Culture, pipeline or something else entirely: What’s really behind low female representation and retention in tech?

Female technology worker

Gender disparity remains a huge issue that has serious implications for the future success of the ever-expanding technology sector, with female representation across the industry remaining stubbornly low at 16%, and only 5% of leadership positions occupied by women.

The sector’s male dominance is even more worrying given the deficit of specific skills, which threatens the sector’s on-going and future success. The UK’s annual shortfall of engineering skills, for example, has been estimated at 55,000 individuals. Business leaders are aware of the issue, two thirds of them acknowledging that the talent pool shortage is a major inhibitor to growth.

I’ve had teams that are heavily male, others heavily female, and others—like the one I have now—with an even split. I’ve seen the difference diversity makes to the breadth of thoughts and ideas; it’s in that mix that you get the best results.

Katrina Roberts

Vice President of Consumer and Commercial Lending Technology

American Express

Over the last few years, considerable efforts have been made to attract schoolgirls into STEM subjects and onwards into related careers. But limited progress indicates it’s time to take stock: What are the specific challenges for women in technology? What attracts them to the sector to begin with, and what pipeline or cultural issues both limit their progression or see them turn elsewhere for employment and career fulfilment?


Business leaders of technology organisations looking to understand the core issues facing women in tech, and how they can use this knowledge to strengthen their pipelines and advance gender diversity.

  • Business leaders of non-tech firms wishing to understand how they can better attract, retain, engage and advance more female talent into the tech functions of their business.
  • HR, L&D and diversity specialists challenged with accelerating diversity in order to reduce the gender gap and reap the associated benefits of lower costs, increased productivity and creativity, and greater profits.


Key insights include:

  • Tech attracts ambitious women

Technology is seen as an industry in which women can progress and reach the top. This was the number one reason given for choosing a career in tech, suggesting that the work of campaigners is being heard.

  • Elevating role models is a key factor in retention levels

Access to female role models is a huge factor in retention. Being able to “see what they can be” is the number one factor cited by women in our study for why they stay in their roles.

  • A macho culture is the biggest challenge for women

The biggest issue facing women in technology, according to our study, is one of a male dominated culture that simply does not welcome or support female progression.

  • Flexibility is desirable, but there are more important factors

Our research found that though flexible and agile working options are important to female retention, it is not necessarily the lead factor.

  • Smart organisations publicly commit to gender diversity and are rewarded for their efforts with loyal staff

Knowing that their employer is committed to achieving gender parity is a lead factor for women when it comes to going the distance with an employer. Championing female talent through decisive action and investment is a way that forward-thinking actions can seek to establish loyalty from its talent pool.


Download your copy of Examining the Pipeline: What has the biggest impact on gender parity in Tech?​