are highlighted by research as being key tools in attracting and retaining women in the technology sector.
Fidelity Investments have offered workshops and mentoring opportunities to the Women@Work programme consistently over the last two years and most importantly, always seek to listen to and understand the problems directly from the women themselves.
Through this type of collaboration, business can understand the reality of the barriers women in IT face in accessing or returning to work in this field and create innovative practices to access the talent pool they need. For our female participants, the possibility of a rewarding career in technology can become a reality with support and practical guidance and critically, directly connecting with other women who have successfully achieved it.