BBC Digital is looking to hire more women and one way it is targeting women in technology is through its networking and recruitment events.
Nicola Crowther is Diversity Events Manager at BBC Digital and her job involves creating a more diverse workforce. She says a particular focus for her is women and people with disabilities where there is significant under-representation, as there is in many technology firms.
BBC Digital is responsible for the development and design of the BBC’s online products and services, such as BBC iplayer and the BBC’s websites and apps. Just under 25% of BBC Digital’s staff are female and that figure is less for those in senior management, although the Chief Operating Officer for BBC Digital and BBC Engineering is a woman, Grace Boswood. The diversity team within BBC Digital is working to reach a target of 30% of women in technical roles by 2017.
Nicola says her success is ultimately measured by whether BBC Digital hires more women and people with disabilities, but feedback for each event is sought from delegates and the staff involved. “It’s very important that there is continuous improvement,” she says, “and that we get the right people in the room with the right skills.”
People apply to come to each event by sending in their CVs. Nicola says she has learnt that it is best to be clear and explicit about what BBC Digital is looking for from the beginning, for example, the level of technical skills expected.
She adds that, although BBC Digital has a lot of non-technical roles, it is particularly keen to recruit more women to technical roles to ensure that content it produces accurately reflects its audience. She cites games design. Statistically more women game than men, yet very few women make games. “It’s not so much about female empowerment. If you mainly have one group of people making content then that will be reflected in what you produce,” says Nicola.
The BBC is therefore keen to attract women to its events who have experience in programming languages or computer science degrees.
Part of the problem is finding women with those skills. “It is generally acknowledged that girls are less engaged in STEM subjects at school,” says Nicola. “BBC Digital has a shortage of technically skilled women. We are fishing in quite a small pond with a lot of other competitors who also want a more diverse workforce. There are not enough women to go around and we need to think long term about how we build a pipeline for the future. The problem will only get bigger because the internet is not closing any time soon.”
Nicola says BBC Digital is also looking to target mums who are retraining or who have taken a career break from IT and is working with the organisation Mums in Technology on hosting an event in London. She thinks part of the reason women are not drawn to technology is that it is not seen as creative or as being very flexible.
She adds that some technical roles or parts of roles can be done from home. Her role, although not technical, offers a great deal of flexibility, she says, adding that the BBC is a flexible, inclusive employer. She believes another potential barrier is caused by the lack of other women in the digital field. “Women are often in the minority on tech teams or in tech companies,” she says. “That can lead to feeling isolated and that could in turn be a reason why women move on. Having things like a network where women can come together regularly to chat or peer mentor or take part in personal development sessions helps build a sense of community.”
Nicola adds that strong, positive role models are vital and she has seen this throughout her 17-year career in corporate social responsibility, events and campaigns. “We can all remember instances where we met someone and felt we wanted to be like them,” she says. BBC Digital partners with STEMNET on its programme of providing STEM ambassadors for schools and many of its events target schoolchildren. For instance, it is holding a Make an App event for Year 9 girls with female dragons and senior managers as well as female apprentices who will work with the girls and introduce them to coding.
Nicola herself has two children – a girl and a boy, aged 18 months and four. She went down to four days a week after coming back from her most recent maternity leave and she works two days a week from home. “It makes a big difference,” she says. “I am more efficient and can work with no distractions for two days and I get two days when I come to the office. I have not always had that flexibility and I am grateful for it. I know good when I see it. I think it encourages loyalty and is motivating. In this digital age it seems a bit bonkers not to offer flexibility. In digital where there are many specialist roles and not enough people with the necessary skills available it makes sense to offer family-friendly ways of working that promote a happy workplace.”