Where Are All The Female Tech Leads?

Sarah Harris

Aug 10 2020

where are the female tech leads

Although it's now a widely accepted problem, we're still a long way from solving diversity in tech

“I'm not really a woman in tech. I'm a woman, and I work in tech, but I'm not techy... Does that really make me a woman in tech?”

This is something I hear a lot. It's something I have been known to say myself, even as the MD of digital agency Deeson. Why? I've been thinking about the reasons why women are perhaps so drastically under represented in tech and digital.

Let's explore.

Open to all

I have a fairly eclectic career background. I've worked in the arts, in event management, production, client services for the creative industry; I'm also a qualified counsellor and a co-active coach. When I began working at Deeson as head of client services, I barely had any experience in digital. I certainly wouldn't have described myself as a woman in tech.

But this hesitancy is part of the problem. In a world where everything is increasingly digital, the tech industry offers opportunities for just about anything you can think of. There is no typical person or career background that makes you suited to work in tech – in fact, the variety of experiences people bring to the table is what makes the sector so creative, innovative, and exciting. To be in tech you certainly don't have to be techy. And why shouldn't all women in our sector own that status?

Of course, the counterpoint to this argument is that it doesn't apply equally to technical roles. Whilst many skill sets needed to work in the tech industry are universal, some roles – such as developers, architects and engineers – require highly specialist training and knowledge. These technical jobs are where we find the biggest diversity problem, and this only gets worse when looking for women in senior positions. Overwhelmingly, the senior technical roles I have seen in the industry (including at Deeson) are held by men. Usually, they're white men too.

This is something that as an individual, as a team at Deeson, and as a representative of our industry, I want to address. It is informing the way we are currently recruiting for our position of Lead Developer at Deeson, and which partly motivated me to write this article. It is an issue that we have a collective responsibility to solve, but my experience so far has taught me that it is an extremely difficult nut to crack.

I'll examine it through the context of what I've learnt through recent weeks recruiting for our new Lead Developer.

Wanted: Lead Dev at Deeson

We want to make sure the balance of voices in our agency is fair. That's part of who we are as a business, and the progressive, inclusive culture we want to build. In trying to fill our Lead Developer role, we've tried to reach as broad and diverse a talent pool as possible.

We've advertised through Ada's List, used specialist recruiters for diverse talent in STEM, published personal shoutouts on LinkedIn... In short, done everything we could possibly think of to encourage applications from women. But in all honesty, we haven't had much success.

It could be that we are not using the right channels, but my gut says that the issue runs a little bit deeper. It comes back to seniority and experience.

The tech industry (thankfully) isn't where it was a few years ago, and we are seeing more female developers coming through the ranks. Like many other organisations, we've been trying to inspire non traditional candidates to enter tech, by giving talks in schools, launching graduate programmes, and targeting school leavers who haven't necessarily thought about this as a career path.

Even just a decade ago women weren't being encouraged into tech in the same way they are now. We're looking for 8 years + experience in our new Lead Dev, and it's an unfortunate fact that women with this level of seniority are pretty thin on the ground.

With such a limited talent pool, we've got to do our utmost to attract the best candidates. We've always had a remote working policy, but by offering even more flexibility with hours and location, I hope to attract women who will be better able to balance work with personal commitments.

Beyond that? It's just a really lovely role. Our Lead Developer will sit across different projects at a time, leading teams, and advising clients on the best solutions to their problems. It's a position which requires someone who is technically very strong, but also inspiring, enthusiastic and a brilliant communicator.

In conclusion...

These recruitment challenges are a neat demonstrator of how a willingness to do the right thing isn't enough when it comes to diversity and inclusion in tech. If we truly want to make a difference, we have to work much harder. We also have to be more strategic, thinking five, ten even twenty years ahead to broaden talent pools – and make sure we are not still having these same conversations in the future.

As for now, perhaps all of us women in tech can stand up and be counted a little bit more. And if you know of ways to reach the talent pool of senior female engineers, please get in touch.

Sarah Harris

About the author

Sarah Harris

Managing Director

Sarah is a humanistic counsellor and co-active coach. She is also an experienced director, and has worked with a range of client and agency senior digital roles, with extensive background in consumer-facing web and marketing propositions, with years of client services experience within a variety of industries including music, culture & heritage, publishing, mobile, technology and production.