The IT industry, and subsequently the channel, was born in the late 1970s and early 1980s: Microsoft, Apple, EMC and SCC were all established in the 70s, while years later in the 80s, the likes of Computacenter, Cisco, Misco and XMA were all born, paving the way for thousands more tech and channel firms to pop up in the following years.
While women and girls are these days encouraged to join the tech industry and to start their own business, in the 1970s, significantly fewer women than today were even in work at all. Figures from the National Archives show that in 2013, 67 per cent of women aged 16 to 64 were in work, a significant increase from the 53 per cent of who were employed in 1971. By comparison, 92 per cent of men of working age were employed in 1971, the figures state.
As part of CRN's inaugural Women in the Channel project, CRN research found that of the top 50 biggest resellers in the UK, four are run by women, with the rest run by men. Further, 14 per cent of all the people on those resellers' senior leadership teams are women. These figures prompted some channel women to voice their disappointment in the industry, calling on channel firms to do more to hire senior women.
But others have suggested that the male-dominated leadership of the UK's biggest resellers today is simply a reflection of the era in which the industry was born.
Miriam Murphy, Avnet's senior vice president for EMEA, told CRN that viewing the figures in context is essential.
"I'm not hugely surprised by the numbers," she said. "I'm proud of Avnet in that sense because we buck the trend – 45 per cent of the [EMEA] board are women.
"But we need to be careful how we interpret them. Some of the reason stems quite far back into people's education and the era this industry was born, I suppose. If you think of the demographic of leaders in IT and technology – people who joined the workforce in the 1980s – in education, technology was very much something boys liked. A girl in a technology class, from an education perspective, was unusual."
Sarah Gray, Jabra's senior director of channel and retail marketing, agreed and said:
"When I started off as a graduate I went straight into tech marketing and it was unusual for me to choose that path. I think we are doing a much better job of that today than 20 years ago but we can't stop that. We need to bring these women up into the workplace and make sure they see it as a strong career path."
A number of schemes across the industry aiming to encourage girls to pursue a career in tech have popped up since the early 2000s. Among other things, Microsoft runs Digigirlz, a programme designed to give girls in secondary school a chance to speak to Microsoft staff and participate in hands-on computer and technology workshops.
HPE sponsors a similar project called TechFutureGirls, an after-school club which helps girls develop tech skills through what are described as fun, themed challenges. So far, 150,000 girls across 4,500 schools have taken part in the project.
The boom in events such as these is great news for the future prospects of diversity in the channel, according to Avnet's Murphy.
"I think that's going to change. Technology has moved into a zone that is far more interesting for girls now – social, collaboration, digital – it is technology but in another way," she said. "It will be interesting to see data in the future to see how much it changes."
Julie Simpson, UK Women in IT lead for Microsoft channel group IAMCP, said she hopes the projects will pay off in the long term.
"With every bone in my body, I hope [they will]," she said. "How quickly that happens depends on how many of us will be more inclusive and more dynamic and make some changes."
She added that the fact technology is now part of most people's day-to-day lives will also help level the playing field in the industry in future.
"It will change, and one of the massive levers for that is social media," she said. "If you look at the massive things that have happened in the UK, such as Brexit, one of the main reasons young people were voting is because of the massive deluge of info [on social media]. Because of the web and how everything you do is transparent, if organisations want to get that message out, the awareness increases and change will be quicker. I sincerely hope we are moving towards change."
Big versus small
A number of the high-profile schemes designed to encourage girls into tech come from big vendors, which have separate organisations and teams dedicated to promoting diversity, and budgets to match. But most of the UK's resellers are SMEs, with perhaps typically fewer resources to dedicate to similar schemes.
Tracy Pound, managing director of Maximity, said more needs to be done to help SMEs.
"We need education in the SME sector to encourage an ordinary person running a company of 20 people that they can employ women in technical roles."
"[Big vendor projects] work really well but they are not anywhere near widespread enough," she said. "Those big vendors are global organisations so they have a lot more money to invest in things like this. It's great and right they should do so. But they don't make up the majority of the workforce. If you look at the Federation of Small Business stats, the majority of businesses are not the Microsofts and Dells and so on, they are small businesses. We need education in the SME sector to encourage an ordinary person running a company of 20 people that they can employ women in technical roles. That's where we need more focus because that's where the majority of businesses are."
ResourceiT's Simpson (pictured, right) sympathised with small businesses but said more can be done.
"Money drives behaviour. As a small business – and I know what this feels like – you're often trying to keep the lights on and pay the salaries," she said.
"In the past 10 years when we've had the recession, you really are just trying to survive so you take the easy option. I think the point is that it's about mind set change and a growth mind set that says 'I am a capable organisation; what can I do that enables me to grow faster'.
"One of the ways to do that is to have an organisation which is more inclusive and accommodating. Do what you've always done and in 10 years' time, you may find that instead of being a market leader, you're just about making it through every month. Those who are more innovative, more inclusive and made changes are the ones which will grow much quicker.
"I understand the pain of a small business [which] can't see it as a strategic goal and invest in it, but there are lots of things that can be done voluntarily. A lot of the things we do, people volunteer their time after work because they believe in the cause. It doesn't mean you've got to spend thousands to follow the diversity path."
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