In his monthly Western Mail column, Matt Southall, Acorn's Managing Director explains why a push is needed to get more women into the construction and IT fields.
A few weeks ago venture capitalist John Greathouse caused uproar when an article he had written for the Wall Street Journal suggested that women who want to get ahead in the tech industry should create an online presence that obscures their gender.
Understandably, many people were outraged but for me, the most worrying aspect was the fact that this man, who had worked in the industry for many years, had seen enough gender discrimination to convince him that this was a valid piece of advice.
Regardless of how inappropriate his suggestions may have been, Mr Greathouse was clearly trying to find a way to address a serious problem: the lack of women in this crucial and thriving industry.
This isn't just an American issue, here in the UK there are worrying skills shortages too, not just in tech but in many of the industries that lead on from STEM subjects, such as construction and engineering, and it cannot go unnoticed that these are industries that seem to have a distinct lack of female representation.
As a recruitment business we specialise in both IT and construction, and we see first hand that women are significantly under-represented in these sectors, and in the case of construction, almost entirely absent in some areas.
Recent stats have shown that women make up just 11 percent of the construction workforce and only one percent of workers on site. In fact, ONS says that the number of women working in some areas of construction is so low as to be almost unmeasurable. What is particularly alarming about these figures is that they have barely changed since the seventies.
Although there was a post-Brexit slump in the construction industry things seem to be on the up again and with projects like the tidal lagoon and Hinkley Point on the horizon, the industry is missing a trick if it doesn't shift its focus to increasing the number of women it employs.
There needs to be a cultural shift to get girls and women to even consider a career in such a male-dominated field. One option that more young women would consider is a career in skilled trades, such as plumbing or carpentry. As well as excellent earning potential, there is also job security (.e.g. people will always need plumbers!), and greater flexibility, allowing for a good work-life balance. There is also a level of autonomy with the option to be your own boss.
As I often say, the key to getting people into industries where there are shortages is to reach them when they are young. Encouraging girls to choose STEM subjects early is half the battle. Certainly, in tech, this balance seems to be shifting and it is very heartening to see that the number of girls studying IT at GCSE has increased by 50 percent in one year.
Unless there is a significant push to recruit more women, there will always be a skills shortage. There are plenty of opportunities for women who want to work in the tech industry but for those with their school days long gone, they may be unsure how to proceed. For people who do want to dip their toe into tech, there are plenty of online resources they can try such as Code Academy, allowing them to see if it is for them before they commit.
As someone whose business for some 25 years has been a leader in the recruitment industry, it is unthinkable that I would ever advocate any candidate to think they should need to hide their identity. There are tremendous opportunities for both men and women in the construction, tech and digital sectors and I'm positive that anyone, at whatever stage in their education or working life, who is interested in pursuing a career in these areas to do so confidently - in our experience any reasonable employer will consider each candidate simply on their capability and potential.