Women in tech: mission impossible?

| By Joanne Christie
Joanne Christie looks at the stark gender disparity in tech teams
Although efforts to improve male-female ratios may be reaping results within the industry, the stark gender disparity in tech teams is proving an intractable problem, reports Joanne Christie. Gender balance is a hot topic in the igaming community and a number of big operators are committing to achieving a 50/50 male-female split in the near future. But while this might be achievable in some areas of the business, present staff numbers suggest a short-term fix could be almost impossible in one department: tech. At Sky Betting & Gaming, for example, the gender disparity is especially pronounced in its tech team, says Matt Hughan, the company’s head of recruitment. “Overall, if you take August’s figures, we were 80% male, 20% female across the whole business,” he says. “If you look at technology specifically, it was 11% female, so there’s a massive bias towards males in technology.” The problem is industry-wide, says Cara Kerr, head of UK for igaming recruiter Pentasia: “I ran a search of our database for people with technology titles and we have 13,000 people whose gender is male. I ran the same search for women and the number is 1,500. “In 2017, in the gambling industry, we placed 55 technical people across the group in Europe, of which three were female.” It’s not through lack of trying, adds Kerr, who says all of her clients have expressed a desire to recruit more women into their tech teams. The problem is that less than 1% of applications received for technical posts are from women. Avi Dardik, vice president of product and technology at Morpheus Games – parent company of secondary lottery site Lottoz – says only about 10% of the company’s Kiev-based research and development team is female. He adds: “Unfortunately, when recruiting for a technical position in the Ukraine, a very small percentage of applicants are female.” Dearth of developers Dardik, however, thinks the dearth of female tech talent extends far beyond igaming. “I don’t think it’s an issue specific to our industry in any significant way,” he says. “I think this problem is part of the high-tech industry as a whole.” Indeed, Kerr says, in addition to the gambling hires, Pentasia also placed 27 people into technical roles in Europe in the fintech space, none of which went to women. “We don’t just focus on gaming, we have a combination of clients in the digital world and the same theme resonates throughout those businesses,” she says. “If you think about how new the trend is towards women and equality, it has really started to come about in the last couple of years. It’s always been there, but I think it’s become more vocal. But you can’t just suddenly magic up hundreds of female developers. It is going to take time to get there. And if you think about the market as a whole, it has an absolute lack of talent when it comes to developers anyway. Any customer you talk to, whether they are in gambling or not, they absolutely, for love nor money, cannot recruit enough developers.” Some features of the igaming market, though, are not helping its bid to attract more women employees. While the traditional gaming hubs of Malta, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man remain strong, when dealing with tech specifically, igaming companies are increasingly setting up hubs in locations in Eastern Europe and even as far away as Manila; this is not a development that necessarily encourages females to enter the industry, says Jennifer Innes, managing director of Bettingjobs.com. “If I call someone about a position if, for example, they have their CV up on a job board, it doesn’t tend to be gambling that specifically puts them off, it is more the locations,” she says. “A lot of the roles that we recruit for require industry expertise, and then on top of that, relocation as well. I think that has an impact in ruling out a lot of female candidates. It is not so easy to uproot your life and your family once you get to a certain stage in your career. The more mobile gender tends to be male.” To get around this, Innes says companies could be more flexible on whether or not they always require industry experience, offer options for remote working or allow people to work in one of their other offices rather than relocating. Kerr points out that technical jobs already have many features that should appeal to women, but that companies aren’t doing enough to shout about them. “A lot of clients these days that have development teams have really flexible working hours around these teams,” she notes. “They can come in late, they can finish early, they can do things from home, and I don’t necessarily know if that is portrayed particularly well to the female market. For someone thinking about having children and wanting flexible work, this is a career that could allow that flexibility because it is not a role that requires you to be in the office every day or requires you to be 9-to-5 for a lot of our clients, so I think there is a huge opportunity there that could be sold.” Growing from the grassroots The problem is, the career needs to be sold to women at a much younger age; the main reason for so few women being in technical roles is that few women are undertaking the relevant education, says Dardik. “Current estimates state that females constitute between 10-20% of computer science students. This means that the first, and most important, entry point to the industry is already 80-90% male, and any other differentiation factors will only subtract from that already low initial amount,” he states. “This issue can only be improved by attacking the biggest problem: educating and empowering young girls to enter the technology industry.” Hughan, however, believes it is also important to accentuate the potential for women to pursue a technology career without first having a computer science degree. “There are lots of ways that you can hire women in technology without going down an education or computer science route,” he insists. “If people have the view that you have to have a computer science degree to be good at technology or have a technology career, then I think they are being a bit blind or a bit blinkered in what they are trying to do. “We do quite a lot of work with universities and colleges pre-university, trying to educate young people in general, not just women, in the careers available in a digital-tech company like ours. A career in tech doesn’t have to mean you go into coding or engineering, because there are lots of different functions that keep a tribe or a squad together. Business analysis, project management, testing — all of these are areas where you don’t actually have to have any kind of coding ability.” Kerr adds that with coding specifically, the type of outreach activity undertaken by Sky Betting & Gaming could be coming too late in a person’s development anyway. “A gambling company can’t go into a school sub-18, but after that might be too late to start talking to them about coding,” she says. “It probably needs to be ingrained in them from school. “I’ve not met many developers that have learned to code when they were 18 and then become the most amazing developers. Most people who’ve come through the ranks are people who have been very positive about it from the beginning — yes, they’ve got computer science degrees, but they’ve also been doing it from the age of 12.” Innes agrees that the issue is a lack of women entering science and technology-based education, but says she’s heard some talk within the industry about igaming-specific initiatives to counter that. “A few of our clients are talking about opening igaming academies working with the Maltese university,” she says. “Maybe that could be one way to make it seem more local and more relevant, particularly in a country that is one of the main igaming hubs.” Tipping the balance Education isn’t the only way in which igaming companies are making a concerted effort to attract women into tech. Innes says Paddy Power Betfair, a Bettingjobs.com client, has set up a portal through which recruiters are encouraged to send the CVs of experienced female technical candidates, as part of the company’s push to achieve a more balanced workforce. At Sky Betting & Gaming, Hughan says various strategies are in place to improve the gender balance, including having a female on every interview panel, presenting hiring managers with balanced shortlists (a shortlist made up of an equal number of men and women), and using gender-neutral language and imagery in job ads, as well as on its careers website. The company also ran a social media campaign late last year aimed at attracting more women, which had encouraging results. “Pre-Christmas, we ran a campaign focusing on three different strands and three different women within the business,” says Hughan. “One of them is a lady called Beth Gildersleve, who is the head of technology, so she has a senior strategic position in the team that works on Sky Bet, and we ran a campaign around how she got into technology, how she’s developed in her career and what led her to Sky Betting & Gaming. “We did see a dramatic increase [in female engagement]. We went from 25% female visitors on the careers site to 38%, and female applications went from about 18% to about 30%, so the signs are there that we are doing all the right things to attract all the right people.” Even if some companies are doing the right things to change the gender balance, unfortunately it seems women in tech roles remains a very small group. While igaming companies, and indeed those in other sectors, are certainly making efforts to get more girls into the relevant education, there is undoubtedly going to be a long lag before this filters through to a significantly higher number of female applicants to their tech teams. Girls in igaming: a case study Nadiia Golovnia, 27, is a front-end developer at Morpheus Games in Kiev (pictured) “I’ve been working at Morpheus Games for almost two years. It’s my first experience in the gaming sphere and I find it very interesting. I consider the gambling industry to be an entertainment industry; the only difference is that the factor of luck perhaps has a greater impact than with similar fields. “My career started with learning multimedia technologies at university. On the senior courses, after a joint project with my teammate, I became interested in the web and everything related to it. After graduation, my first position was as a designer’s assistant, and I was very lucky with my mentor. He was not only creating layouts and designing interfaces, but he was also a strong programmer. “After a period of work under his leadership, I realised that I also wanted to learn how to do such things. I then began to study markup as a technology before programming. For several years there, I worked on different projects with different technologies and I loved it. On the development side, I’m interested in the technologies that are used and implemented here. This is the main reason why I’m at Morpheus. “Although I’m the only girl among the developers, I have never felt any discomfort or experienced any miscommunication or lack of cooperation. I always get help when I need it, and I appreciate the experience and knowledge my teammates share. There are usually more men than women in software engineering. With that said, every year that passes sees a growing number of women entering the field of development, a fact I cannot help but rejoice about!”

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