New research from the Fawcett Society, in partnership with Virgin Media O2, has revealed that a fifth of men working in tech roles believe that women are naturally less suited to working in the sector.
Today’s new report, ‘System Update: Addressing the Gender Gap in Tech’, is the culmination of eight months of extensive research, interviews, and polling. It explores the views and experience of women and men who work in tech roles, those who have recently left and women who have the qualifications but are not working in the sector to understand the barriers and disincentives.
It exposes a widespread toxic ‘tech bro’ culture, with 72% of women in tech roles having experienced at least one form of sexism at work. This includes being paid less than male colleagues and sexist ‘banter’ (22%) and questioning of their skills and abilities (20%).
On top of this, Black and minoritised women have experienced additional levels of exclusion, with almost three in four having experienced racism at work. The issue is particularly acute for Black women, with one in three having been assumed not to hold a technical role. Instead, women were assumed to work in marketing or HR, or to be present in a meeting only to take the minutes.
This culture is affecting the recruitment and retention of women in the industry, creating an even greater gap in a sector suffering from talent shortages and in turn damaging the UK economy.
Almost a third (32%) of women working in tech roles believe there is a gender bias during recruitment, with 14% having been made to feel uncomfortable because of their gender during the application process.
Women with STEM qualifications are highly suited to a career in technology, and indeed more than a third of them (36%) who aren’t currently working in the sector are interested, rising significantly for Black and minoritised women (59%). However, many are put off by their perceptions of the industry and who it’s for. More than a quarter of women outside of tech think there is more sexist behaviour in tech than other types of work, 29% believe there is a lack of flexible work and more than a third (36%) think there is a lack of part-time work available.
As a result of these factors, the research found that of those who do enter the workforce, more than 4 in 10 (43%) consider leaving their role at least weekly. Of those who have left, one in five women said it’s because of caring responsibilities, and 22% of Black and minoritised women say it’s because of an exclusionary culture.
Jemima Olchawski, Fawcett Society Chief Executive said: “This report rings alarm bells for a sector that prides itself on being future-facing. It’s unacceptable that so many women are being locked out of tech because damaging and plain wrong sexist ideas are thriving in a predominantly male workforce. It’s really no surprise that 4 in 10 women consider leaving their role when toxic ‘tech bro’ cultures are so widespread, and women are diminished by male colleagues. And, yet again, our research shows things are even worse for Black and minoritised women who experience the compounded effects of sexism and racism.
“It makes no sense that in the midst of a skills shortage so many capable and talented women are either locked out of the sector or choosing to leave. All of this means tech firms are missing out on a wealth of talent and both women and our economy are being held back. We need urgent action to bring in a system update and create workplaces that truly respect and accommodate women in all our diversity.”
Nisha Marwaha, Director of People Relations and DE&I at Virgin Media O2, said: “The findings in this report are clear: The ‘Tech Bro’ culture is causing long term damage and creating an environment where women wrongly don’t feel they belong.
“With a fifth of men harbouring an ill-conceived belief that women aren’t up to the job, we must do better as businesses at creating an inclusive and diverse environment that shatters these stereotypes. Otherwise, at a time when the tech sector is hit with skill shortages, we’ll miss out on a wealth of top talent.”
“At Virgin Media O2, we know that diversity is the key to a brighter, more innovative, and prosperous future for all. That’s why we’ve proudly partnered with the Fawcett Society to champion the cause of gender diversity in tech and are committed to reviewing every recommendation in detail to accelerate change.”
To help enhance gender and racial diversity and combat biases to make the tech industry a more inclusive place for women, Fawcett Society is calling for businesses, government and schools to work together to achieve change by:
In response to the report, Virgin Media O2 has committed to reviewing every recommendation in detail to accelerate change across its business.
In 2022, Virgin Media O2 launched its diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy, All In, which aims to achieve gender parity and increase representation of employees from global majority groups by 2027, and has brought in policies to help reach this goal through recruitment and retention.
Last year, Virgin Media O2 enhanced its employee leave policies to ensure they are accessible and equitable to all employees. This included offering 26 weeks of paid maternity or adoption leave, 14 weeks of paid paternity leave and up to 10 days of paid leave for those who have experienced pregnancy loss.
To further assist employees, the company grants paid leave for handling emergencies at home or supporting family member and up to five days of paid carer’s leave for unpaid carers.
For more information or interviews contact:
Virgin Media O2 – firstname.lastname@example.org & / 01753 565656
Fresh Communication: 0117 369 0025
Nathalie Golden: email@example.com / 07769 666627
Lisa Sutherland: firstname.lastname@example.org / 07801 979987
Notes to editors:
About the methodology
This project followed a mixed-methods design. Interviews and focus groups were conducted first to explore and identify key themes, followed by a large survey to understand the prevalence of the emerging views and experiences identified.
In May 2023, 1,438 people took part in an anonymous online survey designed by Fawcett, with data collection and analysis conducted by the research agency Survation. This included the following: 555 women and 523 men who currently work in a tech role or have recently left a tech role and 360 women who have not worked in tech, but hold a qualification in a STEM subject at Level 3 or above.
Focus groups and interviews were conducted between April and June 2023 by the Fawcett research team. A total of 21 women participated.
About the language used
This report uses the term Black and minoritised groups. The term ‘minoritised’, coined by sociologist Yasmin Gunaratnam, implies that ‘people are actively minoritised by others rather than naturally existing as a minority’. Where a study refers to groups such BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) or BAME (Black, Asian and Minority ethnic), the relevant term is used in relation to that study.
Mindful of the nuances in the terminologies and the differences between various groups, where possible we refer to the specific ethnicities.