Can we bridge the Tech Skills Gap with gender diversity?
In this blog, we look at how flexible working arrangements might bring female workers into the tech sector and keep them in it
Although the current economic climate will be impacting upon supply and demand within the UK technology sector, the fact that there is a technology skills gap in the UK is universally accepted.
Commentators such as Senna Baillie, director of community at global technology consultancy, VeUP, acknowledge that this skills gap can be closed by encouraging more women into the sector and ensuring that, once there, they remain within technology.
There is cause for optimism, given that around 75% of girls express interest in computer sciences at school level, there is clear evidence that female students are motivated to study technology. Unfortunately, however, when it comes to university level education, the number of female students demonstrating an interest in technology drops to just 18%. In the technology sector workplace, women are outnumbered 2:1 by men.
Even when an interest in technology has been retained through tertiary education and beyond that into a career in the technology sector, the chance of female workers leaving the sector mid-career are high.
Women still carry out the majority of primary carer roles in families, meaning that their capacity to return to the types of demands placed on them within the technology sector make this incompatible with their caring responsibilities. Research by the National Centre for Women and Information Technology clearly demonstrates this: 56% of women in information technology leave their jobs mid-career. The research draws attention to the ‘motherhood penalty’ and its impact on the gender pay gap.
How can employers attract more female workers into the tech sector?
In such a male dominated industry, there are a number of ways that employers can look to draw more female workers into the tech sector. For example, hybrid working, compressed hours and flexible working patterns are all ways that allow female workers to stay in paid work while they have concomitant caring responsibilities. Given that women account for 85% of sole carers for children, and 65% of sole carers for older adults, finding ways to support female workers who have dual caring and work responsibilities is crucial to employers looking to encourage more female workers to remain in their workplace.  For example, the aforementioned research shows that remote working can have a positive impact on businesses trying to attract and keep female talent. Thus, the case for flexible working makes business sense, as well as having a social and moral dimension.
The current framework of rules which cover the flexible working process are set out in sections 80F to 80I of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Flexible Working Regulations 2014. The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill received Royal Assent in July this year and will make changes to the current framework, the likelihood being that, from spring 2024, employees will be able to make two flexible working requests in each 12-month period rather than one per 12-month period.
Further, employers must respond to the request within two months of a request rather than the current three months. Secondary legislation is also expected to be passed which will mean that employees can make a flexible working request from their first day of employment, not just after 26 weeks. We are just waiting for this part to be enacted. This legislation will also provide that employees can make a flexible working request as a day-one right, rather than the previous requirement to have worked for the employer for at least 26 weeks prior to making a request.
Perhaps most crucially for all employees with caring responsibilities, under the Act, employees will no longer have to explain the impact that granting the request would have on their role and how that might be dealt with by their employer. Given that the majority of caring responsibilities still fall on women, this is most likely to have a positive impact on female workers, however, male workers seeking flexible working arrangements will also benefit from the new regime. Since the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 revoked the Flexible Working (Eligibility, Complaints and Remedies) Regulations 2002 with regards to applications made after 30 June 2014, employees have been able to make a flexible working request regardless of their care giving status, opening the gate to requests from caregivers and non-caregivers alike.
The new provisions will apply to Scotland, England and Wales, but not Northern Ireland. Once the legislation is in force, employers will have to ensure that their HR policies align with the new provisions. Any existing flexible working policies should therefore be updated in time for the new regime coming into force. Furthermore, there is nothing to stop employers from getting ahead of the curve and updating their policies prior to this legislation.
If you would like further information or assistance with these matters, please contact a member of our Employment Team.
 Adam McCulloch, Tech Firms need to Work Harder to Engage Women, August 2023
 Why more women in tech will close the digital skills gap, Tech UK, February 2022.
 Can Remote Working Help Close the Gender Pay Gap in Tech, Women in Tech
 Niel Franklin, Caring Responsibilities Disproportionately Impact Women’s Lives and Careers, Workplace Insight, March 2022